Scab Busts Eastern Cereal Crops

Pork producer says, 'Vomitoxin is killing us.'

Published on: Jul 14, 2009

The cliché "When it rains, it pours" perfectly fits farming this year. With grain prices already sagging, eastern wheat producers are being hammered by another price buster – vomitoxin discounts. Reports of scabby wheat and mycotoxins on barley popped up all the way from southern Indiana to eastern Delaware.


Stopping to pick up his McD burger and coffee on the way home from a grain delivery, an Eastern Shore Maryland grain and pork producer lamented, "I got rid of another load of wheat. Vomitoxin is killing us this year."


It's particularly devastating to pork producers and farmers who lost their mill contracts for high-quality wheat, notes Gordon Johnson, University of Delaware Extension agent in Kent County. When you lose a premium and take a feed wheat discount plus a mycotoxin discount, that's a substantial loss.


"We had perfect weather for scab development this spring – a perfectly timed week of rain." But he adds that some fields were affected more than others.


The occurrence of scab doesn't automatically mean that DON is present. But high levels of scabby kernels in the harvested grain should be suspect. It tend to be most pronounced after no-till corn. "More no-till means more inoculum, making it worse," he explains.    


Mycotoxin feed issues rise


Wheat and barley contamination with deoxynivalenol, also known as DON or vomitoxin, is especially toxic to swine. Hogs are most sensitive to DON, even at one part per million contamination of hog feed.


Cattle, sheep and poultry are more tolerant of it. Diluting scabby wheat with normal quality grain may be a logical method of feeding wheat safely to on farm livestock. But consumption of high levels of the toxin can cause feed refusal and poor weight gains in livestock.


Eastern Shore reports indicate DON levels ranging from 2 to 10 parts per million. Some buyers start docking grain at 2 ppm.


Drying and storage tips


Drying and or storage won't reduce DON levels. But if handled properly, DON levels wont't increase. At moisture levels below 18%, the scab fungus won't grow. Scabby grain going into storage should be below 13% moisture.


Try not to mix it with good quality wheat. The light, thin kernels caused by scab tend to accumulate in the center of a storage bin. Hot spots may occur if higher moisture fine material is in that core.


Saving for seed?


With high scab levels, that's a real question. Saving scab-infected seeds can lead to seedling blights if planted, cautions Johnson. If wheat has scab and is to be saved for seed, it needs to be cleaned very well, then treated with appropriate fungicides.