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When the corn is very dry like it is this year, it is not unusual to see a lot of dust flying off the corn head and around the combine. Normally the dust is white and not really dangerous. Still, you would not want to breathe too much of it as over time it can cause farmers lung disease. But, this year there is black dust flying around the combine harvesting corn.

Last week I was recording a Pioneer Harvest Report with Ashley Storby who is a Field Agronomist in our area. Ashley said she and other Agronomists were getting a lot of calls from farmers asking about the black corn dust covering combines. They did some research and determined that the black dust was caused by a naturally occurring fungus.

When the corn plants mature and senesce these fungi begin to break down the corn crop residue or recycle it. This year the fungus began doing its job of recycling the corn residue much earlier than normal. You may wonder how that is possible because we have seen very little rainfall this fall? However, remember how warm it has been this fall and with very high humidity? That allowed the fungus to be very active which resulted in the black dust.

You should be careful not to breathe the black dust because it can cause pneumonia. That plus COVID-19 still a concern it would not be a good combination. So, if you are outside the cab cleaning off the combine with a leaf blower or unloading corn you may want to consider wearing a mask! We can be thankful that today we have nice heated and airconditioned cabs so we do not have to breathe that dust all day long like our Dad or grandfathers.

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