Corn crop tests skewed by contaminated equipment

View from Rural Route 8

By Jim Suber

My farmer friend was definitely “hacked off.” Big Grain versus Little Farmer can do that. This corn harvest, as everyone knows, has been short on corn from most fields and long on a natural toxic substance called aflatoxin.

That stuff shows up in corn during droughts. A whole lot of it can make some animals sick. Some species can tolerate it more than others. Grain companies try to blend it in to the general lot to bring the batch down to legally acceptable levels. Different animal groups can tolerate different levels.

But if a farmer’s load registers any parts per billion, as it was in my friend’s case at 118 ppb, then he gets discounted a penny a ppb per bushel. Or, in this case, $1.18 a bushel, which adds up to a big loss on a big truck load of corn.

So, farmers have been told by Big Grain operatives at the Big Grain elevator in eastern Kansas that perhaps their grain carts and/or combine hoppers were accumulating aflatoxin and therefore contaminating the truck loads coming into the elevator.

But savvy farmers are watchful, and what they began to notice is that perhaps the sampling probes used by the sample takers and the cups or containers they put the samples into may not have been cleaned after each sample. Maybe the sampling tools have been the items accumulating aflatoxin and not the farmers’ machines.

Some farmers then began pulling their trucks out of the line after high aflatoxin readings and simply returning to the end of the line to give the sampling tools a chance to be cleansed by subsequent samplings of other loads. It could be, the thinking goes, that the high readings persist because of residue on the sampling tools as long as one or two trucks later after a truly high reading is taken and contaminates the sampling devices.

Thanks, but no thanks, farmers are saying, as they pull away and head back around for a second reading and often much lower toxin count.

With my friend, one of those new readings resulted in a mere 13 ppb, or 13 cents a bushel discount rather than the $1.18 shake down on the same load. That’s a big difference the privatized Kansas Grain Inspection department should investigate. I am not naming names, but the involved parties can figure it out from here.

I hear a horror harvest story nearly every fall from injured farmers concerning their relations with Big Grain. Sure, there are two or three sides to every story, but Big Grain already has big city legal staff and my farmer friends usually just know of a lawyer…

By the time this is printed, the September crop report with all its estimates and assessments will have been issued (Wednesday, Sept. 12).

That report will be scrutinized and analyzed by far more business and political entities than normal, because of the drought-reduced yields and likely higher consumer prices for commodities-based products.

The anti-ethanol people will be screaming to end ethanol blending in gasoline. The consumer advocates will warn that even more food aid will have to be added to the now 47 million Americans participating in what used to be known as “Food Stamps,” but has now been converted to plastic cards and a renamed program known as “SNAP.” The program has more than doubled since 2007 in Kansas and the United States. It costs $73 billion or more a year.

With other federal food programs, like school lunch, snack, breakfast and weekend packages for students, and the old WIC (women with infant children) and several others, the annual cost is more than $100 billion!

The House wanted to remove $16 billion over a 10-year period from SNAP, or $1.6 billion a year. That’s just 2.2 percent, a number that could be found in administrative fat and inefficiencies, even if no fraud exists, as defenders claim is so.

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