Black stem rust woes loom
Three forms of disease can attack wheat, barley
By MATTHEW WEAVER
Pacific Northwest researchers are asking farmers to let them know about the locations of common barberry bushes.
The plants are a critical part of the process of developing stem rust, a once-major concern that has the potential to become a major factor in the United States again.
Stakeholders gathered for an update at the Washington State University Spokane County Extension office in Spokane Feb. 10.
Stem rust causes yield loss in wheat or barley. There are three major forms of disease: The more common stripe rust, leaf rust and stem rust.
Wind is the major concern for spreading the stem rust spores from one area to another, said Xianming Chen, research plant pathologist in Pullman, Wash., with the USDA Agricultural Research Service.
Stem rust is not necessarily a huge issue in the Pacific Northwest, but the region is a potential breeding ground for new races that could travel to the Midwest, said WSU Spokane County Extension Agronomist Diana Roberts. The barberry plant is an alternate host required to allow stem rust to complete its life cycle.
Researchers would like to make collections to send samples to a cereal disease laboratory to continue monitoring the situation, said Chen and WSU plant pathologist Tim Murray.
The general recommendation is for landowners to get rid of the barberry, a relative of the Oregon grape.
The plant typically grows 8 to 10 feet tall and has three or more barbs at the base of its shiny leaves. It has a yellow flower, flowering in May or June, and keeps its leaves longer in the fall than just about any other plant.
"We believe it's extremely unlikely USDA will have the funds it would take to mount another eradication program like they had in the previous century," said Roberts. "That means this is a community responsibility project. We need all the help we can get from the field."
There's currently no good recommendation to eradicate the bush. The previous national eradication program took place beginning in the late 1910s, before the availability of modern herbicides, Roberts said.
The researchers are currently considering brush control recommendations, although those carry their own hazards.
"Some of that says, 'Cut it off and apply herbicides to stumps,'" Roberts said. "Well, these are very unfriendly bushes."
Roberts said the researchers will hold demonstrations on some existing plants to determine the most effective method.
The researchers are establishing a website to provide information on the efforts, Roberts said. The goal is to use a smart-phone application to pinpoint the global positioning coordinates of bushes.
Report common barberry bush locations to the Stevens County Noxious Weed Control Board at 509-684-7590 or Roberts at 509-477-2167.
http://PNWstemrust.wsu.edu - website is in development