Beef producers are being urged to be alert to the risk of mycotoxins present in winter wheat, as AHDB scientific officer Sarah Pick discusses.
Made up of chemical compounds produced by moulds, mycotoxins are a potentially toxic hazard to livestock when consumed in feed products. They can have negative effects on animal heath, causing productivity problems such as impaired metabolism, changes to hormone secretion, reduced nutrition intake and a supressed immune system.
“Mycotoxin levels in grain are influenced by a range of factors including region, preceding crop, variety, cultivations, fungicide applications and rainfall at flowering and harvest”, said Ms Pick.
“Feeds can become contaminated with mycotoxins before harvest or during storage”.
As one of the main fungi that can infect cereals is Fusarium, which can produce mycotoxins that can affect grain in the growing crop.
Infection of wheat ears by some Fusarium species can result in mycotoxin development when the weather is warm and wet at flowering.
Recent research funded by AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds investigated the risk of fusarium infection in winter wheat and this year the study
has reported that due to the unsettled weather seen in June, 73 per cent of the winter wheat crop was deemed to be at moderate risk.
This rate is a massive contrast to the relatively low fusarium infection risk reported last year.
“There are many ways of reducing the risk of mycotoxin infection”, explained Sarah, “including harvesting as soon as possible once the crop is ripe, and storing grain from lodged crops separately to crops that did not lodge, as storing grains for long periods at high moisture contents increases the risk.”
Good crop management and storage is strongly advised. Where contamination has occurred, mycotoxin binders are available which reduce the risks associated with continued feeding.
Mouldy feeds should be discarded of as not only do they pose a high risk of mycotoxin contamination, they have also been associated with other health issues, including abortion and mastitis.
If in doubt, it is recommended that a vet is contacted.