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    Practical Steps for Wheat Farmers to Prevent Fusarium Head Blight

    As a third-generation wheat farmer, I have witnessed firsthand the damage caused by Fusarium head blight over the past several decades. Commonly called scab, this fungal infection strikes when my wheat is most vulnerable – during the mid-summer flowering period. By the time pink or orange spores appear at harvest, it is too late to save the plant.

    Fusarium Head Blight contamination poses a serious risk, causing grain to become toxic if fed to livestock or processed for human use. I still remember the crop failure in 88, when scab rotted my entire wheat field. That loss almost put me out of business. Since then, I have worked tirelessly to develop strategies against this hidden pathogen.

    Through trials on my land, I have identified varieties with stronger scab resistance as well as optimized fungicide timing based on local conditions. Just as important as chemistry are cultural practices such as crop rotation to break disease cycles. By combining these integrated tactics, I have now managed to keep the majority of each year's wheat crop saved.

    My hope is that by sharing my hard-won learnings, other farmers can better arm themselves in the fight against this devastating disease. Together, perhaps we can finally overcome Fusarium head blight.

    A Silent Stalker of Wheat Fields: The Fusarium Head Blight

    To effectively combat Fusarium head blight, we must gain a thorough understanding of its biology and life cycle. Only then can we deploy targeted monitoring and controls. In this article, I'll provide an overview of this fungal disease's identifying traits, Latin name, and the damage symptoms it inflicts. Armed with this knowledge, farmers can more accurately detect and respond to infestations.

    Fungal Description and Latin Name

    Fusarium head blight is caused by several species of fungi in the genus Fusarium. The primary pathogen for wheat and barley in North America is Fusarium graminearum.

    These ascomycete fungi produce microscopic spores called macroconidia and microconidia that are dispersed by air, splashing water, farm equipment and more. Under the right conditions, they infect wheat and barley heads during flowering through anthesis stages.

    Typical Damage Symptoms

    FHB symptoms aren't always obvious, but knowing what to look for helps detect infestations early:

    • Premature bleaching of spikelets within heads.
    • Pink or orange spore masses visible on infected spikelets.
    • Shriveled, light-weighted kernels that may contain visible pink or white mycelia.
    • Stunted heads that fail to properly emerge from boot leaves.

    Regular scouting helps identify these subtle cues before extensive yield losses and mycotoxin contamination occurs. Early detection is key.

    Disease Cycle and Peak Risk Periods

    Fusarium fungi survive on crop residues and in soil by producing resilient resting structures called chlamydospores. Under favorable weather, these spores germinate and produce conidia that disperse to infect susceptible wheat heads.

    Primary infection periods coincide with flowering through grain fill, when warm, wet conditions favor disease spread. Knowing seasonal patterns aids targeted control measures.

    Best Steps to Prevent Fusarium Head Blight in Wheat Plants

    1. Choose Resistant Varieties

    The foundation starts with planting cultivars with some level of scab resistance. Moderate resistance alone can cut losses significantly versus highly susceptible types. Work with seed suppliers and extension agents to identify the most resistant options suited for your region.

    2. Manage Volunteer Wheat and Crop Residues

    Volunteer wheat from previous crops harbors the fungus, so thoroughly clean fields before planting. Burn or plow under residues to expose fungal spores to sun and drying winds over winter. Avoid wheat-after-wheat rotations as much as possible to limit inoculum levels.

    3. Adjust Planting Dates

    Avoid very early planting dates that expose flowering to peak infection periods with longer dew periods. Later seeding also allows more time for residues to break down. Adjust based on your region's historical scab risk forecast.

    4. Fungicide Application

    When conditions favor disease, a single well-timed fungicide spray during flowering (Feekes 10.51) can provide 70-90% control. Use a product containing prothioconazole, metconazole, or prothioconazole + tebuconazole for maximum effectiveness. Good coverage is critical for protecting newly opened florets.

    5. Harvest and Handle Carefully

    At maturity, swath crops and allow thorough drying before combining to limit further fungal growth. Clean combines thoroughly between fields. Test grain loads for mycotoxins and reject contaminated loads for feed over food grade thresholds.


    With diligence across these integrated strategies, Fusarium head blight can be successfully managed on wheat farms season after season. Monitoring conditions and deploying the right tactics at key timings provides the best long-term results.

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