Last week, corn farmers from Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama made Capitol Hill visits to lobby for agricultural research funding to address ongoing concerns with mycotoxin contamination in corn.

"It's crucial that agriculture works together on this issue, which is especially important to farmers in the Southeast," said Guy Davenport, a grower from North Carolina who made the visits and is a member of the National Corn Growers Association's (NCGA) Corn Board. "Coming to Washington was an important step in educating lawmakers about a very real threat to our region's agriculture and economy."

Mycotoxins are toxic compounds produced by naturally occurring fungi in grains, nuts, and oil seeds, which at high concentrations can present a health threat to humans and animals. One type of mycotoxin is aflatoxin, which is most prevalent in corn, cotton, peanuts and tree nuts. Aflatoxin is most commonly related to drought-stressed corn followed by periods of high humidity, and it more commonly occurs in southern states.

The farmers were joined by representatives of five land-grant universities in advocating for the funds. Texas A&M, Auburn University, Mississippi State University, North Carolina State University and the University of Georgia are all part of the Southern States Aflatoxin Initiative.

The group is seeking $5 million a year from the USDA over the next five years to establish and operate the Aflatoxin Center of Excellent of the South. Research efforts will focus on biological control and ecology, breeding and genetics for resistance, best management practices, and remediation of contaminated grain. A portion of the funding would be in the form of competitive grants that could be available to researchers at universities across the country who are doing work in this field.