Compulsory DON testing suspended

Compulsory DON testing has been suspended for milling wheat produced this harvest due to the low risk of mycotoxin infection.

The National Association of British and Irish Millers removed the condition following a Mycotoxin Stakeholder Group meeting on Tuesday (5 October) meaning farmers now only have to fill in their mycotoxin risk assessment.

However, there are caveats that some processors who have low mycotoxin tolerances can request deoxynivalenol (DON) testing, says Martin Savage, trade policy manager for nabim. These will include mills supplying baby food producers, biscuit and cereal makers. Growers should liaise with their merchant if there is any confusion, he says.

Those sending grain from now onwards will save, but there will be a considerable number who have already had to pay for testing. Growers should continue completing risk assessments and if they return a higher than 15 score they will still need to carry out a DON test. The condition only applies to this harvest and will be reinstated at harvest 2011.

Cutting the time it takes to decide whether or not testing should be dropped, is a key focus, says Mr Savage. “We want to reduce the number of farmers who have to pay for unnecessary tests; we always aim to make a quick decision, but late, wet harvests can cause delays.”

Mr Savage says the DON testing programme is unavoidable because the mycotoxin risk assessment is still not producing accurate enough results to be used alone. “We have carried out tests for the past two years comparing the mycotoxin risk assessment with the DON test and we have not seen a correlation.”

This could be because fusarium levels have been too low to achieve an accurate comparison, but some farmers also need to improve the quality of their entries, he says. “We had one submitted with a reading of 30, which is impossible to achieve.”

However, the quality and number of risk assessments submitted has improved considerably and nearly all samples submitted now come with a risk assessment attached, says Mr Savage. “Everyone would like the risk assessments to take over from DON tests, but we need more data to validate it.”

This year mycotoxin levels are the lowest for four years with 98% samples below 500ppb. Zearalenone (ZON) tests are similarly low with 98% in the lowest category, he adds.

Ian Backhouse, NFU crops board chairman and member of the stakeholder group, says the decision was easy this year, but could take longer in higher risk years. “The danger if we get a medium risk year, is that it will be more difficult to persuade nabim to drop the testing programme early,” he says.

This season it is imperative growers continue to complete their risk assessments correctly and fill in the scores on their passport, he says.