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Northwest Iowa Dairy Outlooks

A local discussion of current science and issues concerning dairying in northwest iowa

Monthly Archives: August 2010

Despite recent claims to the contrary from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), recent poultry science does not support the conclusion that expensive “cage-free” egg production lowers the public-health risk from Salmonella, the nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) said today. HSUS recently published a list of what it claimed were “the nine studies published in the last five years comparing Salmonella rates in cage and cage-free egg operations,” and concluded that cage-free eggs were safer to eat. But the animal rights group intentionally mischaracterized the results of some of those studies, and ignored several others that don’t suit its agenda.

A 2005 study cited by HSUS disagrees with the group’s claims from the very beginning, concluding that “the system with the lowest chance of infection was the cage system with wet manure.” And a 2008 study—again, cited by HSUS—concluded “no significant differences could be found in prevalence of Salmonella between laying hens reared in conventional and enriched cages and [free-range] aviary.”

Many of the other studies cited by HSUS caution that differences between cage and cage-free chickens may be due to factors other than the housing system, such as flock size or vaccination rates. By ignoring the scientific conclusions that it doesn’t like, HSUS is recklessly misleading consumers and the media.

Other studies, ignored by HSUS entirely, tell a story that HSUS is not eager to promote. One 2004 study, for example, conducted by the British government, sampled nearly 5,000 eggs and found “no statistically significant difference … between the prevalence of Salmonella contamination in samples from different egg production types.”

“It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to spot the sleight-of-hand coming from the nation’s slickest animal rights group,” said CCF Director of Research David Martosko. “HSUS has a clear agenda, and it’s pushing it full-bore even though science doesn’t agree.

The Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit watchdog organization that informs the public about the activities of tax-exempt activist groups.

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Information from:

Jürg Blumenthal, Extension Sorghum Cropping Systems Specialist, Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas AgriLife Research, College Station;

Thomas Isakeit, Extension Plant Pathologist, Texas AgriLife Extension Service, College Station;

Jason Johnson, Extension Agricultural Economist, Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Stephenville;

Timothy Herrman, Texas State Chemist, Texas AgriLive Research, College Station.


The cause of the problem:

            Aflatoxin is a toxin produced by a fungus (Aspergillus flavus and other related species) in the seeds of corn, oilseeds and other grain crops.  The fungus survives on crop residue on soil and its spores can move with wind, or be carried on insects that feed in corn ears.  The fungus can also enter the ear by growing down the silk, but it  requires a wound or damage to the kernel as a site of entry to infect the seed.  Wounds can be caused by insects or natural splits of the seed coat .  Some hybrids are more prone to splitting than others.   Aflatoxin accumulates as the fungus grows in the seed.  Fungal growth is inhibited by high moisture, therefore aflatoxin will not accumulate in sweet corn which is harvested at high moisture. As moisture drops below 32% the toxin starts to accumulate in the seed until it dried down below 15% moisture. At lower than 15% moisture no additional toxin accumulates in the seed. This can occur as the seed is drying down on the stalk or in post harvest storage.

Drought is a major causal factor for infection and accumulation.   High temperatures, particularly at night, stress plants and are also important for aflatoxin accumulation.  This is why irrigated corn in hot environments can have aflatoxin contamination.  Late-planted corn is at higher risk for aflatoxin accumulation because corn is developing at temperatures that exceed its optimum temperature requirements. Late-season rains may increase aflatoxin in hybrids that have erect ears.

Why aflatoxin is regulated in food and feed:

            Aflatoxin is acutely toxic to livestock and birds, primarily affecting the liver. It is also highly carcinogenic.  Animal species vary in their sensitivity to aflatoxin, which is reflected in different allowable levels in feed.   Cattle are more tolerant than poultry, for example.  There is a low aflatoxin tolerance for dairy cattle or lactating animals because it passes into the milk.  Undetected aflatoxin contamination of feed can have serious effects. Numerous deaths of livestock, pets, and wildlife are documented due to consumption of aflatoxin contaminated grain and feed.

Testing for aflatoxin:

            There are defined protocols for aflatoxin analysis, which are accurate and reliable when properly conducted.  The most critical issue for testing is obtaining a representative sample because most kernels are not contaminated, while a minority has incredible variability of contamination, ranging up to several hundred thousand ppb.  For example, just one contaminated kernel with 400,000 ppb will cause a 10-lb. sample to measure 26 ppb.

            There are defined protocols for obtaining a representative sample, but these samples will not give identical test results because of the aforementioned variability of contamination.

On-farm use of aflatoxin contaminated corn:

If corn is designated for on-farm use, i.e. does not enter commercial trade, no testing and/or inspections are required. However, because of the serious health effects of the toxin on livestock, testing lots that are suspected to be contaminated is highly recommended ensuring appropriate handling of the grain.

Regulations for commerce:

            Restrictions on feed with aflatoxin increase as levels of the toxin increase. These restrictions apply to any grain and or feed entering commerce whether from sale at the turn-row, after an indefinite time of on-farm storage, or any time in between. The restrictions are governed by state and federal law and implemented by the Texas Feed and Fertilizer Control Service located within the Office of the Texas State Chemist (OTSC) (intrastate commerce) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (interstate commerce). Violations of these regulations are considered a class C misdemeanor offence.   

In grain with levels of aflatoxin exceeding 20 ppb, sale for consumption by humans or dairy and other lactating animals are prohibited.  Feed exceeding 50 ppb cannot be used for wildlife.  Feed not exceeding 100 ppb can be used for most livestock and mature poultry, although higher levels are allowed for finishing swine (not exceeding 200 ppb) and finishing cattle (not exceeding 300 ppb). Grain containing greater than 300 ppb aflotoxin but not exceeding 500 ppb can be blended or ammoniated, but a permit for both is required from OTSC.  Grain containing more that 500 ppb cannot enter commerce. Blended or ammoniated aflatoxin containing feed cannot be distributed in interstate commerce. Details of the regulations are given in memorandum 5-12 and other memoranda at the website of the OTSC (

Procedures for reducing contamination:


            Because of differences in soil type, topography, drainage and fertility within a field, there can be a difference in plant stress, which can affect aflatoxin accumulation.  Where there is a risk of aflatoxin contamination, the harvest from areas of a field with poor corn growth relative to other areas should be segregated from the rest of the crop, so that highly contaminated corn is not mixed with less contaminated corn.

            Damaged kernels tend to have higher levels of aflatoxin than intact kernels.  During combining, adjust the ground speed and cylinder speed to minimize broken kernels in the hopper. This involves operating at a slow speed, using a lower gear than normal, and then gradually increasing the speed just before the point that broken kernels enter the hopper. Increase the fan speed to blow out broken kernels.

            If the grower has access to drying facilities, corn could be harvested at moisture levels greater than 15%.   If this is the case, the corn should be stored and transported to the dryer as quickly as possible to prevent post-harvest accumulation.

            In a drought year, when the corn crop is lost, caution should be used in salvaging corn stalks for hay, as these stalks may have small ears that are highly contaminated with aflatoxin [see FS_FC005].


            Aflatoxin is very stable and will not disappear over time in stored corn.  Strategies in reducing post-harvest contamination include diluting contaminated corn with “clean” corn or neutralization by reaction with ammonia (“ammoniation”).  The commerce of blended or ammoniated corn is subject to OTSC regulations [see memo 5-12].  Specifically, only a high temperature/high pressure process can be used for ammoniation of corn to enter commerce, and there is no company currently doing this.  Growers with their own, non-dairy livestock could seal corn in containers with ammonia.  See [TAEX L-2459] for details.

            Gravity tables and shaker screen devices could be used to remove damaged kernels that have higher levels of aflatoxin than non-damaged kernels.  This may reduce aflatoxin to acceptable levels.

            Aflatoxin-contaminated corn can be used for ethanol production, but the process concentrates aflatoxin in the solid fraction (distillers grains), which is not desirable if that is to be used for feed.

            At this time, there are no feed additives labeled for use for neutralization of aflatoxin.  Afla-Guard, a commercial, non-toxin producing strain of Aspergillus flavus labeled for biological control of aflatoxin, is used in the crop during the growing season and will not reduce aflatoxin levels once corn is harvested.

Financial and insurance consideration when dealing with aflatoxin contaminated corn:

When aflatoxin issues are suspected, there are a number of procedures that must be followed in order to comply with crop insurance adjustment protocols and assess the best economic course of action.  Prior to harvest, take a representative sample of corn ears and send it to a reputable laboratory for analysis.  If the sample comes back with more than 20 ppb aflatoxin, consider your options with consultation from your insurance provider (and landlord, if a crop share arrangement is involved).  This preliminary assessment will help to determine the likely reductions in value that will apply to commercial sale versus the discount factors that apply to your crop insurance guarantee.  This comparison is especially warranted for producers that selected Crop Revenue Coverage insurance.  In cases where aflatoxin levels are excessive, it is possible that destruction of the crop may result in a higher net economic return than harvesting the crop and absorbing aflatoxin price discounts.  This evaluation will include estimating factors such as harvest costs, expected price for the contaminated lot, yield level, insurance coverage and other parameters affecting crop profitability/loss.    

Producers should be aware that storing grain may delay settlement of insurance claims, if the producer does not want to accept the discount factors attach to the aflatoxin levels determined through testing.  If you are storing your grain in a commercial elevator or selling your grain and receive a reduction in value due to aflatoxin, request that the elevator pull and save a sample for the insurance adjuster, then contact your insurance agent.  For insurance adjustment purposes, the sample must be tested from a disinterested third party, the elevator’s test cannot be used.  If you are storing your grain (on farm or in private storage), grain must be tested prior to going into the bins.  Once again, samples must be tested from a disinterested third party.  From an economic standpoint, the major considerations involve a preliminary assessment of the aflatoxin levels and communication with your crop insurance agent (and possibly landlord) to ensure that all alternatives are examined.

Planning for future corn production:

            There is no trade-off in recommendations for managing aflatoxin and optimizing yield.  Unfortunately, under Texas growing conditions, the best-managed crop from a standpoint of yield may still have aflatoxin contamination.  However, poor crop management (e.g. the use of poorly-adapted corn hybrids) can result in an even greater level of contamination.

Best-management practices for aflatoxin management involves planning before planting and  include: planting hybrids that have adaptation for southern U.S. growing conditions, requesting information from seed suppliers about tolerance/resistance of corn hybrids to aflatoxin, planting during the time window known to provide the best yields for your growing area and avoiding late planting, reduce environmental stress on plants by breaking hardpans in the field before planting and minimizing tillage operations before planting to conserve moisture, controlling insects and weeds, and maintaining optimal nitrogen fertility, especially with high plant populations .

Treating the crop with an atoxigenic strain of Aspergillus flavus can contribute to the reduction of aflatoxin [FS_FC004 ].

Financial planning includes selecting the best insurance option for you (and your landlord, if in a crop share agreement) to protect yourself from potential losses to aflatoxin contamination of corn.


Texas. Office of the Texas State Chemist. Distribution of Aflatoxin-Containing Whole Grain and Oilseed in Commercial Channels and Their Use in Mixed Feeds. Feed Industry Memorandum No. 5-12, 4 August 2010.

Isakeit, Thomas. Aflatoxin in Baled Corn. Texas AgriLife Extension Service publication PLPA-FC005, 2010.

Valco, Thomas D. Ammoniation of Aflatoxin-Contaminated Corn. Texas Agricultural Extension Service publication L-2459,

Isakeit, Thomas. Aflaguard: A Fungus for Biological Control of Aflatoxin Contamination of Corn. Texas AgriLife Extension Service publication PLPA-FC004, 2009.

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Cow/Calf Weekly has these comments from a recent speech by Jason Clay. “Here’s the thing. Whatever is acceptable today as an impact (on the environment) with 6.8 billion people is not going to be acceptable when we get to 9.1 billion people. Everything is going to have to be more efficient and we’re going to have to get better with the way we use land, with the way we use water, with other inputs.”

That’s what Jason Clay, senior vice president of market transformation with the World Wildlife Fund, told a group of cattlemen recently. Clay laid out a series of questions and observations about how beef producers and environmentalists can attain pragmatic solutions to the challenge of producing twice as much food by 2050 as the planet now produces.

According to Clay, around 70% of the land available worldwide for food production is being used. “For the last 40 years, we’ve been increasing ag land by 0.4%/year. In the last 10 years, that’s gone up to 0.6% a year. If you do the math, by 2050 at 0.6% a year, times 40 years, that’s 24% of the remaining 30% of the planet that will either be farmed or ranched. There will be very little room for biodiversity, very little room for the ecosystem services we depend on.”

Clay thinks the modern-day land grab can be slowed and maybe even stopped, by increasing the intensification and efficiency of agricultural production.

“How does beef relate to this issue?” he asked. “Beef production uses 60% of all the land today that’s used on the planet to produce food. And it produces 1.3% of the calories. Is beef production ever going to be the same as (crop production)? No. But can it be better? Absolutely.”

Clay would like to see a world where we don’t convert more natural habitat to food production. “We think we can produce more on what we’ve already got.”

In fact, he says the better producers globally are already producing 100 times more at a global level than the worst producers, for any given commodity. “The better countries are 10 times better in production than the worst countries. And even within a country, some producers are three to four to five times better than the worst producers. So there’s a lot to be gained by increased efficiency.”

In his book, he wrote that sustainable agriculture will require that ranchers and farmers be rewarded for producing not just food or fiber but also “ecosystem services.” Clay explained that comment saying,  “It’s clean water and clean air for sure. But it’s also biodiversity that is useful for both farmers in terms of seeds and seed traits and genetic material that can be used in plant breeding and also good for crop pollinators as well. Today, farmers are not paid for any of these services. Since farming and ranching occupy more of the planet than anything else, it’s important that these types of land use sustain the planet for all living things.”

He also said, “So even increasing productivity won’t necessarily help the people who can’t afford to buy food right now, and food is probably undervalued in the sense that the impacts of producing food at this time aren’t actually reflected in the price. So, habitat loss, soil erosion, global climate change, etc. aren’t reflected in the price of a loaf of bread or a pound of sugar, flour, or whatever.”

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that the H1N1 influenza pandemic has largely run its course and is now over.

Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO, says the world is now moving into the post-pandemic period, meaning “based on experience with past pandemics, we expect the H1N1 virus to take on the behavior of a seasonal influenza virus and continue to circulate for years to come.”

Called many names since its discovery in the spring of 2009, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) recommends the virus be referred to as “North American influenza,” in keeping with the naming of other outbreaks of influenza in the human population.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has determined that the 2009 H1N1 flu virus contains genetic pieces from four different virus sources, which is unusual. The virus consists of North American swine influenza viruses, North American avian influenza viruses, human influenza viruses and swine influenza viruses found in both Asia and Europe.

The 2009 H1N1 flu virus was first reported in late March/early April 2009 in central Mexico and the border states of California and Texas. Since that time, it has become a worldwide pandemic.

To date, most animals infected with H1N1 became infected after their owners had become ill with flu-like symptoms and have shown mild respiratory illness or no illness at all. In most cases, animals have fully recovered.  

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Folks at the Corn & Soybean Digest report Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced legislation last to establish more stringent farm program payment limits and close legal loopholes that render current statutory limits meaningless. The bill would establish a limit of $250,000 for farm program payments to any individual in an attempt to better target farm program payments to family farmers. The legislation would save the federal treasury more than $1 billion over ten years, conservatively.

Sen. Grassley has sponsored similar legislation previously and offered similar language in both of the last two farm bill debates, securing passage of the amendment in the Senate bill in 2008 but subsequently losing the language in the HouseSenate conference committee.

” For most of the last decade, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) co-sponsored payment limits legislation and amendments with Grassley. However, due to his retirement from the Senate after this year, Sen. Feinfold joined Grassley in co-sponsoring the bill in Dorgan’s stead.

“For too long large agribusinesses and non-farmers have gamed the limits on farm subsidy programs, taking limited and critical resources better used to support our family farmers that are facing numerous challenges in the current economic climate,” Feingold says. “I have enjoyed working with Sen. Grassley to ensure fair competition and contract terms for our farmers and I am pleased to collaborate with him again on this important issue for farmers and taxpayers. Our legislation is a common sense, bipartisan approach to support Wisconsin family farms, while saving taxpayer dollars.”

Sens. Grassley and Feinfold also released a summary of the Rural America Preservation Act of 2010, which includes the following:

Limit annual per farm commodity subsidy payments to $250,000. The amendment would establish effective caps of $40,000 on direct (fixed) payments, $60,000 on counter-cyclical payments and $150,000 on loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains, including gains on generic certificates and forfeited commodities. The nominal limits would be half these amounts. The combined limit would be $250,000 (see note [i] below). These limits would be reduced by varying amounts depending on the farmer’s participation in ACRE, essentially setting the payment limitations at the effective caps, less the reductions in direct payments and marketing loan gains.

Simplify the complicated legal games now played to avoid the limitation. Qualifying for the maximum legal payment would be greatly simplified. An individual who participates in just one farming operation could receive double the nominal limit. That would reduce farmers’ legal costs by allowing them to receive the maximum payment without hiring a lawyer to restructure the farm. The spouse equity rule is retained in its entirety. Married couples who qualify under the spouse rule would receive up to twice the nominal payment limitations, as under current law.

Close loopholes. All payments will be tracked through entities and partnerships directly back to the individual who is the ultimate beneficiary. All payments would count toward an individual’s limit, whether received directly or through a corporation or other type of entity. All beneficial interests in an entity would be subject to payment limitations, making it more difficult to create “paper” farms for the purposes of exceeding the limits.

Ensure that payments flow to working farmers. Current law attempts to target payments to working farmers. However, as explained in the final report of the USDA Payment Limitation Commission and as demonstrated by the 2004 Government Accountability Office Report, the lack of a defined active management test in law and regulation is a major loophole facilitating huge payments. The amendment improves the “measurable standard” by which USDA determines who should and should not receive farm payments. It requires that management be personally provided on a regular, substantial, and continuous basis through direct supervision and direction of farming activities and labor and on-site services. The combined labor and management standard is 1,000 hours annually or 50% of the commensurate share of the required labor and management. Landowners who share rent land to an actively engaged producer remain exempt from the “actively engaged” rules provided their payments are commensurate to their risk in the crop produced

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One of agriculture’s greatest nemesis, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has introduced an amendment to the pending energy bill that would pave the way for an expansion of the U.S. biofuels market by increasing the percentage of U.S. vehicles that can run on flexible fuels, boost the number of blender pumps at refueling stations and authorize loan guarantees for renewable fuel pipelines.

Specifically, the amendment would require 50 percent of vehicles manufactured for sale in the United States to be flex-fuel capable by 2013 and 90 percent by 2015; require major fuel distributors to have at least one blender pump at half of their stations by 2019;and authorizes grants of up to 50 percent of project costs for the installation of retail ethanol blend infrastructure including blender pumps, tanks and other equipment as well as loan guarantees covering 80 percent of project costs for renewable fuel pipelines.

Now if you’re a corn grower this sounds great, more demand for your commodity, but if you feed livestock or grow any other crop, bend over again. U.S. consumers will pay big time for this hand-out to Harkin’s corn lobby buddies.

It seems that Harkin has consistently supported actions that divide Ag producers and pit them against each other. It’s time for the ethanol industry to stand on its own merits. If consumers want more flex-fuel vehicles, the market will provide them without this legislation.

It would make much more sense to fund basic research in oil seeds for bio-diesel or cellulose based ethanol production and let producers meet the needs of a consumer driven economy.

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The Uniform Wheat Variety Trial (UWVT), coordinated and implemented by numerous Texas AgriLIFE Extension and Research faculty and staff plus AgriPro researchers in this area provides unbiased yield data for wheat producers in Wichita and Wilbarger Counties. With this information area wheat producers can make an educated decision about the most appropriate varieties for this region.

The selection of wheat varieties is one of the most important decisions a wheat producer will make. This decision impacts the potential yield (forage and grain), seed quality (test weight and protein), disease and insect management, and maturity. It is important that producers diversify the varieties to be planted on their farms. Variety diversification spreads the risk associated with potentially devastating pests (rusts, Hessian fly, leaf curl mite, greenbugs, etc.) and yield loss from adverse environmental factors (freeze, drought, hail, etc.).

Producers should select no fewer than two varieties to plant on their farms and preferably more, depending on size and location of fields. Variety selection should be based upon a combination of sound data from university trials, county agent strip trials, and other reliable sources. Wheat varieties should be chosen based on multiple years of data (yield, pest resistance, grain quality and maturity). High yields over multiple years and multiple locations demonstrate a variety’s ability to perform well over diverse environmental factors.

Stable yield performance of quality grain is the best variety selection tool. It is important to consider decreasing yields over a two or three year time frame, may reflect a change in disease and/or insect resistance.

When selecting a variety for the 2010-11 season, producers need to consider the 2009-10 season, recognizing the unusually wet, cold conditions that impacted yield and quality. It is strongly encouraged that producers look at the two and three year averages for the varieties and to look at all local variety trial locations.

Yield and test weight at each location has been statistically analyzed using the scientific procedures. The statistical analysis provides the mean, coefficient of variation (CV), and least significan difference (LSD) values. It is important to note these statistical values help to prevent the misinterpretation of the data. The mean is another term for the average. Therefore, a mean value is the average of all the variety’s yield within a trial. The CV value, expressed at a percentage, indicates the level of unexplained variability present within the trial. High CV values indicate a great deal of variation due to factors other than the genetic variation between varieties. CV values in excess of 15 percent should cause producers ask about problems in the trial that will misrepresent differences in varietal performance. The LSD value should be used to determine if the difference between hybrids is due to performance differences or random chance. This bulletin presents data with an LSD of five percent. If the difference between two varieties is equal to or greater than the LSD, the difference would be attributable to varietal differences in 19 out of 20 (95%) instances when the two hybrids are evaluated under conditions similar to the test. A difference which is less than the LSD is likely due to chance.

Click below for the trial results.

  2010 Local Wheat Variety Trial Results Now Available

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