Determining future aflatoxin contamination risk scenarios for corn in Southern Georgia, USA using spatio-temporal modelling and future climate simulations
Sci Rep. 2021 Jun 29;11(1):13522. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-92557-6.
Aflatoxins (AFs) are produced by fungi in crops and can cause liver cancer. Permitted levels are legislated and batches of grain are rejected based on average concentrations. Corn grown in Southern Georgia (GA), USA, which experiences drought during the mid-silk growth period in June, is particularly susceptible to infection by Aspergillus section Flavi species which produce AFs. Previous studies showed strong association between AFs and June weather. Risk factors were developed: June maximum temperatures > 33 °C and June rainfall < 50 mm, the 30-year normals for the region. Future climate data were estimated for each year (2000-2100) and county in southern GA using the RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5 emissions scenarios. The number of counties with June maximum temperatures > 33 °C and rainfall < 50 mm increased and then plateaued for both emissions scenarios. The percentage of years thresholds were exceeded was greater for RCP 8.5 than RCP 4.5. The spatial distribution of high-risk counties changed over time. Results suggest corn growth distribution should be changed or adaptation strategies employed like planting resistant varieties, irrigating and planting earlier. There were significantly more counties exceeding thresholds in 2010-2040 compared to 2000-2030 suggesting that adaptation strategies should be employed as soon as possible.