Three options for high DON corn


By Peter Johnson, RealAgriculture agronomist

It has been one TOUGH harvest. Constant showers, have led to very wet condition, and now record levels of deoxynivalenol (DON, produced by gibberella) in the corn crop has stress running high in the countryside. Coffee shop rumours abound. The urgent questions though, are: Do I harvest this corn at all, and, What can we do with all the high DON corn out there?

Let’s cut to the chase.

There are only three options for the high DON crop: long term storage with slow blending over time; ship it somewhere they have enough good corn to blend it with; or, ethanol. I won’t entertain crop destruct as an option. If we end up there, it will be a failure on our part.

There may be some talk of biodigesters or biomass burners, but there just isn’t the capacity to use the volume of trouble we have. In the 1996 wheat disaster, there were silos filled with high DON wheat that took nearly four years to get worked through the system. However, not many growers or elevators have enough storage to even begin to consider this as a potential. In 2006, we loaded unit trains of high DON corn and shipped them to beef feedlots in Texas. We could do that again, but transportation costs get very significant.

What about ethanol? Ethanol uses one-third of the corn in Ontario. That volume works. There is general consensus that high DON corn will not negatively impact the ethanol process. But the resulting DDGs will be worthless. One-third of the volume of corn that goes in comes out as DDGs, and normally sells for close to the same price as the corn going in. The math is simple: whatever the price of corn, high DON corn will need to be discounted by one-third. The DDGs then get shipped back to the farm, and spread on the field. And yes, we can land apply DDGs with almost no increased disease risk in 2019.

Simple, right?

Not at all. It means we have to stream only high DON to the ethanol industry. The feed trade NEEDS the clean corn, and let’s be clear, the feed trade is legislated to what level of DON can be in the end product. If they ship feed over the legal limit of DON, they are subject to fines. It’s just like going down the 401 at 140 km an hour…

If ethanol accepts high DON corn, they essentially get locked into maximum discount on every load. Sending cleaner corn there doesn’t help. With a concentration factor of roughly three, a few loads of 15 ppm corn and the DDGs are far too high to be utilized anywhere. No sliding scale, just the delivery point of last resort. Will they get enough corn to keep operating if they move to that system?

With this weather, harvest is at a standstill. The entire industry is looking at every option, and wants to use this crop. A market will develop. Do you harvest? ABSOLUTELY! As long as someone will dump you, harvest! In the meantime, let’s keep working on a solution.

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