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Wheat: Disease Management Deserves Attention

Year-round, holistic approach offers best results.

Healthy wheatThe old adage: ”an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is certainly true when managing wheat diseases.

While their exact impact is hard to measure, diseases are estimated to have reduced the 2015 wheat crop in Kansas by 22.2 percent or nearly 11 bushels per acre, according to researchers at Kansas State University, where wheat diseases are closely tracked. A wet spring and early summer contributed to a significant incidence of wheat disease with stripe rust, head scab and wheat streak mosaic being the most prevalent in our Southeastern wheat fields as well.

Though wheat growers can’t control the weather, with a holistic, integrated pest management approach, yield lost to disease can be minimized. Many disease-prevention strategies are completed before the seed is in the ground. Growers who take an integrated approach include these practices:

Wheat Disease Prevention Practices

  • Know diseases prevalent in your area and on your farm
  • Select resistant varieties
  • Timely planting
  • Burn down nearby plants which can vector disease
  • Crop rotation
  • Minimize exposure to old crop residue
  • Use fungicide/insecticide seed treatments
  • Crop sequence (time since last wheat crop)
  • Ensure balanced crop nutrition
  • Plant multiple varieties to spread risk
  • Scout fields, particularly when weather is ideal for disease
  • Apply fungicides as preventative if appropriate

Be wary of ideal environmental conditions.

In many cases, these management practices will successfully prevent or minimize disease occurrence. However, when environmental conditions are favorable, diseases can still occur. Strategic, frequent scouting and timely application of a fungicide with the activity to control the specific disease is essential.

Wheat diseases to be aware of early season are: leaf rust, powdery mildew, Pythium (cottony blight or grease spot), septoria leaf spot and stripe rust. Your Southern States® agronomist can help with disease identification and offer suggestions for the most appropriate product and application timing.

Be prepared for Fusarium head scab/head blight at flowering.

Across the United States wheat growing regions, Fusarium head scab (head blight) is the most predominant disease impacting wheat production. Head scab is caused by the fungus Fusarium graminearum, which attacks the grain and can result in serious yield losses. When infecting the grain, head scab may produce mycotoxins, the most common of which is deoxynivalenol (DON) or vomitoxin.

Major outbreaks of Fusarium head blight are associated with specific weather patterns prior to flowering of the wheat crop.

As with all crop diseases, head scab is best managed with an integrated approach beginning with selecting the best available genetic resistance supplemented by timely application of a fungicide (either Prosaro® or Caramba®) at the correct timing (beginning of flowering — Feekes growth stage 10.5.1). When a fungicide can’t be applied on the day that most of the field is flowering, an application two to six days after that will still help suppress the disease.

Tool predicts potential for disease

In addition to scouting, an online tool is available to help growers assess the risk of Fusarium head scab. During the growing season, the Fusarium Head Blight Prediction Center, uses models that predict the risk of a major epidemic (greater than 10% field severity) based on observed weather patterns.

For more information on wheat disease management, please visit with your local Southern States agronomy professional.

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