Globally, mycotoxins are an ever-present threat in the feed supply chain and pose not just a risk to animal health but also human health, especially in regions such as Africa and Asia, where extreme weather and challenges with storage conditions mean elevated levels of mycotoxins can make their way into animal feed, and subsequently the food supply. Due to the invisible nature of mycotoxins, the only accurate method of identifying contamination in feed ingredients or finished feed is to carry out a mycotoxin test, meaning this data is crucial for producing safe animal feeds.
The digitization of agriculture is being viewed more and more as one of the key ways in which the sector can meet some of the pressing challenges surrounding animal welfare, food safety and environmental sustainability. Like most industries, data collection is rarely the problem. Instead, it is the interpretation of this data and translation into actionable insights that are often the limiting factors in capturing the true value of the wealth of new technologies that are appearing.
Globally, mycotoxins are an ever-present threat in the feed supply chain and pose not just a risk to animal health but also human health, especially in regions such as Africa and Asia, where extreme weather and challenges with storage conditions mean elevated levels of mycotoxins can make their way into animal feed, and subsequently the food supply. Highlighting the scope of the mycotoxin challenge, in the US alone in 2018, an estimated 63.5 million metric tons of grain was contaminated with mycotoxins, creating subsequent knock-on economic effects right across the animal feed industry. Due to the invisible nature of mycotoxins, the only accurate method of identifying contamination in feed ingredients or finished feed is to carry out a mycotoxin test, meaning this data is crucial for producing safe animal feeds. Analytical technologies for determining mycotoxin presence continue to advance and provide greater insight into the mycotoxin threat. Commonly used analytical approaches include chromatography, immunodetection or liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass-spectrometry. Each year, masses of mycotoxin test data are gathered at different points in the feed supply chain.
UNCOVERING INVISIBLE THREATS
One of the main goals of the Alltech Mycotoxin Management Program is to make mycotoxins more visible and provide stakeholders throughout the feed supply chain with the best possible information to make effective decisions when it comes to mycotoxin control. Testing is a crucial component of this, and between the Alltech 37+® mycotoxin analysis laboratories and Alltech RAPIREAD® field testing kits, almost 30,000 mycotoxin tests will be carried out this year, helping reveal the extent of mycotoxin presence in feeds globally.
But how do feed and livestock producers use this wealth of data to inform decision making related to mycotoxin control? Since its initial launch, and using data generated from both laboratory and field testing, the Alltech® Mycotoxin Management Portal has provided users with an easy-to-use online tool where they can view and manage their mycotoxin test results. Recognizing the importance of actively managing and utilizing this data and generating the most relevant actionable insights, the Alltech® Mycotoxin Management team has recently launched an updated version of the portal. With these recent updates, users now have access to a whole host of innovative features, with a specific emphasis on visualizing mycotoxin test data in an easy-to-comprehend format. Users will have round-the-clock secure access to their mycotoxin test data, be able to view global mycotoxin contamination trends, assess the risk to different species and compare mycotoxin patterns across different ingredients and time periods. Knowing the mycotoxin risk is an important step, but Alltech also strongly believes in the need to quantify what that risk means to a livestock producer’s business in terms of physical and financial performance. Evaluating risk using tools such as Risk Equivalent Quantity (REQ) and Alltech PROTECT™ allows our teams to work with producers to truly understand the potential impact of mycotoxins on their animals and the necessary steps to mitigate these challenges successfully.
John Winchell is Alltech’s representative in northeastern USA and has been actively analyzing mycotoxin test data for the past few years to understand better the nuances surrounding crop quality and the most effective methods to control the mycotoxin risk on farms in this region, an area that is often termed “mycotoxin central.” As well as testing feed ingredients for mycotoxins, John has also been looking at weather patterns, crop disease status and harvest dates to build a better overall picture of the factors that can impact feed quality and subsequent animal productivity.
“I am really excited about what technology like the new portal and other analytical tools can bring to both my customers and me,” explains John. “Mycotoxins are fascinating to study, and tools like this can only help to advance our understanding of what we need to do to effectively mitigate the continual challenge.”
ADDRESSING FUTURE MYCOTOXIN CHALLENGES
A changing climate and more extreme weather patterns, the shift to more regenerative tillage practices and new agricultural policy frameworks designed to enhance sustainability are just some of the factors set to impact mycotoxin contamination profiles in the coming years. The recently launched European Green Deal is one of those policy frameworks that could lead to unintended consequences when it comes to the presence of mycotoxins in animal feeds. The ambition to reduce pesticide usage and encourage more ecologically friendly tillage practices across the European Union are just some of the factors that may actually reduce the number of management tools that grain and forage producers can rely upon to reduce the mold and mycotoxin risk.
In this changing agricultural landscape, more than ever, accurate data will be needed across the feed supply chain to limit the negative impact of mycotoxins on the feed and food supply. By taking advantage of the advancements in data management capabilities, the best outcomes are likely to come from an integrated management approach that includes pre-harvest information, such as agronomic practices, weather and crop status, all the way through to post-harvest mycotoxin testing, crop storage and the use of feed additive technologies where necessary. Such methods will inevitably require the need for innovative collaborations between organizations both inside and outside the agricultural sector. This sort of joined-up thinking presents a real opportunity to ensure the industry is doing all it can to minimize wastage in the feed supply chain, providing animals with the best quality feeds for optimum productivity and delivering sustainable and safe food to the end consumer.
About Martin Minchin
Graduating in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and land management, Martin joined a Norwegian based forage and crop care specialist. His post-graduate studies include an MBA from University of Wales Trinity Saint David and a master’s degree in food business strategy from the UCD Michael Smurfit Business School. After completing his master’s degree in 2017, Martin joined Alltech where he now holds the role of marketing manager for their Mycotoxin Management Program.