K-State fact sheet helps Kansas wheat farmers hit by flag smut

K-State fact sheet helps Kansas wheat farmers hit by flag smut

K-State offers fact sheet to help farmers hit with wheat flag smut fungus; disease seen for first time since 1930s in Kansas wheat

The disease that showed up for the first time since the 1930s this year -- wheat flag smut -- doesn’t harm people or animals and has no effect on grain quality but can reduce yields.

But what does that matter now? The Kansas wheat harvest is over and yields, though disappointing because of freeze damage, drought damage and flood damage, were better than most people thought they'd be a month before harvest.

LEAF CURL: One of the symptoms of wheat flag smut is damage to the flag leaf which can make it bend and curl.

It matters because there are countries that refuse to buy U.S wheat if it is produced in areas where flag smut is known to occur. Kansas is the No. 1 U.S. wheat-producing state and typically grows about 20 percent of the total U.S. crop. Annual average wheat production for the past five years has been about 328 million bushels, according to Kansas Wheat.   

And it matters because once the fungus, Urocystis tritici, which causes flag smut, has to be managed now to avoid infestations in future crops of Kansas wheat.

The fungus was initially found in a Rooks County field in May during routine crop monitoring by K-State Research and Extension and the Kansas Department of Agriculture. Since then, it has been confirmed in 39 other Kansas locations, mostly in north central and south central parts of the state, according to the KDA. The percentage of infected tillers found in those fields, however, has been low.

However, the fungus can survive in the soil for at least four years and it can move to adjacent fields on the wind, entangled in plant debris or clinging to farm equipment. That means farmers need to be on the lookout for flag smut and figure out how to manage it for at least five years into the future, says Erick De Wolf, K-State Resesrch and Extension plant pathologist.

Kansas State University has put out a fact sheet that is making available online to help growers identify flag smut, find out ways to prevent it and get information on controlling it. The sheet includes photos of infected wheat and background information.

The idea is to keep Kansas wheat growers aware that the risk of infection with flag smut is greatest in the fall when winter wheat is planted into warm, moist soils, DeWolf said.

 “Fungicide seed treatments are the most effective way to manage flag smut,” he said. “Crop rotations with non-host crops such as soybeans, sorghum, or corn provide time for the fungal population to decline between wheat crops and lower the risk of infection in subsequent years.”

More information about wheat flag smut in Kansas, including steps that the KDA is asking farmers to take, is available on the KDA website.

The disease is relatively easy to manage, but because of the potential trade implications, the KDA is taking the detection of the disease very seriously, said Jeff Vogel, manager of the KDA’s Plant Protection and Weed Control Program.

A working group is being formed which will include representatives of the KDA and K-State Research and Extension, to look at long-term solutions to address flag smut and other diseases, Vogel said.

The full July 9 interview with Vogel is available on the K-State Research and Extension Agriculture Today web page.

TAGS: Soybean Wheat
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