LACOMBE, Alta. — Fusarium head blight has not reached epidemic proportions in Alberta, but farmers need to be aware of the disease that can devastate crops and harm livestock.
“This disease is spreading in Alberta, but there is no need to panic if we adopt best management practices,” Krishan Kumar told farmers at the Cereal Leaf Disease Conference in Lacombe.
Fusarium head blight, also known as scab or tombstone, is most commonly caused by fusarium graminearum and affects wheat, barley and oats.
“Prevention is the best option for this disease where it is not already well established,” said Kumar, a cereal pathologist with Alberta Agriculture.
“Management of this disease is important as it has significant effects on quality of grain.”
Fusarium reduces yields and can cause seed decay, seedling blight, stem and root rot in seed. It also causes foaming in beer and will turn livestock and poultry off their feed.
The disease produces mycotoxins such as deoxynicalenol (DON), which reduce feed intake in livestock.
It’s estimated that fusarium has caused $50 to $300 million of losses annually in Canada since 1990. In Alberta, fusarium is more common in southern and central regions.
In 2010, researchers discovered a new type of mycotoxin in 10 percent of the fusarium graminearum samples collected in Alberta, which appears to be more aggressive, Kumar said.
Farmers should not knowingly use seed infected with fusarium and should use seed that tested negative for the disease.
He said spilled grain that is known to have fusarium should be cleaned up and composted.
Using seed varieties that are resistant or tolerant to the disease will help reduce the risk of fusarium head blight. Seeding non-host crops such as canola for at least three years on infected fields will help reduce the spread.
Farmers are also encouraged to use registered fungicides and limit the movement of straw or hay from infected fields.