The Fieldman’s Files – Fusarium graminearum

Normand Boulet, CCA
Agricultural Fieldman
M.D. of Smoky River No. 130

The Fusarium graminearum is a fungus which causes Fusarium Head Blight (FHB) in cereal crops. There are other Fusarium species which cause FHB, but graminearum is particularly important because when FHB is caused by Fg, it often results in significant yield and grade loss, light shriveled kernels and the presence of a mycotoxin called deoxynivalenol (DON) which is poisonous to humans and livestock above certain threshold levels.
Fusarium damaged kernels (FDK) may prevent the grain from being used for flour, feed or as malt.

According to an Alberta Agriculture and Forestry report, the economic impact of Fg varies year to year depending on conditions, how much downgrading and yield loss occurs, and the difference in value between grades (ie. Value loss from a #1 to #2 CWRS, or #1 to feed). In 2010, the Canadian Grains Commission estimated the amount of fusarium downgraded Alberta wheat was about 230,000 tonnes, the economic losses were approx. $8.7 million due to the higher wheat prices.

Fg, like many fungus’ thrive in warm moist conditions, so it makes sense that it has established itself extremely well in southern Manitoba, Southern Saskatchewan and in Alberta is very prevalent in the irrigation district. Typically in the Peace Region it is at extremely low levels, which makes keeping it from getting in and becoming established extremely important. The most likely way to spread Fg into our area is with infected seed, once established the spread would primarily be by using infected seed, and by wind borne spores. For the seed concern, growers should always request the results of Fg tests and refuse to purchase seed which has a positive result, or which was not tested.

What are we doing about it? Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF) is doing a field survey throughout the province to better understand where Fg is and isn’t. We will be doing our field inspections in the M.D. as part of this survey and sharing the information with AAF.

The seed plants which clean seed within the M.D.; being the Falher Co-operative Seed Cleaning Plant (NGC) Ltd. and Wade Perrin Mobile Seed Plant have required for years that any cereal seed be tested and shown free of Fg before being cleaned. Both plants have agreed that they will be using a DNA test which is much more sensitive, (the DNA test can find Fg even if it’s only present in the dust or chaff). And both plants have agreed that if samples come back positive they will refuse to clean it and inform the M.D., and I will follow up with the producer to discuss options. Likely we would be inspecting some of that producers cereal fields during our field inspections in the following year.

The Fusarium graminearum is a serious disease of cereals, especially in wheat and malt barley. Maltsters require Fg tests and refuse any infected barley. FHB caused by Fg is listed as a pest under the Agricultural Pests Act, it’s to all our benefits to prevent it from entering and becoming established in the area.

As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns (agriculturally related, please). I can be contacted at (780) 837-0043, via email at or on Twitter, @MDfieldman.

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