Warm winter increases chances of foot rot, researcher says

Matthew Weaver/Capital Press Washington State University Extension plant pathologist Tim Murray talks in his office on the WSU campus in September 2014. Murray says there is an increased possibility of strawbreaker foot rot in winter wheat fields due to the warmer weather.

Warm winter weather has increased the likelihood that strawbreaker foot rot, or eyespot, could impact Washington winter wheat fields, a researcher says.

“The winter was so mild it allowed the disease to develop, moreso than it would have otherwise,” Washington State University Extension plant pathologist Tim Murray said. “Conditions were conducive for infection and disease development just about all winter long.”

Murray said foot rot was found in such intermediate rainfall areas as Washtucna and Ritzville and in drier areas.

Foot rot can typically cause 10 to 15 percent yield loss, but losses can range as high as 40 to 50 percent. It can cause plants to lodge, slowing harvest or create quality problems.

The disease is common, but hasn’t had high visibility for a while, due to the availability of resistant wheat varieties. Murray isn’t concerned about those varieties losing their resistance, but said growers don’t have as many resistant variety options in intermediate and low rainfall zones as in higher rainfall areas.

In some areas, it’s been so long since a foot rot outbreak that growers may have forgotten about its importance, Murray said.

Murray advises farmers to determine whether they have the problem. Key features include eye-shaped lesions on leaf sheaths or stems.

If about 10 percent of the stems have lesions, growers should take action.

Several fungicides are registered for foot rot, Murray said. They include Priaxor, which is relatively new, and Tilt and Topsin-M. Some areas have developed a resistance to Topsin-M, he said, so it wouldn’t be as effective there.

All winter wheat breeding programs pay attention to foot rot and use the same resistance gene. WSU is also looking for other sources of resistance and for more fungicide options.

Murray has posted an instructional video on the topic to the WSU small grains website.


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