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Fusarium Head Blight: 6 Things You Need to Know about the Invisible Disease That's Infecting Western Cereal Crops

Fusarium head blight (FHB) is a crop infection that has traditionally been found in Manitoba. Over the past three years, it has begun to spread and is moving west through the prairies. According to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, FHB was found in 98 percent of wheat and 97 percent of durum samples in 2016 (Fusarium Management Guide).
 
The Flaman Grain Cleaning team travelled to Melfort, Saskatchewan to take part in a Fusarium Management workshop presented by NARF at the Canadian Ag Research Farm. Here are the top 6 things you need to know in order to manage the disease and get the most out of your fusarium-infected grain.
 
1. What’s so bad about fusarium head blight?
  
There are around 17 different strains of fusarium, but fusarium graminearum is the most common form of FHB that is causing downgrades growers' grain.
 
The fungus causes a by-product, which is known as vomitoxin (VOMI). DON is a particularly nasty type of VOMI that poisons grain. Once infected, only a certain percentage of VOMI in your grain is acceptable for animal consumption.
 
2. Once you see signs of fusarium head blight, it's too late.

If you don't know much about fusarium, you're not alone. Most producers aren't aware of the catastrophic damage an infection can do to their crop until it's too late.
 
Once you see traces of fusarium in your crop it will reduce your ability to sell the grain and affect the growth of new seedlings. In extreme cases fusarium will decimate an entire crop.
 
At the fusarium management workshop, the team learned there is no quick solution to eliminate fusarium from your grain. However there are ways to mitigate the damage so that you can make the most of your yield.
 
3. Three key areas of fusarium management on your farm.
 
Ron Knox from AAFC Swift Current studies the disease triangle of fusarium's complex cycle. He highlights three key areas of disease management:
  1. Host crop: Breed your grain for resistance, or select a less susceptible crop such as barley and oats.
  2. Pathogens: Fusarium sits in the soil waiting to attack.
  3. Environment: It spreads quickest during the flowering stage with a combination of warm wind and moist weather.

4. When is the best time to spray for fusarium head blight?
 
According to Stu Brandt from Northeast Agriculture Research Foundation, the best and most effective defence is to time your fungicide application to coincide with the heading stage of the plant.
 
Environmental factors that contribute to ideal spraying applications include:
  • Wind conditions
  • Droplet size
  • Row spacing
  • Ensuring more water volume
 
Prevention is difficult to guarantee. One idea is to stagger times for seeding, so that flowering doesn't happen all at once.
 
5. Managing fusarium head blight infections the right way.
 
Fusarium can't be prevented, it can only be managed. Rex Newkirk from the University of Saskatchewan says that accurate testing of the level of Vomitoxin (DON) is what should really matter the most to you, as a grower. 
 
Andrew Taylor started specializing in removing VOMI from fusarium-infected crops at the end of 2016. He says, "The BoMill does its job. It's an interesting machine to run. It's loud, but it works."
 
He says he plans to pass on the advice about disease management to his customers, "I heard a few things about fungicide application being effective, you've got to get good coverage of kernels, and be aware of wet weather."
 
Once your grain crop has been infected a crop rotation that includes mostly pulse crops is recommended for four to five years according to Gurcharn Brar, a biology researcher of FHB at the University of Saskatchewan.
 
6. Flaman Grain Cleaning can help you sort fusarium head blight out of your crop.

Fusarium head blight is a broad disease and should be cleaned in the proper manner to give you the best results. Once you have analyzed a sample of your grain with vomitoxin testing equipment, you will have an economic decision to make. Either you will decide to clean it, dump it, or sell it as feed depending on the percentage of good quality kernels left behind.
 
Mitch Flaman, part of the Grain Cleaning division, says there are two ways to upgrade fusarium infected crops:
  1. Visually sorting fusarium damaged kernels (FDK) by the physical characteristics to a predetermined percentage (usually under 5%).
  2. Internally sorting (via NIT infrared) vomitoxin (DON) to less than 2 parts per million (PPM).
  
Once you know how fusarium head blight has affected your crop, Flaman's Grain Cleaning division can help you separate the infected kernels to recover the quality grain and save a percentage of your yield. They have several machines capable of cleaning fusarium and DON management including the ISM 40, BoMill Lab iQ, and FMS-2000.
 
Taylor found that every crop is different when using the BoMill to clean grain for his customers. He says, "Some go from four PPM VOMI to under two PPM, and some that start at three PPM won't drop at all. It just depends on how hard the crop was hit."

 
 
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