Western researchers team up on headblight
By John O’Connell
ABERDEEN, Idaho — Idaho grain industry leaders are optimistic that unexpected federal funding for studying Fusarium headblight will help them see some of their priority research projects to fruition.Mike Davis, president of the American Malting Barley Association, said the farm bill has authorized $10 million in annual funding for Fusarium headblight research, including through the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, compared with $7.5 million proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives. And the omnibus spending bill recently signed by President Barack Obama restored $400,000 in sequester cuts to the Scab Initiative, though the president had originally proposed to eliminate the initiative entirely.
“There’s a very good potential for some of that to go to the West. That’s all being worked out,” Davis said.
One of the most pressing Idaho projects entails building a screening nursery by this spring at the Aberdeen Research & Extension Center, where a special irrigation system would spray mist to mimic high humidity for testing Fusarium headblight susceptibility in common Western barley and wheat varieties.
The disease, which reduces yields and creates a toxin that makes people sick, thrives at a relative humidity of around 80 percent, and in temperatures ranging from 65-85 degrees. Fusarium headlight infections have increased in Idaho as growers seeking to support dairies have expanded their acres of corn — a host plant that carries spores into the next season on debris.
UI Extension cereals pathologist Juliet Marshall said Fusarium headblight has made barley risky for raising in the Midwest and is a major reason why Idaho was the top barley state this season.
Marshall said UI has sent varieties to North Dakota to test them under higher Fusarium headblight pressure, but common Idaho varieties don’t fare well there because they weren’t bred to withstand other diseases prevalent there.
Marshall is in the process of writing a grant to fund the screening nursery, which she estimates would cost $30,000 to $60,000 in the first year and could be built upon in the future. She’d also like to recruit a graduate student to aid with the project.
UI wheat breeder Jianli Chen and USDA Agricultural Research Service barley breeder Gongshe Hu would also utilize the screening nursery in developing experimental lines. Idaho Barley Commission Administrator Kelly Olson said three of her board members supported the screening nursery concept during the Idaho Falls meeting.
Olson said IBC would also like to see research conducted focusing on how to manage corn residue to prevent the fungus from surviving the winter, as well as how tweaking irrigation practices or applying fungicides through irrigation may affect the disease. Irrigation isn’t commonly used in grain production in the Midwest, which has been the focus of the bulk of Fusarium headblight research.
Marshall said researchers in collaborating states intend to help her set up her experiments and offer advice.