Fusarium head blight is one of Canada’s worst crop diseases. Last year’s crops yielded high levels of the disease, which leads many to ask: what are the prospects for 2017?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look good. According to tests performed by BioVision, 92% of the tested Manitoba wheat crops from last year contained the pathogen, making 2016 one of the worst years for fusarium head blight in Western Canada. Last year’s diseased crops have paved the way for this year: the ground is full of spores that will impact this year’s harvest.
Infected crops can be a massive detriment to farmers’ and producers’ bottom lines. Fusarium damage and the resulting residual mycotoxins are hazards to food and feed safety. This downgrades the quality and price of the crop, sometimes to the point where it cannot be used or sold at all.
What Can Farmers Do?
According to the Manitoba Cooperator, fusarium head blight requires three things to thrive: “the presence of the pathogen, a susceptible host, and the right environment to develop.” Therefore, the first – and best – thing that producers can do is source quality seed with low levels of disease.
Fusarium thrives in moist conditions, which is why it exploded last year: heavy dews, warm days, and rainy conditions provided the perfect environment for it to take hold. While there’s no way to control the weather, there are ways to control crop management. Crop rotation is one effective method to reduce the risk of infection. Three to four year rotation between susceptible plants is the best practice. Seeding a uniform stand with seed that if free of the pathogen is your second line of defense. Getting your seed tested and knowing the pathogen analysis of your seed will determine the levels of disease before you seed the crop. Using seed treatment helps to lower your risk if the pathogen is present however does not completely eliminate your risk of seeing fusarium return the following year. Your last line of defense is fungicides, which is known to be more effective if the crop is all at the same growth stage. Wheat is most susceptible to infection at the flowering stage! Remember wheat staging for fungicide can be tricky as the crop can change very fast during flowering. This is the most important time to pay attention to your crop, not just from the road but from in field scouting. These are your best lines of defense against fusarium head blight!