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Mycotoxins in silage: Dealing with an unseen enemy

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Invisible to the naked eye, potent in quantities as miniscule as 0.2 parts per million and able to cause everything from reduced food intake to neuro-physiological problems and abortions, mycotoxins are an ever-present threat for anyone producing baled silage. So just how do you overcome this unseen enemy?

bpi.agri and IBERS (the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences) are two organisations with an interest in helping farmers and agricultural contractors to win the war on mycotoxins.

bpi.agri, as one of the worlds leading manufacturers of balewrapping films, understandably wants its customers to avoid any problem that could affect their silage bales product related or otherwise. IBERS meanwhile is recognised and respected as centre of excellence in grassland research and a leading exponent of balewrapping best practice.

This synergy in goals frequently sees both organisations working together across everything from new product development to educational initiatives. The two partners advice on dealing with mycotoxins starts in baled silage by understanding the nature of these microscopic organisms.

Mould. An indicator? Or not?

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Mycotoxins are most commonly associated with mould growth says Dr. Dave Davies, a highly published Senior Research Scientist from IBERS and an expert in silage/rumen nutrition. Even their name alludes to mould – with myco meaning fungal and toxin obviously meaning poisonous. But in reality there are actually two forms of mycotoxin.

The first farmers should be thinking about is field formed mycotoxins such as zearalenone, Dave continues. These mycotoxins are usually found in a less than perfect sward for example, in a sward where the crop is actually starting to die at the base.

The fact that these mycotoxins are present before the crop is even baled is bad enough, but worse is still to come.

They are also hardy enough to survive the fermentation process and can still be present, even when no mould growth is seen.

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From field formed to storage formed

Aside from field formed mycotoxins, the other form of mycotoxin that can occur in silage is storage formed, explains Dr. Dave Davies. These mycotoxins are thankfully more commonly associated with visible mould growth – whether thats blue mould or white mould. Specific examples include roquefortin C for blue mould and deoxynivalenol for white mould.

However, dont think for a second that just because you have mould growth you have mycotoxins adds Dave Davies. As with all forms of microbiology, its rarely that clear cut.

Complicated problems, simple solution.

Whilst the contributory causes of mycotoxins in silage are numerous and complicated, the most effective way of overcoming them is simple. It begins – and ends – with best practice.

To reduce the likelihood of field formed mycotoxins, farmers should aim for a clean crop. A field thats been tightly grazed before the first silage crop is always the ideal choice says Dave Davies.

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Avoiding storage formed mycotoxins on the other hand involves good silage management Dave continues. Wrap bales as quickly as possible at the storage site and do everything you can to achieve a good air tight seal with the film. This includes using 6 layers of film rather than 4 and taking extra care to avoid the film being punctured.

The better the air barrier, the better the fermentation process and the quicker the removal of oxygen from the bale, adds Dave Davies. Fungi that produce storage formed mycotoxins need that oxygen to grow and produce the mycotoxin. Eliminate that and you eliminate them.

Sometimes, were all tempted to take a short cut or two when making baled silage. But with Daves advice in mind and equipped with our new found knowledge of mycotoxins, its easy to remind yourself why such short cuts are rarely a good idea.

  • bpi.agri is a British-based manufacturer of high-performance silage stretchwrap and lightweight, high strength silage sheeting. Its range of products includes such widely respected brand names as Silotite, Polybale, Visqueen Poliwrap and Visqueen Agri-S.
  • The manufacturers Silotite product is the worlds leading balewrap. Sold in over 50 countries across six continents, it is used to wrap more than 40 million bales every year.
  • Since the invention of silage balewrapping in the mid-1980s, bpi.agri has been at the forefront in developing new products for use by farmers and agricultural contractors across the globe. Highlighting this, it was the first manufacturer in the world to develop multi-layer, co-extruded silage stretch film.
  • To ensure continued innovations, bpi.agri has a strong commitment to R&D and works closely with a number of key research partners including IGERS (The Institute of Grasslands, Environmental and Rural Sciences)
  • bpi.agris desire to help farmers and agricultural contractors goes way beyond the production of innovative, fit for purpose products. The business also stages regular balewrapping clinics and is a founding member of the new Silage Advisory Centre (www.silageadvice.com). This recently unveiled initiative aims to offer farmers advice on maximising their forage through better grassland management and a more effective use of big baled silage.
  • bpi.agri is a division of BPI (British Polythene Industries) plc, one of Europes largest manufacturers of polythene films, bags and sacks.
  • The continuing success of British Polythene Industries has been formally acknowledged in a recent high profile survey. The business achieved 40th place out of 236 companies in a league table of Britains Most Admired Companies 2009 published by Management Today in association with Accenture.

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