Wet fields to blame | Some Manitoba farmers expect yields to decrease by 20 to 30 percent
There is a serious issue with one of the first crops being harvested this summer.
“Fusarium infection is very bad in winter wheat,” said Doug Chorney, president of Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers.
“In most fields people can find white heads everywhere, even though we all sprayed fungicides. It doesn’t matter because it was so wet during flowering.”
Chorney said 15 to 20 percent of the heads in his winter wheat fields are completely white.
“That could mean at the very least a 20 to 30 percent yield hit,” he said.
“I have threshed out those heads in my hand and the seeds are already shrivelled up. They’ll hopefully blow out the back of the combine so I don’t have to get downgraded on the rest of the wheat that is good. It could be very bad.”
Amir Farooq, farm production adviser with Manitoba Agriculture, said the infection rate is moderate to high in the crops he has inspected in farmers’ fields and the Manitoba Crop Variety Evaluation Team trials.
Elevators in central Manitoba are receiving samples with 15 to 20 percent infection levels.
“It will be a challenge for producers to get good quality winter wheat this year,” he said.
The good news is that fusarium levels in spring wheat appear to be very low. Farooq said the difference is that the winter wheat flowered at a time when conditions were wet and cool while spring wheat flowering occurred when it was dry and hot.
That created ideal conditions for the spread of the disease in winter wheat and farmers were unable to get into their fields to spray fungicide during the critical flowering period.
Ken Gross, Manitoba agronomist with the Western Winter Wheat Initiative, said winter wheat usually avoids fusarium because it is further developed than spring wheat during the crucial infection period.
That wasn’t the case this year due to the cool spring and cold soil conditions.
“It got pushed right into the fusarium infection window,” he said.
“This is about as tough a year as I’ve seen for trying to control fusarium in winter wheat.”
It didn’t help that many fields were too wet to navigate right at the time when farmers should have been applying a foliar fungicide.
A third issue was that crop development was patchy due to the long, hard winter.
That resulted in more wheat tillers than normal, which made spraying more difficult. The right time to spray the main stem of the plants was too early for the tillers.
The result is widespread infection in a crop where there are very few varieties that offer protection against the disease.
Fusarium infection isn’t as prevalent in Saskatchewan’s winter wheat crops.
“There is certainly some infection levels but not to the extent we’ve heard from Manitoba,” said Paul Thoroughgood, Saskatchewan agronomist with the Western Winter Wheat Initiative.
The caveat is that he hasn’t toured fields in eastern Saskatchewan, where growers suffered through the same type of soggy spring as their Manitoba counterparts.
Gross anticipates a sizable increase in winter wheat acreage this fall despite the fusarium issue.
He hopes to see 1.5 million acres on the Prairies, up from 1.15 million acres last fall. Gross said it is still one of the most profitable crops to grow and offers another important side benefit.
“It sure relieves a lot of stress getting seed in the ground in these tough years when you have short springs,” said Gross.