As farmers are combining their grain crops an increase in some diseases could impact their bottom line. University of Kentucky Extension Plant Pathologist Carl Bradley said a number of diseases that affect the heads of crops like wheat, barley and rye, have been observed in Kentucky the last few weeks.
Fusarium head blight, Glume Blotch and Loose Smut have all either been called into Bradley by other farmers in the state, or have been identified in his research plots at the Princeton based Grain Center of Excellence.
“Of those three I think the most important is fusarium head blight, sometimes called head scab.” Bradley said. “It is easiest to observe this disease before heads completely mature.”
According to Bradley, symptoms of Fusarium Head Blight can appear to partially affect the heads of grains, with both healthy green and affected bleached areas present in the same head.
Bradley said reports of the crop disease vary from low to moderately-high in some cases, depending on the crop, variety, and use of fungicide.
“It’s important for farmers to know if they have the problem or not, unfortunately it might be too late to scout as the combines are rolling,” Bradley said.
The disease doesn’t hurt yield as much as it impacts grain quality--which will be inspected as farmers sell their product.
Bradley suggests farmers increase their combine’s fan speed to blow out kernels infected with the pathogen.
According to Bradley, farmers try to actively manage the disease by choosing varieties that would be less susceptible, or moderately resistant, and then apply fungicides at the right time.
“So there are things farmers can do to help manage this disease so I'm hopeful that some of those management practices are helpful and we don't have a big problem,” he said.
Wet weather also tends to increase disease presence.
“Typically when we have real bad issues with this disease when we have the kind of weather where it's cloudy and it might not rain a lot but it might just mist a lot several days in a row,” Bradley said.
Because wheat is grown more than other small grains in Kentucky it could be impacted most. Bradley said the effect won’t be known for another month, after harvest.
The last 10 years, production of wheat has resulted in sales ranging from $74 million to over $300 million annually for the state.