With corn planting well under way in the South, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) is cooperating with public and private researchers looking at reducing aflatoxin in corn.

Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring toxin produced by various fungi, which is produced by two types of mold: Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. Aflatoxin is most prevalent in corn, cotton, peanuts and tree nuts.

The SERAT (Southeast Regional Aflatoxin Test) Program is a multi-organization, multi-state evaluation of the most promising germplasm from several research groups. Each group provides seed for a few hybrids and a testing location. The program allows state university staffs to compare and contrast their independent studies, said NCGA Mycotoxin Task Force Chairman Scott Averhoff.

“This will be the third year for SERAT,” Averhoff explained. “The program has provided standardized protocol across the region, but funding is limited. We need to test more hybrids and test at more sites.”

Aflatoxin levels in corn are strictly limited for both domestic and export uses. Ethanol distillers also reject corn contaminated with the mold, since aflatoxin may become concentrated in Distillers Dried Grains used for livestock feed.

While no variety of corn offers natural resistance to aflatoxin, some genetic strains do show lower levels of contamination. But Averhoff says the most promising research areas are in adopting a product originally developed for peanuts, and in inoculating corn with a strain of the aflatoxin mold that does not produce harmful toxins.