Climate change, farming and mycotoxins: Welcome unpredictability!

Photo: iStockphoto_knape

According to Alex Jones, climate and environment director at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, droughts are getting longer, more intense and more frequent in parts of the world—making it very hard for farmers to cope once they are midway through a farming cycle, especially with long cycle crops such as cereals. 

In other parts of the globe, however, phenomenon floods, typhoons and heavy rainfall are having an opposite but no less damaging effect. 

European farmers are calling from the help of the EU as droughts and heat waves hit, causing massive fires in Greece and crop losses all across Europe. In the Americas, major crop-exporting countries like Argentina have been hit by periods of drought that affected a large part of the main agricultural regions, followed by a series of heavy rains, with repercussions on the soybean harvest. 

Impact on feed quality

Climate change and higher amounts of atmospheric CO2 are having an impact on the nutrient content of feed. Some cereals have less protein, less minerals and less vitamins. Grains with a significant deviation from the standard quality parameters will have different nutritional values that may significantly move away from the published reference values, forcing nutritionists to revise their formulas. 

Lower quality grains can have repercussions on the health of animals and consequently on productivity. Therefore, it is important to adjust the formulations based on the alterations of the raw materials and to take into account the use of proper feed additives. 

Furthermore, an analytical evaluation to verify the nutritional content, together with the presence of mycotoxins and other anti-nutritional factors, will help to protect from some of the damage. 

How fungi and their mycotoxins react to climate change

Field fungi such as Fusarium, thrive in the midst of instability that weakens plants—as the stress transforms the plants into the ideal growth substrate. Thanks to its phenomenal adaptability, Fusarium is conquering the world and it is becoming more prevalent in regions where it was historically less common. 

However, Fusarium is not the only concern. The threat from storage fungi such Aspergillus and Penicillium is always around the corner, as wetter and/or damaged grains are an ideal substrate, providing accessible nutrients and plenty of moisture to boost growth of different fungi and consequent mycotoxin production.  

The effects of opposite, extreme weather events on the prevalence of mycotoxins worldwide is reflected by the results of the BIOMIN Mycotoxin Survey.  

Recent BIOMIN Mycotoxin Survey results

In the last several months, two very different climatic events that saw a burst of Fusarium and storage mycotoxins. 

Europe saw an increase in the prevalence of the most common mycotoxins such as Afla, ZEN, DON, FUM, T-2 and OTA, (Figures 1 and 2). 

Figure 1. Prevalence of Mycotoxins in Europe during the period January - March 2018. On the right picture: samples contaminated by more than one mycotoxin (in red); sample containing at least one mycotoxin (in orange); samples below limit of quantification (in yellow).

Figure 1. Prevalence of Mycotoxins in Europe during the period January - March 2018

Figure 2. Prevalence of Mycotoxins in Europe during the period January - June 2018. On the right picture: samples contaminated by more than one mycotoxin (in red); sample containing at least one mycotoxin (in orange); samples below limit of quantification (in yellow).

Figure 2. Prevalence of Mycotoxins in Europe during the period January - June 2018

Soybean crops were damaged by the heavy rains in Argentina, and particularly wet conditions favored the growth of Aspergillus, contributing to a plus 6 percent increase in the prevalence of Afla as well. (Figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3. Prevalence of Mycotoxins in Argentinian soybean samples during the period January - March 2018. On the right picture: samples contaminated by more than one mycotoxin (in red); sample containing at least one mycotoxin (in orange); samples below limit of quantification (in yellow).

Figure 3. Prevalence of Mycotoxins in Argentinian soybean samples during the period January - March 2018

Figure 4. Prevalence of Mycotoxins in Argentinian soybean samples during the period January - June 2018. On the right picture: samples contaminated by more than one mycotoxin (in red); sample containing at least one mycotoxin (in orange); samples below limit of quantification (in yellow).

Figure 4. Prevalence of Mycotoxins in Argentinian soybean samples during the period January - June 2018

With climatic warming expected to continue in the coming decades, the prevalence of mycotoxins seems destined to increase. The great adaptability of field fungi and the suboptimal conditions of grains that will go under storage, present the ideal substrate for the growth of storage fungi as well. 

What the future contamination pathways will look like is not yet clear, although experts claim the prevalence of Fusarium mycotoxins is likely to increase in the next years. Find out more here: https://www.biomin.net/en/blog-posts/taking-mycotoxin-control-to-the-next-level-5-takeaways-from-the-10th-world-mycotoxin-forum/

Unpredictability makes it hard for farmers to come up with long-term plans and requires a quicker action instead. Pre- and post- harvest counteraction measures are necessary to cope with mycotoxins, as well as the use of the proper feed additives for the job.