USDA is surveying more than 16,000 U.S. farmers seeking their input on best options to manage the wheat and barley disease fusarium head blight, or scab.
The U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative expects to receive results of the survey by June 30. The initiative is working with USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
“We want to know what they have heard abut techniques for managing the disease, to what extent they are adopting those techniques and, if not, what prevents them from using those techniques more,” said Christina Cowger, small grains pathologist for USDA Agricultural Research Service at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C.
The initiative is surveying farmers in 17 states. The Pacific Northwest is not included in the survey because generally, there is not as much scab in the region, Cowger said. It has begun to pop up in Idaho, especially under irrigated circles.
The fungus that causes the disease overwinters in corn and small grain residue on the soil surface. If weather is rainy and mild to warm before flowering, it causes the fungus to mature and eject spores, which infect wheat and barley heads.
“It causes enormous damage when the head is infected, because it can reduce yield and lower the test weight,” Cowger said. “Scab has an enormous effect on the profitability of wheat and barley farming.”
Scab epidemics in the upper Midwest caused tens of millions of dollars in damage per year in the 1990s, she said, disrupting bread wheat, pasta wheat and barley production. With increases in corn production and low-till/no-till production farming, chances of epidemics each year have escalated in the eastern United States, she said.
It also produces a vomitoxin that may cause vomiting and feed refusal in non-ruminant animals like pigs, according to North Dakota State University Extension Service.
The survey asks growers about varieties they’ve planted recently, fungicides used specifically against scab and whether they’re using a risk forecasting tool set up by Pennsylvania State University.
The survey expects replies by March 17. Surveyors will contact farmers by telephone who don’t send in their questionnaires, Cowger said.
“Every response is really valuable to us because we need feedback from producers and advisors in order to figure out what people are doing, why are they not adopting recommendations more widely and what can we do to better help them manage the disease,” she said.
Funding for the initiative comes through the USDA ARS. Cowger said the initiative receives an average of $5 million funding each year for research, including breeding and more effective management techniques.