Wheat School: Minimize risk of fusarium graminearum by testing seed

Seed testing is a simple, proactive way to minimize the risk of fusarium infection in a cereal crop, and reduce fusarium head blight (FHB) in future years. Indirectly, it’s also a surefire way to help protect the marketability of your crop after harvest.

In this Wheat School  episode, Kara Oosterhuis is joined by Jeremy Boychyn, agronomy research extension specialist with Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions, to explain the different kinds of tests for fusarium and how this seed-borne disease affects crops down the line.

Fusarium graminearum has been removed from the pest act in Alberta, so depending on where you are in the province, management for fusarium and FHB can be tapered for what your needs are, says Boychyn.

“Now, the responsibility of testing really comes down to the producers, and testing that seed to make sure that whatever’s going into the ground is free of Fusarium graminearum,” says Boychyn. “Those areas in the south may not be as concerned because they’ve had it there for a while, but those areas in the central and northern part of the province that haven’t seen it, or see low pressure, it’s very important for them to test the seed before they put it in the ground.” (Story continues below interview.)

The past season’s results showed that 2020 was the third highest year for the amount of fusarium infected samples submitted, says Boychyn. The level of infection isn’t higher, but the number of samples that are infected has increased.

“When you seed an infected kernel onto your farm, that infected kernel then grows into an infected plant that has Fusarium graminearum,” says Boychyn. “The residue from that crop gets distributed at the end of the year across the field, and then that harbours the inoculum to potentially cause fusarium head blight in following crops in the following years.”

If you can mitigate the amount of infected seed going into the field, you can reduce your risk for fusarium head blight infection later on.

There are two different tests available for fusarium, one is a PCR test, which will give a positive or negative result. The other is a plate test, which is more quantitative, and will provide a level of infection. Boychyn says that if you start with a PCR test and get a positive result, it’s a good idea to follow up with a plate test, especially if you’re not aware of your fusarium levels.

Fusarium and FHB are a “three-pack punch” says Boychyn; they’ll impact yield, the grain will be downgraded, and there’s potential for DON accumulation. Of course, if you end up with a significant amount of downgraded grain and DON, it impacts marketability in the end.

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