Falling numbers, vomitoxin return

Two old enemies -- falling numbers and vomitoxin -- are a concern again this fall for some Upper Midwest and Canadian wheat farmers, especially ones who raise winter wheat.

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This year, concerns revolve around vomitoxin and falling numbers, which indicate soundness in the wheat.

Two old enemies -- falling numbers and vomitoxin -- are a concern again this fall for some Upper Midwest and Canadian wheat farmers, especially ones who raise winter wheat.

For now, at least, North Dakota farmers with affected grain should consider binning it until more is known, says Neal Fisher, administrator of the North Dakota Wheat Commission.

"Bin as much as you can," he says. "Wait until we find out what the whole harvest is, and what the competitors have. Sometimes that has a way of making the buyers a little less meticulous on what they're looking for."

He acknowledges that waiting to sell grain can be difficult for farmers with bills to pay.

Falling numbers and vomitoxin also are a concern for many grain elevators, says David Fiebiger, president of the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association and manager of the Finley (N.D.) Farmers Grain & Elevator Co.


Careful planning and segregation -- or separating grain of varying quality -- are essential, he says.

"A bottle of Pepto-Bismol helps, too," Fiebiger says.

Falling numbers measure wheat's soundness. The measurement (which refers to the time it takes for a steel ball to fall through a test mix of flour and water) is influenced by the amount of sprout damage in a sample. Grain with sprout damage is less valuable to bakers and millers, and farmers who produce it can be hit with what Fisher calls "pretty severe" price discounts.

Vomixtoxin, also known as vom and deoxynivalenol, or DON, is a toxin that can be produced in wheat and barley infected by scab. Vom's presence makes grain less attractive to buyers and can lead to big price discounts.

Vom is popping up more often in winter wheat than spring wheat this harvest, but it's a concern in the latter, too, regional ag officials say.

Unusual growing season

Blame the region's unusual growing season for problems with vom and falling numbers.

Normally, farmers are good at applying products that help protect wheat from vom. But the spring was so wet that some farmers had difficulty getting into fields to apply the products, Fisher says.


Problems with sprout damage and falling numbers reflect the soggy fall that repeatedly has interrupted wheat harvest. The problem will grow worse the longer wheat harvest drags on, ag officials say.

Still manageable

For the time being, however, the problem is manageable, Fisher says.

"Not all is lost. Yes, there are pockets with problems. But a lot of good, sound fields are out there. We've had a lot of producers call us to say they've had a good-quality crop. So far, most material looks like it's pretty useable," he says.

Blending sprout-damaged and not-sprout-damaged wheat, to achieve acceptable overall quality, is difficult, Fisher says.

"It's best to put that (sprout-damaged wheat) aside, not blend off," he says.

Wheat with severe sprout damage can be fed to livestock.

Some vomitoxin in wheat can be screened out, he says.


Falling numbers, delays

Farmers and ag officials in South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana also report problems with falling numbers and scab.

Problems with vom and falling numbers are magnified because of widespread rail delays, which slows transportation of harvested grain, Fisher says.

"Being an elevator manager right now is a difficult job to be in," Fisher says.

Elevators also suffer financially from problems such as vom and falling numbers, Fiebiger says.

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