Winter wheat disease could give farmers a run for their money

HICKORY RIDGE, AR  (KAIT) - A disease in winter wheat could cost farmers in yield and preventative measures.

Across Region 8,  the return of Spring weather means farmers in the fields getting ready to plant.

However for the Winter wheat crop here in Arkansas, a problem is cropping up.

Wheat rust is on the move.

"This will be an added expense we will need at least one additional fungicidal treatment out here that will run at least 15 to 20 dollars an acre." said Cross County Extension Agent Richard Klerk. This year farmers planted over half a million acres in Winter wheat.

Another expensive burden on farmers already facing a year with high fuel and fertilizer costs.

It's called stripe rust and this year's winter conditions were perfect for its growth and spread. It's spread when the little spores that are on these plants get caught up in the wind.@

"Blew in from Texas or Louisiana in the fall and got established out here and has been steadily growing through the winter months." Klerk went on the disease is generally wind borne.

A field in Cross county just south of Hickory Ridge is the farthest the spore has spread so far. Nine counties in Arkansas have reported the disease.

Klerk, "When you get enough spots on the leaves, it starts killing off the leaf area of the wheat plant so that's going to reduce the production of the wheat plant which reduces your yields."

Klerk showed me what the infection typically looks like. The withered leaves he held in his hand had spores that run in rows.

"That's at an active stage." Klerk said, "Spores produced from these pustules on these leaves have the potential to spread to other leaves."

Wheat has been a fairly profitable crop and rust is not uncommon there are actually about 5 different types of rust. But Klerk says the good news is that it is treatable.

Klerk, "Current fungicides are labeled and do a good job on stripe rust on wheat."

Klerk says the field we were standing in will probably require 2 fungicide treatments Some varieties of wheat have a high resistance and will require no treatments, others may require as many as 3. All an extra costly expense for farmers.

Klerk, "Biggest thing is to get good coverage with the fungicide on the plants that are out in the field and get it working and knocking back the disease that's there and keep new disease from developing."

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