The Fieldman’s Files – Fusarium graminearum and other swear words

Normand Boulet, CCA
Agricultural Fieldman,
M.D. of Smoky River No. 130
How rare is it that grain farmers and livestock operators can have a common enemy?

Think about it, typically in a wet year cattle producers have lots of hay and pasture, grain operators often end up with lots of feed so feed prices are down and livestock operators are happy – not so much the grain farmers.

Grain produces have Blackleg in their canola, livestock producers don’t care. Cattle guys have Blackleg in their calves, grain farmers don’t care.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to pay attention to Fusarium graminearum (Fg), one of the causal agents of a disease often referred to as Fusarium Head Blight (FHB).

Although Fg is only one of the possible causes of FHB, it is by far the most serious.

By now many of you will have heard the words associated with Fg, “vomitoxin, Deoxynivalenol aka DON, Fusarium Damaged Kernels or FDK.”

These terms are important because they refer to the issues Fg cause, and they are an issue for all farmers.

Fg is a fungus which when it infects the seeds being developed in the grass family (wheat, barley, oats, rye, triticale, corn etc.) can cause small shrunken kernels – those go out the back of the combine which means a loss of yield.

The ones which are less affected will likely go to the grain tank, and now you have a FG infested crop which will have lower value because, depending on DON levels, it may not be suitable for bread making, feed and if it’s malt barley it’s definitely NOT acceptable for malt.

Pretty much everyone loves a BBQ, imagine a BBQ with no buns, no burgers, no bacon, no smokies and no beer. Yes I said it, no beer. Oh yeah, you can’t have a pasta salad either, durum is particularly susceptible.

Fg is serious stuff, and though the farmers of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Southern Alberta have known it for years, it became a much, much bigger deal this year.

The ample moisture at that critical time when the grain crops were heading and blooming increased infection levels, and continued wet weather throughout the fall exacerbated the situation.

The Peace Region, long thought to have little to no Fg is not immune.

Samples going through the seed plants for quality checks prior to being brought in for cleaning have found trace levels of Fg in the very sensitive DNA test, and for the first time ever in the M.D. of Smoky River, the follow up plate tests found some positive results as well.

In the Peace Region, being as we are still at trace levels no one should even consider seeding grain with any amount of Fg.

So if your grain tested positive, sell it, don’t seed it. If you are bringing in seed from out of the Peace Region, make absolutely certain it is tested and free of Fg, and even then, use a seed treatment registered to control Fg. Even if the test says it’s free of Fg, you’re talking about a kg sample representing how many thousands of bushels? Zero may not be zero, treat that seed. Fg infected seed is the most likely method of transmitting the disease to your farm. In the areas where Fg is now endemic producers have little choice but to treat their cereal seed, and they use other management practices like heavier seeding rates to reduce tillering thereby limiting the time frame the cereals are heading, watching their crop rotations and not irrigating when cereals are flowering as well as applying fungicides during the extremely short window at head flowering.

How little Fg does it take to cause a problem? Cattle, with their ruminant four-compartment stomach can handle up to 5 p.p.m. of DON aka vomitoxin. Non-ruminants like pigs are generally considered not able to stomach more than 1 p.p.m. (I can’t believe he used that pun). We’re non-ruminants as well and Canadian flour mills generally demand 1 p.p.m. or less, Europe will allow up to 1.25 p.p.m. Maltsters have been known to refuse any trace of DON, some will accept up to 0.5 p.p.m.

As a grain or livestock producer it behooves you to get to know Fusarium, and to take steps to prevent the introduction of it to your farm (via infected seed, feed or straw). Fg is the most serious of the cereal diseases in Canada, it’s a concern for all grain growers, and for all livestock producers. Guys who are growing grazing corn should really take notice, corn is the biggest repository for Fg, and can definitely encourage the spread. Rotation is a good way to keep Fg levels low in infected fields, but that doesn’t fit well with grazing corn situations being grown year after year in the same pasture due to cross-fencing and water availability. Contact me if you have any questions regarding Fg, at (780) 837-0043 or by email asb@mdsmoky

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