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Warmer Weather in Corn Belt Raises Concerns About Increased Aflatoxin Contamination
Kansas Ag Connection - 05/24/2023

Researchers from three American universities and one in China have conducted a study revealing that the warming weather patterns in the Corn Belt could lead to amplified growth of aflatoxin, a toxin that poses risks to both farmers and food sources in the coming decades.

The study, recently published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, focused on the incidence of aflatoxin contamination in corn cultivated in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, eastern Nebraska, and eastern Kansas, examining its correlation with changing weather conditions in these areas.

Jesse Tack, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University and co-author of the study, cautions that the estimates reflect a worst-case climate change scenario and may be lower if effective mitigation and adaptation strategies are implemented.

The research suggests that approximately 89.5% of corn-growing counties in 15 states will witness an increase in aflatoxin contamination during the period of 2031-2040 compared to 2011-2020. Assuming fixed corn prices and dollar values in 2021, the study's co-author Jina Yu, a lecturer at Beijing Normal University-Hong Kong Baptist University United International College, projects a rise in overall losses due to changing weather patterns, from $20 million to $63 million.

Kansas is identified as one of the states likely to experience significant changes, with anticipated losses escalating from $3 million to $23 million. Higher temperatures, early-stage drought during corn growth, and increased precipitation prior to maturity are cited as contributing factors for these changes.

Aflatoxin, produced by fungi that can grow in the soil where corn and other crops are cultivated, belongs to a family of toxins. These toxins are known to be carcinogenic and toxic to humans and animals, leading to strict regulations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent their inclusion in the food supply.

The findings of this study underscore the potential threat posed by increased aflatoxin contamination, highlighting the need for proactive measures to protect corn crops, mitigate losses for farmers, and safeguard the food supply chain.

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