By Tom Collins and Connor Lynch
Vomitoxin continues to have an impact on Eastern Ontario farmers, even in areas where the toxin hasn’t been found, as all three Grain Farmers of Ontario’s (GFO) Eastern and East-Central district meetings earlier this month included questions and concerns about the dreaded toxin.
Vomitoxin (officially DON) is a byproduct of a mould that can render a crop unsellable if vom levels are too high. Anything under two parts per million is generally acceptable by elevators and users. The farther east you go, the less of a problem vomitoxin is. However, some farmers in Western Ontario have had levels as high as 30 parts per million (ppm).
Most elevators start paying less for corn at 3 ppm and won’t accept anything over 8 ppm. But Ingredion at Cardinal, won’t accept corn with levels above 2 ppm.
Lloyd Crowe, GFO director for District 13 (Prince Edward, Lennox, Addington, Frontenac, Lanark, Leeds, Grenville, Renfrew, Ottawa), said vomitoxin was the top issue at his district meeting, which had about 50-60 attendees. About 30 per cent of corn acres in his area had vomitoxin levels over two ppm, he said.
Every day during December, Crowe tested about two loads of corn for vomitoxin before sending the trucks on a three-hour drive east to grain processor Ingredion’s Cardinal location. All of his loads have tested around 1.7 ppm at the home farm. By mid-December, two of his loads were rejected, with one coming in at 2.1 ppm. He managed to sell one load to a feed mill in Inkerman, but the other load had to be trucked back to Picton.
“It’s put a few more grey hairs on my head,” he said. “You’re just praying every day, ‘oh please let the load go through.’ We’re one bad kernel away from coming home. ”
Some livestock owners find it less expensive now to buy Western Ontario vomitoxin corn and truck it to Eastern Ontario instead of buying higher-quality corn locally, said Markus Haerle, director of District 14 (Prescott, Russell, Stormont, Dundas, Glengarry) and chair of the GFO. The vomitoxin corn can be used for feed, he said, and is taking money out of the pockets of Eastern Ontario corn growers. “As a buyer, you’re always going to be trying to find the cheapest crop that you can.”
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada recommends a limit of 5 ppm for adult cows, adult sheep and adult chickens.
In early December, Crowe had about 50,000 tonnes of stored corn with vomitoxin levels ranging from 2 to 5 ppm.
“We have Agri-Stability, which nobody can ever expect to get,” Crowe said, adding that it would take an absurdly high DON level to trigger a payment. “At GFO, we’ve determined now is the time to address this.” Vomitoxin damages were much worse in Western Ontario. Some farmers destroyed their corn crop in the field to try to qualify for an Agricorp insurance claim.