By Peter Johnson, RealAgriculture agronomist
The DON quick test is driving everybody nuts. Farmers are getting results of 12 ppm at this elevator, but the same load tests 5 ppm at another elevator. Then, you send a load to an end user, get rejected the first time at 10 ppm, get right back in line and dump at 3 ppm with not even any discount — What is going on?
First, lets be clear: the elevators and end users test as their only means of managing risk. Farmers can buy production insurance, but elevators have no opportunity to buy DON insurance. That said, the variability in these tests is horrendous.
Here is an analogy that helps put it into perspective: 1 million kernels of corn is about 11 bushels. Dump 11 bushels of corn in a pile, and then mix in 12 fluorescent blue kernels, to mimic 12 ppm DON. Stick your arm in the pile, and pull out a handful of kernels. Did you get a blue one? Try again. It’s an absolute crapshoot. Okay, it is not a perfect analogy, because there would be a range of DON kernels within the pile, from 0 ppm to probably 100 ppm, but you get the idea.
Ultimately, there simply will not be consistency from test to test. Period. There is research out there that says 5 to 10 probes per load will give you a representative sample. I think our experience this year would question if there is any way to get a truly representative sample.
There are a range of other factors that are unknowns, and definitely add in more variability. Is every quick test unit equal? Is everyone grinding the corn to the same consistency? (the finer the grind, the more surface area, the more DON that can react) Are they shaking for exactly the right amount of time? The answer to all these questions is “probably not,” but we don’t know. The whole process is fraught with opportunities for error. No one is doing anything wrong on purpose, it is just the nature of the beast.
The real travesty in all this is that it is all in vain. If elevator A won’t dump me, but elevator B does, that corn is in the system and it will get used, somewhere. The only real impact is that a whole bunch of time and diesel fuel got wasted driving around to find that holy grail: the test that lets the corn get dumped. There are reports of trucks going to five and six locations before being able to dump. Everyone is frustrated, stress is high, and a whole lot of fuel, energy, and time is being wasted.
I don’t have an answer. There is no simple solution, or we would already be doing it. But what we are doing really isn’t doing much good for the industry. All we can hope for is that the really bad stuff, say 20 ppm and above, is SO bad that those loads never get that result that says “okay, dump.”
Read more: Three options for high DON corn