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The 5 Most Common Mycotoxins in Corn

September 28, 2018
This agronomic image shows Ear infected with Aspergillus (green area) and Fusarium (white area)

Ear infected with Aspergillus (green area) and Fusarium (white area)

With so much to think about during harvest, some details can easily get overlooked. Don’t let mycotoxins be one of them.

Mycotoxins can be extremely harmful to humans and animals. They are known to disrupt the synthesis of DNA, RNA and proteins, and can impair animal health – even causing death. The metabolites can be passed through animal products, such as milk.

Mycotoxins can also have a severe economic impact. They reduce the crop value from the restricted use of contaminated grain and are a cause of rejection of unacceptable dried distillers’ grains. Harvest moisture and handling can also influence grain infection. Higher grain moisture, improper storage and damaged kernels can increase the likelihood of mycotoxins in the grain.

Identifying Mycotoxins

Some toxins are more common than others, varying significantly in acceptable thresholds and in their impact on animals that consume contaminated grain. The most frequent toxins present in corn are aflatoxin, fumonisin, DON, ZEN and T-2 toxin.

To choose the most efficient management tools, start by knowing how to identify the differences between these 5 mycotoxins:


  • Produced by: Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus parasiticus
  • Identified by: Yellow-green spore masses
  • Concern to: Both human and animal health, making it the most concerning mycotoxin
  • A known carcinogen with a strict threshold of 20 ppb in grain and feed (0.5 ppb in milk) established by the Food and Drug Administration
  • Most common aflatoxins are B1, B2, G1, and G2


  • Produced by: Fusarium verticillioides (previous name moniliforme)
  • Identified by: White to pink/salmon-colored mold
  • Concern to: Equine
  • Highly correlated to insect damage on corn ears/grain
  • Most common fungal disease in corn ears

Deoxynivalenol (DON)

  • Produced by: Gibberella zeae or Fusarium graminearum
  • Identified by: Pink/reddish mold
  • Concern to: Swine
  • Not highly correlated to insect feeding

Zearalenone (ZEN)

  • Produced by: Fusarium graminearum
  • Identified by: Pink mold
  • Concern to: Swine


  • Produced by: Fusarium sporotrichioides
  • Identified by: Primarily white mold, although in some cases it can appear pink/reddish
  • Concern to: Poultry


There are multiple tools to dramatically reduce mycotoxins, especially aflatoxins. In addition to minimizing crop stress through sound in-season agronomic practices during the growing season, plan to harvest, dry and store grain at appropriate moisture levels. Going into next season, consider planting NK® corn hybrids with the Agrisure Viptera® trait for the most comprehensive insect control, reducing insect feeding damage to ears and protecting the quality of grain.

For additional recommendations, speak to your local NK retailer.

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All photos are either the property of Syngenta or are used with permission.