The Alltech 2023 European Harvest Analysis has collected and assessed over 1,100 grain and forage samples from more than 20 different countries, and the results show an overall higher-risk mycotoxin year in Europe in 2023.
Variable weather has once again dominated crop quality and mycotoxin contamination patterns in Europe, with a distinct split between northern and southern regions. The Alltech 2023 European Harvest Analysis has collected and assessed over 1,100 grain and forage samples from more than 20 different countries, and the results show an overall higher-risk mycotoxin year in Europe in 2023. While Europe enjoyed a reprieve this growing season from the extreme drought conditions of the past 2–3 years, rains that fell close to harvest in northern and western Europe caused delays in harvesting that created ideal conditions for mould and mycotoxin development.
Mycotoxins are produced by certain species of moulds and are a concern for livestock producers as they can influence feed quality and subsequent animal health and performance. The Alltech European Harvest Analysis, a decade-long initiative, is a comprehensive step in understanding the complexities of new-crop quality, mycotoxin prevalence and the threat that mycotoxins pose to animals and producers. To determine the most accurate representation of mycotoxin risk across Europe, Alltech has again collaborated with SGS, a global leader in mycotoxin testing and certification. Their expert testing, along with testing by the independently accredited Alltech 37+® laboratory in Ireland, which can detect up to 54 individual mycotoxins, has captured a highly accurate and robust set of new-crop mycotoxin data across 20 countries in Europe.
THE PRIMARY DRIVER OF MYCOTOXIN RISK IN EUROPE IS EXCESSIVE RAIN
‘’In contrast to recent years, it is excessive rain rather than drought that has been the primary driver of mycotoxin risk in Europe,” said Dr. Radka Borutova, European technical support manager with the Alltech Mycotoxin Management team. “The delayed harvest in northern and western regions has created particular problems in small grains and forages across this region, while further south, corn crops have fared much better than last year, although, as we always try to highlight, low risk does not mean no risk.’’
Key insights from the Alltech 2023 European Harvest Analysis include:
• Persistent rains close to harvesting have led to significant Fusarium-related challenges in wheat and barley crops across northern and western Europe.
• Barley shows the highest risk of the small grains, with an average of six mycotoxins per sample.
• In general, the mycotoxin challenge in corn is lower in 2023 than in recent years. However, there are still pockets of higher risk in central and southern Europe.
• The Penicillium risk continues to dominate in forages. In particular, grass silage in the UK and Ireland is heavily contaminated and presents an ongoing management challenge for dairy producers there.
Aflatoxin challenges arising from drought-stricken corn have dominated the mycotoxin picture in Europe in recent years, so growers were thankful not to suffer the same fate in 2023. However, it was still not a perfect growing season.
More than 700 new-crop corn samples were analysed this year, and results showed aflatoxins were detected in almost 70% of samples from central and southern Europe, with average levels of 6 ppb. However, most of the risk in corn is coming from Fusarium mycotoxins such as zearalenone, deoxynivalenol (DON) and T2-HT2 toxins. Ochratoxin was more prevalent this year than in 2022, with average levels detected of 28 ppb. The overall corn risk is deemed low to moderate when Alltech’s REQ metric is applied.
WHEAT AND BARLEY
New-crop samples of wheat and barley typically originated in countries across northern and western Europe. Conditions in this region deteriorated badly around mid-June, and from then onwards, unsettled weather caused havoc with harvest dates, resulting in crops standing much longer in the field than they usually would. The combination of wet and humid conditions with a delayed harvest resulted in the ideal conditions for Fusarium moulds to thrive.
This has directly manifested in elevated levels of mycotoxins in these small grains, with barley posing particular problems. Although specific reasons are unidentified, barley is much higher risk than wheat, and contains almost double the number of mycotoxins per sample.
Penicillium mycotoxins are not something we would typically associate with small grains at harvest time, but they have been more commonly detected this year, possibly due to the extremely challenging field conditions. Emerging mycotoxins are the most common groups detected across both ingredients, but the most risk is coming from type B trichothecenes. In barley, average levels of this group were at 922 ppb, with an extraordinary maximum of almost 29,000 ppb detected in one Finnish sample.
Although the Penicillium challenge has been the dominant talking point with forages over the past few years, it is worth comparing the mycotoxin profiles and primary risk drivers in corn silage and grass silage.
As with most ingredients, emerging mycotoxins are most prominent. However, in corn silage, type B trichothecenes are present in over 95% of samples, with average levels of 1,561 ppb, amplifying the risk. In comparison, grass silage is facing the greatest risk from Penicillium mycotoxins, with average levels of 338 ppb and an occurrence above 62%. Dr. Borutova has noted that when both of these ingredients are included in a total mixed ration (TMR) diet, this can create an even greater risk for dairy or beef animals.
The late harvest in northern and western Europe amplified the challenge in straw that was lying on the ground for a prolonged length of time. The 60 straw samples submitted to the lab this year were, as in recent years, heavily contaminated with emerging mycotoxins and type B trichothecenes. Average levels of type B trichothecenes were almost 1,500 ppb. This is something for livestock producers to be aware of wherever straw is being used either as bedding or as a feed material.
The Alltech 2023 European Harvest Analysis demonstrates that mycotoxins are an ongoing, dynamic issue that livestock producers need to manage. Although testing directly post harvest provides an overview of regional contamination patterns, what happens before the animal receives the feed — including storage conditions post harvest and feeding practices on-farm — can influence what the animal will actually be ingesting in terms of mycotoxins. To best manage this ongoing challenge, producers should consider a routine testing program that can uncover the specific risks. With this information, informed choices can be made on what mitigation strategies are necessary to support the health and performance of the animals.