Community builds to fight fusarium

Not a lot of people are members of the “fusarium headblight community,” but for the few hundred who are, it’s a rich society of researchers, agriculture industry players, government officials and farmers.

That community recently gathered in Winnipeg, and it became clear that one of the triumphs of fusarium research has been the creation of a vibrant society deeply involved in all the complexities of the fungal plague.

“It helps keep everybody focused on it even in the years when it isn’t a problem,” said one researcher during a coffee break at the three-day Canadian Workshop on Fusarium Head Blight.

The sporadic nature of FHB outbreaks is shared by many crop diseases, for which much attention and energy is committed in years when it is bad, but quickly dissipates among most farmers and much of the industry in low-incidence years.

However, science and research work slowly and can’t leap into and out of subject areas and still produce useful results for the next outbreak.

The workshop allowed researchers and supporters to catch up on new developments across the many universities, agriculture departments and companies who are working on understanding the disease and finding ways to control it.

Cereals grain disease researcher Andy Tekauz of Agriculture Canada took members of the fusarium headblight community through a history of fusarium outbreaks and research in Canada, which stretches back almost a century to the first recorded case in 1919.

That history follows a long and winding path: the first multiple reports in the 1920s, its first appearance in wheat in 1941, the modern eras of widespread outbreaks in the 1980s in Ontario and the 1990s in Manitoba and today’s chronic situation across the Prairies.

Much research was described and discussed during the conference with modern genetic methods taking a bigger role in contemporary work and young researchers continuing to join the efforts.

In-field and on-farm methods were discussed with the success of fungicides being recognized a number of times.

However, much work and improvement could still occur in that field. As North Dakota State University economics professor William Wilson noted, most wheat and durum growers readily fungicide crops when they’re vulnerable, but the research community hasn’t given them good enough tools to assess whether the risk is great enough to justify the cost.

“We should be able to provide those answers,” said Wilson.

Research and management of fusarium wasn’t undertaken in a major way during its first decades of sporadic incidence, but has made tremendous strides since the big outbreaks of the 1980s and 1990s. That is a recognition of the fact that it appears to be an endemic problem for cereal grains production in Canada.

“It’s now in the house,” said Tekauz. “It’s living there. And it’s still there.”

But now fusarium has company as an active fusarium headblight community stays astride the fast-morphing disease, always working on new tools and ready to use them the next time it breaks out.

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