Strategies for dealing with mycotoxins at the farm and feed mill level

Mycotoxin is a prevailing issue causing huge losses to the Poultry, Dairy, and Feed sector. Think Grain Think Feed and Dr. Jeetendra Verma interacted with two leading nutritionists representing both sectors to discuss the challenges and strategies to mitigate them. Below are the excerpts.
Often, in a tropical country like India, with a hot-humid climate, there is a higher risk of mycotoxins in feed raw materials, and higher humidity at the time of harvesting further adds to the issue. Due to weather uncertainty, farmers prefer to harvest early which results in higher moisture in the crop and hence higher aflatoxin levels. Lack of harvesting technology is another issue; farmers are not able to harvest in one go which is then stored improperly and takes more than one month to reach the end user. The ingredients have more mycotoxins, and their end-products i.e., feed negatively impact the birds and dairy animals.
Mycotoxins target gut integrity and can destroy the intestinal barrier function of a bird’s gastrointestinal tract (GIT), allowing easier invasion by pathogens. In the case of dairy animals, even low to moderate levels of mycotoxins, may impair animal intestinal health and immune function and increase animal susceptibility to enteric infectious diseases.
International feed standards: Not relevant for India
Though government intervention is the need of the hour and for proper schemes and regulations, there should also be better industry representation in government bodies. Otherwise, there would be confusion, as in the case of cattle feed, as per the new guidelines of BIS, the permissible limit of aflatoxin B1 in cattle feed is 20 ppb. While in feed ingredients especially grains and DORB, the permissible limit is 50 ppb. With an amount of 50 ppb in the input ingredients, it is not possible to produce a finished product of 20 ppb.
It should define the standards and also give incentives to farmers producing milk with lower M1 or eggs with lesser toxins. Only then the farmer is going to produce better quality.
Poultry & Dairy industry – Now and then
Back then, the production levels were not so high, cross-breeding was also very limited and even the ingredients in the feed formulation were totally different. With low productivity and limited feed intake, even the immunity level of birds and animals was better. While today, maize is over-dominating but its protein value has reduced, as per documents it should have 9.5 – 10% protein while practically, it is approx. 8% protein i.e., also hard protein with lower digestibility, reduced vitamin A and varied starch content. Mostly maize production is targeted toward the starch and ethanol industry. The agronomic practices have changed for high yield and the composition of the crop has changed while requirements of high-producing birds and animals are increasing. Due to reduced raw material quality, the immunity of the birds and animals is compromised.
Secondly, there is hardly any focus on the energy and protein requirements as per the changed genetics of birds and animals. The standard egg weight used to be 55 gm and now it is 52-53 gm, as eggs are sold on the basis of numbers and milk is sold on basis of fat %. High-yielding animals can provide 3.5% fat which fetches a lesser price and to compensate for high fat, there is a tendency to include more fiber and hence deteriorating the feed quality. It is not possible to produce quality feed without using feed additives and on the contrary, after COVID-19, the usage of feed additives is also reduced due to high prices.
Until and unless the government starts giving some incentives for better quality produce – milk or eggs, farmers won’t invest in safe feed or food production.
Dealing with mycotoxins in Feed mill
Mycotoxin management is a wide subject that starts with the selection of raw materials at the purchase point. Trained personnel should be deployed at the purchase point. Then comes quality testing at the receiving point. Each bag of ingredients should be checked to ensure the finished feed is toxin-free or lesser toxins. Though practically, it is a tough job but it is mandatory, especially for breeder operations. Due to recent rains, the raw material is getting moist during transportation and if it is not segregated the whole lot will get more toxins. There are many tools like physical appearance or rapid tests for quality testing.
Procurement strategies
As we procure throughout the year from different parts of the country, we store yearly data and track rainfall patterns. We prefer to procure huge quantities of raw materials from regions where we get better quality like in South India there is a better quality of grains produced, so, we purchase it at a premium. We deploy our teams well in advance in case of untimely rains at harvesting time.
Storage infrastructure
Generally, we prefer silo storage with pre-cleaners which remove small grains, dust, and other foreign material, and only desired quality and size grains are shifted to silos. Silos are connected with software for air ventilation based on internal grain temperature, thus maintaining the grain quality for longer durations and avoiding mold formation and other issues.
Warehouse storage: At an interval of 40-45 days, fumigation should be done. Gas fumigation is better than spraying fumigants directly on the storage bags which will add further chemical toxins to raw materials. Di-formate and formaldehyde combination while covering the material with plastic sheets or completely air tightened warehouse would give the best results and have negligible residues on the grain surface.
Drying of feed crops
Reducing the moisture content of feed grains up to 11.5 – 12% by electric grain dryers or steam drying can help for better preservation for a longer duration and avoid mold or other toxins formation.
Feed crops quality – Now and then
Before COVID-19, the quality of feed crops was much better. In the last 2 years, the damage is majorly due to delayed rains or rains at the time of harvest, especially in Karnataka and we really hope that this won’t happen during the next harvest in mid of September. This year’s best quality grain in terms of grain count and grain size is from Andhra Pradesh.
Using non-conventional feed ingredients
Usage of non-conventional feed ingredients like jawar, bajra, wheat, rice, and others is more common not only to reduce feed prices but also reducing the burden on conventional ingredients. In case a feed miller has to accept lower quality ingredients, mycotoxin binding agents should be used. This feed is only used for commercial operations, not breeders.
Quality of imported GM soy
The protein content in GM soy was 47-48% while from Indian soy it is 45.5-46.5% and even the amino acid profile was better at a lower price. I would recommend using GM crops which would benefit all the stakeholders.