Pink, mouldy corn after wet summer has Ontario farmers expecting huge economic loss

Ontario farmers are reporting very high levels of a pink mould in their corn bushels. The harvest has just started and they're worried for a large economic impact this year.

'It will be anywhere from thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars,' says Leo Guilbeault

Maurice Chauvin, a corn farmer in Stoney Point, says other corn producers are also very nervous about this year's harvest. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

The wet weather this past summer has resulted in a mould infestation affecting field corn in Ontario.

Farmers are seeing corn kernels decorated with pink mould, which they say is DON, which stands for Deoxynivalenol, a type of vomitoxin. The toxin is produced by a type of fungus, which infects a number of grains, including wheat and barley.

If the levels of vomitoxin are too high, grain elevators won't accept it — because animal feed made from that grain could have harmful effects on pigs.

"Everyone's very nervous about it and trying to come up with a solution that can help everybody," said Maurice Chauvin, a corn farmer in Stoney Point and a delegate to the Grain Farmers of Ontario.

Chauvin's corn has a pink substance on it, which is suspected to be vomitoxin. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Another problem is that ethanol producers and distilleries can't sell the by-products from the infested corn, so they won't pay as high of a price for it.

The infestation is affecting crops across southern Ontario. 

Great Lakes Grain Inc., which operates 25 grain elevators across the province, says levels are "spiking much higher" this year.

"In most years, most of the crops are very marketable with less than 3 ppm of vomitoxin in most years," said general manager Don Kabbes.

Leo Guilbeault farms in Essex County and he speculates the economic loss will be enormous. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

According to an email sent to corn producers from Great Lakes Grain, if the level of vomitoxin exceeds 8 ppm, the bushel will be rejected by the elevator.

This year, Kabbes said they seeing spikes in the 20s and 30s in corn bushels.

Growers who have levels exceeding 8 ppm "may be in a claim position with Agricorp," the email reads. Agricorp is a Government of Ontario agency which helps producers manage agricultural risk.

Grain Farmers of Ontario have also sent a newsletter to members, advising them to contact Agricorp to begin the assessment even if they haven't been affected by the issue yet.

Kabbes can't say how many bushels he'll expect to turn away at the elevators yet, as the harvest has just started. However, one farmer speculates the economic loss will be huge.

The rain is filling up in the corn fields. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

"It will be anywhere from thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Leo Guilbeault, who farms 243 hectares of corn in Essex County.

"Multiply that out by the number of farmers in the county, it will add up to millions of dollars."

The longer it rains, farmers say the worse the mould problem will be.

"It is an environmental issue that we've got, and all the stars lined up this year to produce higher levels," said Kabbes.

With files from Dale Molnar