By Connor Lynch
Some of Ontario’s vomitoxin-ridden corn has started to move into overseas markets, but the closing of the St. Lawrence Seaway on Dec. 31 sealed off until spring.
Southwestern Ontario has been grappling with the toxic byproduct of a corn mould since harvest began. Last year’s harvest was one of Ontario’s worst-ever cases of it. The more southern counties, including Essex, Kent, Lambton, Middlesex and Elgin, were some of the hardest-hit areas in the province. According to Grain Farmers of Ontario delegate Justin Bell of Chatham-Kent, Ontario farmers lost an estimated $200 million due to vomitoxin.
According to Ontario’s crop insurance provider, of the 8,600 insured corn producers in Ontario, 3,042 have filed damage reports, though that’s not the same as submitting a claim. Agricorp offered a salvage benefit to producers with corn above 5 ppm, and in some cases also let producers write off and destroy fields that were too high in vomitoxin to sell. As of Jan. 4, 12,000 acres of corn had been destroyed, said Agricorp spokesperson Stacey Edwards.
One of the great uncertainties was how or where producers could market their crop. Most grain elevators started discounting corn for vomitoxin above 2 parts per million, and stopped taking it entirely at 8 ppm. Many farmers faced discounts on their crops and some found they had corn they couldn’t even sell.
Some corn buyers, including Ondrejicka Elevators’ locations at Exeter and Lucan and IGPC Ethanol at Aylmer, were buying corn without testing for vomitoxin because they’d found an end-user for it by blending high-vom corn with low to bring the overall levels down. The ethanol plant announced in December that they’d continue buying high-vom corn this year, at $3.50/bu, but as of Jan. 17 had yet to release any more information.
Grain marketer Steve Kell was on-hand at the Southwest Ag Conference in early January sharing his advice on marketing the crop. His first and main piece of advice was to dilute the corn up, not down. That means a farmer with two bins of vom-infected corn, one at 2 ppm and one at 10 ppm, is better off blending that 2 ppm crop up to just below a discount level before selling it. That reduces the amount of high-vom corn he has without costing him money.
Kell also warned that producers selling their crop need to know what its final destination is going to be. Some Central Ontario producers are having issues with this, having sold corn to grain brokers who in turn sold to specialty alcohol producers who can’t use high-vom corn.
Kell estimated Ontario has somewhere around 2 million tonnes of corn that is “not in great shape.” With world demand at around 1 billion tonnes, “this doesn’t have to be a wreck,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Grain Farmers of Ontario are in talks with the federal government to see if funding under Agri-Recovery can be opened up. That would give farmers access to funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a $3-billion fund.
Some funding through CAP is already available; producers are eligible for up to $2,500 in 50/50 cost-sharing for vomitoxin testing.
Producers have also had luck marketing corn overseas, said GFO Chair Markus Haerle, moving corn through the Port of Hamilton. But with the “shipping lane shut down, that’s probably going to come to a (halt).”