Testing feedstuffs and finished feeds will be paramount this year to avoid the potential risk of feeding mycotoxins in grain and forage crops to livestock.

That was the stark warning from Dr Max Hawkins, nutritionist for the Alltech® mycotoxin management team, who said that high levels of mycotoxins have already been found in many of the grain samples throughout large regions across Europe.

He based his findings on results from the company's European Mycotoxin summer harvest survey, in which grain and forage samples from many geographic regions across Europe were analysed for 40 individual mycotoxins, including a new panel of five mycotoxins.

Overall, grain crops showed risk levels of trichothecenes from DON and T-2 to swine. Silages showed risk levels of not only DON and T-2, but also high levels of Penicillium and, to a lesser degree, aflatoxin.

“Understanding the risk of mycotoxins and combination of mycotoxins, even at lower risk levels, allows farmers and producers to institute a management programme for more optimum animal performance and health,” said Dr Hawkins.

He added that weather events not only affect crop yield but also plant health and mould growth. Moulds such as Aspergillus prefer warmer and drier climates, while Fusarium moulds prefer wetter and more moderate temperatures.

The weather in parts of Europe and indeed the UK ahead of the 2017 summer harvest was dry and warm prior to the small grain harvest, but as harvest neared, some regions experienced excess rainfall.

The European Summer Harvest survey therefore revealed a blend of Aspergillus- and Fusarium-generated mycotoxins as well as Penicillium, which will result in multiple mycotoxins in finished feeds, he said.

Another mycotoxin that is trending high across Europe is fumonisin, which can have a negative impact on feed intake, gut health, liver function and immune response. Once mycotoxins are in the crop, they do not go away with higher levels found on farms practicing monocropping as opposed to those farms that are rotating crops or using deeper tillage methods.

Pointing out the health issues, Dr Hawkins said that mycotoxins influence feed quality and animal safety as they are produced by certain species of moulds and can have toxic properties that impact animal health and performance.

Seldom found in isolation, and when consumed on a multiple basis, they can also have additive, or even synergistic, interactions that increase the overall risk to performance and health. As a result, an animal may have a stronger response than what would be expected if it was only experiencing a single mycotoxin challenge.

Hence, for feedstuffs harvested in 2017 and those currently being fed, Dr Hawkins advised conducting a mycotoxin analysis that identifies the storage mycotoxins, including the Penicillium and Aspergillus mycotoxin groups, as there is potential for additional mycotoxins to develop during storage.

Proper mycotoxin management techniques can reduce the risk of mycotoxins coming from feed materials as well as help to prevent the negative effects mycotoxins can on have animal health and performance, he said.