Grain News

Vomitoxin Causing Headaches for U.S. Flour Millers

Date Posted: August 17, 2004

By Arvin Donley, Milling Journal Editor

High vomitoxin levels in the wheat crop in parts of the northern United States and Canada are negatively impacting flour milling operations in those areas.

"This is the worst we've ever seen it," said Jim Doyle, senior vice president of King Milling Co., Lowell, MI.

"At the beginning of the harvest, we had to turn back as much as half of the wheat."

As a result, King Milling is having to bring more wheat in by rail than in past years, when most of its wheat has come from local producers, he said.

"That's going to make our products more expensive because of the freight costs associated with shipping more of the wheat in," Doyle said.

Severe vomitoxin problems have also been reported in Ontario, Canada, New York, and parts of Kentucky.

Vomitoxin, also known as deoxynivalenol (DON), is a toxic byproduct of Fusarium head blight, which can make wheat unfit for milling. Studies have indicated that human consumption of food products containing high levels of vomitoxin can potentially cause illness. In 1996, the federal government issued guidelines calling for milled wheat to contain vomitoxin levels of 1 part per million (1 ppm) or less.

High vomitoxin levels in wheat are typically associated with large amounts of rainfall. Doyle noted that Michigan has registered record rainfall amounts in recent months, as have other parts of the northeastern United States.

In 2003, the highest vomitoxin levels were reported in wheat originating from the mid-Atlantic region in states like North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee.

What They're Saying

Here's what flour millers from other parts of the United States are saying about the impact vomitoxin has had on their milling operations this summer:

"We're actually not too bad. We're better than we were last year. Our average so far has been about 2 ppm. Last year it was 2.3 to 2.4. I think we got pretty lucky. It's been very manageable."

Mark Miller, Mennel Milling Co., Mount Olive, IL

"It's taken a lot of time and effort, but we're in fairly decent shape in the wheat we've originated so far. It's a tough year. There's no sprout damage or anything like that. It's just the vomitoxin levels that are the problem."

Steve "Red" Michel, Star of the West Milling Co., Kent, OH

"The wheat in western Kentucky has had some head scab problems. However, it has been manageable at this point. The crop yields, of course, were off this year, and that has been the big story here with producers really feeling the pinch."

Bob Ruckman, Siemer Milling Co., Hopkinsville, KY

"We're testing every railcar, and so far we are not seeing a lot of it. But I think it's something we'll have to deal with as we start to receive more wheat from the north."

Jerry Kuhn, Southeastern Mills, Rome, GA

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