Ergot Widespread Across Agtegra Territory

Wheat harvest has completed in Agtegra territory, and it seems that farmers have seen more ergot than in previous years. While finding ergot in a load of harvested wheat can be problematic, there are solutions that can remedy the issue.
Higher Levels This Year
Farmers in South Dakota and North Dakota are usually among the first to notice higher levels of ergot, as the area is one of the first wheat-producing regions to harvest.
“This year, ergot seemed to be more widespread than in previous years,” says Tom Bright, Agtegra Director of Grain Marketing. Kyle Bowman, Grain Merchandiser with Agtegra, agrees that 2018 seems a little worse for ergot levels.
“We see a little ergot each year, and some years are worse than others, but it usually is more localized,” Bright says. “This year, we’ve seen ergot across large portions of the spring wheat-producing region in both North Dakota and South Dakota.”
“Across our area this year, it was a bit more widespread, but it’s at levels that should be manageable,” Bright adds. “Being part of the Agtegra system, we bring value to our farmer members by offering the ability to not be too stringent and providing a market to producers, even if they have quality issues. We try to help them manage through that.”
Ergot Is a Quality Issue
“Ergot is a fungus and grows in the head of the wheat, as the wheat finishes,” says Bright. “When the wheat is harvested, ergot comes with it and is not easily separated out.”
Bright says agronomists aren’t sure what causes ergot to grow in wheat. Conditions such as amount of moisture received, timing of the wheat head filling out and the previous crop grown in a field before wheat all seem to be factors.
Ergot is about the same size as wheat kernels, making it undesirable for flour mills that are producing mixes for baked goods.
“Wheat that is bound for milling is held to very stringent levels of how much ergot is allowable—only .05% per truckload of wheat,” Bright adds.
Bright says that this year, they saw some higher concentrations of ergot —over 0.1%. Farmers know if they have ergot before they get to the elevator, because they can see the black kernels in the heads of wheat.
“We saw a lot of wheat that was well above the .05% allowable limit this year,” Bowman says.
If farmers aren’t sure if they have ergot in their wheat, Bowman adds that a grain inspection service can take samples to determine if ergot is present, and at what level.
Options for Dealing with Ergot
If ergot levels are higher than 0.1%, Bright says that his team advises farmers to keep their wheat in storage until a market can be found for it or the elevator can take it.
“If farmers end up with a load of wheat that has a high level of ergot, they have some options,” Bright says. “They can blend it with other wheat, so it meets the allowable levels, or they can run it through a color sorter to remove the ergot.”
Putting wheat through a color sorter is a risky venture, Bright says, because some wheat kernels are lost through the sorter, and it’s an expensive process.
Another choice would be to sell the wheat as an animal feed product, which would result in severe price discounts, but is still a way to offload the commodity if storage is an issue.