Serbia’s Corn Imports Seen Rising as Fungus Spreads to Milk

Serbia, which exported 2.3 million metric tons of corn in 2011-12, may need to import more of the grain than usual this year to ensure food safety as a fungus contamination spreads from corn to milk.

Serbia’s corn exports are seen falling 83 percent year-on-year to 400,000 tons of corn in 2012-13, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its imports are seen rising to 50,000 tons in 2012-13 from 2,000 tons in the year-earlier period.

“The harvest left Serbia short of 250,000 tons of corn and it can either turn to imports or wait until wheat and barley harvest in June to mix that with corn for new fodder blends,” Vukosav Sakovic, head of the corn producer association Zita Srbije, said by phone in Belgrade today.

Corn production fell by 45 percent to 3.5 million tons due to drought and contamination by aflatoxins, Sakovic said. The crop was contaminated by aflatoxins, which are produced by fungi and considered carcinogenic to humans and animals, he said. Aflatoxin tends to spread in drought-stressed corn.

The Agriculture Ministry ordered six dairies to withdraw 46 varieties of milk on Feb. 20 after reports that aflatoxin concentrations exceeded the legal cap of 0.05 micrograms per kilogram (2.2 pounds), according to the ministry’s website. They also ordered checks yesterday of 160,000 tons of corn kept by the Belgrade-based Commodity Reserves Agency before it distributes 500 kilograms of “healthy corn” per cow to farmers to stop contamination, according to the website.

Test Results

The agency test results should be known on Feb. 25 and if the corn is good it will be distributed to farmers next week, Goran Knezevic, the agriculture minister, said in an e-mailed statement from the ministry today.

Health Minister Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic questioned the toxicity levels in an interview with the state broadcaster RTC earlier today. “Until two years ago we had a limit of 0.5 and now we have the limit of 0.05 which means we cannot talk about toxicity.”

Tina Anicic, the Health Ministry’s spokeswoman, and Stanislava Nol, the Agriculture Ministry’s spokeswoman, were not immediately available to comment.

A decision to start corn imports “sooner rather than later” will depend on global prices, Sakovic said. Serbia needs around 330,000 tons of the grain each month, for human and animal consumption, or 3.96 million tons over a calendar year, he said.

Spot corn traded at 22.20 dinars per kilogram, equivalent to $260 per ton this morning, said Zarko Galetin, the head of the Serbian Commodity Exchange based in the northern city of Novi Sad, the capital of the Serbian breadbasket, Vojvodina. It was 2.9 percent lower than last week’s average of 22.87 dinars.

Corn futures for May delivery rose 0.6 percent to $6.895 a bushel by 10:11 a.m. on the Chicago Board of Trade.

“Reports of wheat and milk contamination are damping demand for corn and I’m afraid that we will be forced to start imports because the market lacks confidence in the quality of domestic corn,” Galetin said by phone from Novi Sad.