JUST AS Scotland's maize acres start to get planted up, growers are being encouraged to start managing the mycotoxin risk from the start in order to reduce feed waste further down the line.

Andrew Linscott, the ruminant manager at Alltech, said while maize provides a great homegrown feed source for ruminants, as it is high in energy and starch, it can harbour dangerous elements which can come back to haunt you.

“Maize is highly susceptible to developing field-borne mycotoxins, such as fusarium fungal diseases,” he said.

“The development of fusarium moulds at this stage will have a negative impact on the rest of the feed process, contributing to physical waste during storage and feeding out, as well as leading to inefficiencies within the rumen.”

For example, if these moulds are present when maize is harvested and ensiled, they can increase the breakdown of the crop, leading to feed shrinkage.

“Preliminary results from the Alltech Feed Waste Reduction Initiative indicate that, on average, up to 25% of silage dry matter is lost in the clamp,” explained Mr Linscott. “While a proper sealing and compaction technique during the ensiling process will help prevent storage mycotoxins developing, it’s also important to avoid transporting mycotoxins from the field into the clamp.”

In addition, increased feed refusals due to reduced ration palatability and the impact of mycotoxin contamination on rumen function as well as cow health, are major drivers of feed waste levels.

“Even low-level mycotoxin contamination can upset the rumen and reduce feed conversion efficiency (FCE). Where contamination is higher, the effect on cow health can be much more serious and even result in all feed inputs being used for maintenance instead of production. This results in a high level of feed wastage.”

He advised a holistic approach to tackling the key sources of feed waste, which includes mycotoxin producing moulds and fungi. “A biostimulant programme is recommended to help plants defend themselves more effectively and increase yields,” he argued.

In a maize trial across 21 farms in the Midlands, a 12% yield increase was seen when the biostimulants Soil-Set Aid, and Impro-Grain were used in collaboration. “The first assists with the breakdown of organic matter by stimulating and increasing beneficial microbes in the soil. It also increases nutrient availability and uptake, enhancing root growth and therefore allowing good, strong establishment,” said Mr Linscott.

Following with the latter, a foliar biostimulant, can help ensure the plant continues to thrive and maximise the conversion of light energy into starch energy.