Production Blog
Pam Smith DTN\Progressive Farmer Crops Technology Editor

Thursday 08/30/12

There's a Fungus Among Us

IOWA CITY, Iowa (DTN) -- My mother taught me never to wear white unless it was Easter or you were getting married. No exceptions.

Saprophytic fungi, microorganisms that feed on dead plant material, can grow on leaves and stalks of dry corn plants this time of year and contribute to the mold portion of pollen and mold counts. (DTN file photo by Elaine Shein)

Today, as I prepare to head to the field to photograph corn harvest, I am thankful that my mother's distain for stains rubbed off on me. I dressed in dark colors. As anyone who has entered a cornfield lately knows, there's a black cloud hanging over harvest and I don't mean the depressing yields.

Those trails of black dust fogging from the back of the combine are the result of black mold covering the leaves and stalks of corn plants. On the recent Pro Farmer Midwest Corn tour, I often found myself emerging from the field with the look of a linebacker painted with eye black to reduce glare.

Iowa State University plant pathologist Alison Robertson explained in a release Thursday that the black mold is saprophytic fungi -- a big word for microorganisms that feed on dead plant material. The wet weather over the weekend, followed by warm humid weather and morning dews, have favored growth of these organisms.

Robertson said these microorganisms are not known to produce toxins. Harvested grain also emerges from this relatively clean. She warned that individuals with allergies or respiratory problems should wear dust masks to reduce breathing in masses of spores. The saprophytic fungi are a big contributor to the mold portion of pollen and mold counts. She also urged to growers to keep combine engines and filters clean.

The last piece of advice: Don't wear a white shirt.

Pamela Smith can be reached at


Posted at 2:38PM CDT 08/30/12 by Pam Smith
Comments (1)
Pamela, You should send copies of this article to Health Sites. There ARE a lot of people suffering from "Normal" Allergic Symptoms, and if you study the Pathology of Fungus and Mold, some of the "Flu" folks are suffering is also likely attributable to it. This is an important and informative article. Ric
Posted by Ric Ohge at 1:58PM CDT 09/04/12
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