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Website Helps Farmers Identify, Respond to Corn Ear Rots

A website developed by plant pathologists from Purdue University and a nationwide partnership of research institutions could help farmers better understand and respond to the threat of mycotoxins and ear rots in corn.

The site, Corn Mycotoxins, includes management information as well as photo and video reference materials about Aspergillus, Diplodia, Fusarium and Gibberella – the four most common and economically significant ear rots. The website also provides information on how to properly store moldy grain and the characteristics of various types of mycotoxins.

Ear rots occur when certain fungi infect corn. Several of those fungi produce mycotoxins, which accumulate in grain. Mycotoxins can be harmful to livestock and humans if contaminated grain is used in livestock feed or human food products.

Mycotoxins are natural chemicals that are very stable and not easily eliminated from contaminated grain, said Charles Woloshuk, professor of botany and plant pathology and member of the website development team.

“Prevention is the most effective management strategy to reducing the impact of ear rots and mycotoxins,” Woloshuk said. “We created the website to make management information readily accessible to farmers and agribusiness personnel so they can take appropriate precautions to prevent ear rots and manage mycotoxins if they occur in the grain.”

The website is a product of the Integrated Management Strategies for Aspergillus and Fusarium Ear Rots of Corn project, which was established in 2012 with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The goal of the project is to coordinate and promote a research and Extension collaboration that provides corn producers with new tools for managing ear rots and mycotoxins.

In addition to the USDA and Purdue, participating institutions are the University of Arkansas, Michigan State University, North Carolina State University and Texas A&M University.

The national scope of the project is important, Woloshuk said. For example, researchers have examined how common production factors such as hybrid susceptibility to ear rots and fungicide application impact mycotoxin levels in different regions of the U.S.

“A major finding is that management strategies that are effective at reducing mycotoxins in southern states may not be economically viable strategies in northern states,” Woloshuk said. “Research is ongoing to determine region-specific management practices for corn ear rots.”

Woloshuk said the team will regularly update the website with new information based on research results.

“It’s an ongoing process,” he said. “We will be adding new information and tools as they become available.”

One new tool under development is a phone app with an ear rot identification guide. With the app, farmers can use their mobile devices to identify different ear rots in the field.

“Since the different ear rots occur in different environments, it’s important for farmers to know what they are dealing with and manage the correct ear rot,” Woloshuk said.

Source: Darrin Pack and Charles Woloshuk, Purdue University 

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