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Small Grains

“Most of our barley cultivars are aimed more toward whatever they’re going to be used for, say brewing, so they are focused on more agronomic kinds of issues instead of disease resistance issues,” says University of Wyoming Extension Plant Pathologist William Stump.

There are multiple diseases that could impact barley producers during late spring and early summer months, such as Fusarium head blight, stripe rust and ergot, but producers can take certain measures to limit the field’s susceptibility.

Fusarium background

“One of the big issues lately has been Fusarium head blight (FHB), which has been an issue of concern across the country,” says Stump.

FHB is a fungal disease that affects the head and kernels of both wheat and barley. The most notable clinical sign of infection is bleaching of florets prior to maturity. Shriveled kernels, low test weights and a pink to orange mold at the base of florets may also be observed.

In barley used for brewing purposes, FHB can have a major financial impact.

“It also affects malt barley where they get some actual toxins produced, and there’s really strict guidelines on that and brewing barley, so if  producers get that, they basically can’t use their barley for brewing,” emphasizes Stump.

Fusarium control

While there are fungicides available, many are not very effective. Rather, Stump suggests using management strategies to prevent and control FHB.

“There are certain things we can do, such as avoiding irrigation during the flowering period, because that creates a more conducive environment for infection to take place,” he explains.

Producers using no-till strategies can increase residue management through chopping to speed up infected residue decomposition. Using crop rotations with non-host species such as sugar beets or alfalfa can also help control disease.

“Producers may ask, ‘Is this a situation where should we should plow?’ We’re probably getting more benefits from the minimal till than the detriments of the diseases at this point,” Stump notes.

Stripe rust background

“Another disease that’s a problem right now is stripe rust, and that can be a concern at this time of the year, too,” continues Stump.

Stripe rust is caused by the fungus Puccinia striiformis f. sp. hordei. Another distinct form affects wheat.

The clinical signs of stripe rust in barley are parallel rows of yellow to orange colored pustules on leaves and sometimes the glumes.

The disease favors cool, wet weather. It can persist on susceptible grasses and volunteer wheat.

Stump advises that producers with historical stripe rust problems use resistant barley varieties if available and apply foliar fungicides during the boot stage of development. Producers will need to determine what fungicide to use depending on if they are using the treatment prior to or during an existing infection.

Stripe rust control

As with treating any barley disease, it is important for producers to evaluate the economics of using different control strategies.

“Growers have to weigh the costs and benefit of controlling disease in the fields,” notes Stump.

Any producers interested in knowing if stripe rust is in their area can check the USDA cereal rust website for the current cereal rust situation in the United States.

For the past few years, the University of Wyoming has been assisting with the Cooperative Agricultural Pest Surveys (CAPS).

“They typically will sample some of the barley fields in the Big Horn Basin, and we scrutinize them for the different rusts,” he explains.

Ergot background

Ergot is another disease that can have a significant impact on producers.

“It is also caused by a fungus and infects the actual grains,” says Stump. “The fungus replaces the grain with an overwintering body, a hard sclerotia, and the problem is that those hard bodies that can be harvested when you harvest the barley.”

The sclerotia contain alkaloid toxins, which are toxic for both livestock and humans. The disease infects the grain flowers of barley and a wide range of cool-season grass hosts.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has strict regulations on tolerable concentrations of the toxin in barley loads, making it a significant disease for producers to consider.

“The FDA tolerances are at 0.1 percent in a 30-gram sample, so it’s not a lot,” emphasizes Stump.

If toxin concentration is found to be higher than the FDA tolerance, the load will be rejected.

Ergot-infected grains can result in the disease ergotism in humans. Ergotism can result in clinical signs such as hallucinations, gangrene, tremors and death. Strict regulations are in place because heat does not deactivate the toxin.

“It survives the baking process and we still get the toxic effect of the chemicals,” he continues.

Ergot control

Stump explains that ergot is usually environmentally driven, particularly by early, cool, wet weather followed by wet weather during grain flowering. This favors the pathogen and delays the pollination period.

Producers can control ergot infection in fields by utilizing crop rotations because of the short-lived sclerotia. Other management strategies that can be helpful are burial of sclerotia by tillage and mowing wild grasses along field borders before they flower, as grasses are a source of the inoculum.

While ergot was historically a significant problem in the middle ages and is a problem is developing countries, Stump reminds producers that it is an uncommon disease for Wyoming producers to see.

“It’s normally not really a problem. It’s one of those really rare diseases,” he concludes.

Emilee Gibb is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

    Because of high wheat prices and market volatility, elevators are changing their strategies in the way they buy and sell wheat.
    When wheat doubles and triples the old average of four-dollar wheat, that also doubles and triples the amount of credit an elevator must have to purchase wheat. Even if an elevator sells wheat immediately after buying it, it may not receive payment for up to 30 days.
    Because of increased price volatility, many elevators have decided to buy wheat only when Kansas City Board of Trade (KCBT) wheat contracts are trading - 9:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Large changes between close and open prices make establishing a wheat price, when the exchanges are not trading, nearly impossible.
    One such operation is the Frenchman Valley Co-op of Nebraska, whose website home page reads: “Due to market volatility, FVC will only be purchasing grain during market hours (until further notice). We will not be purchasing any grain beyond the 2008 crop year.”
    According to Kim Anderson of Oklahoma State University, during March 2008 the average absolute (plus or minus) change between the close and the open for the KCBT July wheat contract price was 23 cents. During March 2007, the average change was 2.7 cents. The maximum change in March 2008 was a minus 84.5 cents. During March 2007 the average daily price range was 13 cents. During March 2008 the average daily price range was 33.8 cents.
    “With the prices and volatility in the market, there’s a lot higher capital requirement to keep up with the markets as they move because the limits are being expanded with the high prices,” says Wyoming Wheat Marketing Commission Executive Director Keith Kennedy. “There have been moves of 60 cents a day in the wheat market, and sometimes even higher.”
Kennedy says limits went down as volatility decreased slightly last spring, but one contract of 5,000 bushels still contains close to $3,000 dollars in a margin call on a single contract.     “That’s the biggest problem,” he says.
    Anderson says another change elevator managers are discussing is how to handle forward-contracted wheat in a harvest failure. Elevators that “rolled” forward contracts from 2007 to 2008 have had to make up to $35,000 margin calls per contract. Some elevators had to liquidate assets to generate cash to cover some of the margin calls. Most elevators indicate they’ll not “roll” contracts from 2008 to 2009.
    “Early last fall there was some reluctance among domestic buyers who felt they could go hand-to-mouth on wheat and that prices would drop a lot more than they actually did,” says Kennedy. “A lot of that’s affected by the world supply – we’ve just gotten to the place where stocks are low and people can’t float any more to live on by relying on what’s in storage or a cheaper alternative.”
    Kennedy says 2008 has brought substitution from other types of wheat, which has raised prices across all classes. “People are now using some higher-protein winter wheats when normally they buy dark northern spring wheat,” he says.
    Although Australia expects to harvest a normal crop this year, Kennedy says last year the world used more wheat than was produced. “It looks like the rest of the world is out to maintain that status quo,” he says.
    While some areas of the country are experiencing problems with their wheat from too much moisture, Kennedy says too much moisture in Wyoming is just enough.
    Kennedy says the price of wheat is tied to the price of corn and soybeans. “Wheat has got to be competitive with corn and soybeans, and if those prices drop from where they are people will switch to those crops. We’ll see wheat prices hang in there, provided corn and soybeans stay high,” he explains.
     “Higher prices come with higher volatility and greater risk,” says Anderson. “Greater risk normally provides the opportunity for higher profits.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Wes Jackson founded the Land Institute in 1976 with a focus on building agricultural systems with ecological stability.

Their research efforts toward such goals have included the breeding of perennial crops, as well as domestication of wild plants for human use. Their work has been successful and is ongoing.

Stan Cox, the Coordinator of Science for the Land Institute recently reported in the Fiscal Year 2011 update that 30,000 plants were transplanted to fields at the Land Institute. An updated greenhouse and additional research building facilitated an increase from last year.

“Although the bulk of growing occurs in the fields, the first generation of many of our new hybrids starts in the greenhouse, with a capacity of about 4,500 plants,” said Cox in the annual report. “Cross pollination of wheat is more successful under the protection of the greenhouse.”

The research teams at the Land Institute study perennial wheat and sorghum, as well as domestication of intermediate wheatgrass, perennial oilseeds and Illinois bundleflower. There have also been hybrid crosses involving corn and sunflowers made at the institute.

“We have done some work with sorghum bicolor and Johnson grass,” said Jackson on Oct. 4 in a presentation for the Northwest College Writers Series in Powell. “We are working to tame the Johnson grass. In China and Indonesia, we have support to breed perennial varieties of upland rice. In sunflowers, we are working to get the heads more centralized.”

“The seed weight is going up in our collection,” said Jackson. “In only three selection cycles we have been able to increase the size of the seed to more than double.”

Additional developments have enabled the plants an increased rate of survival.

“Out of almost 2,000 plants, 43 percent survived the summer of 2010,” explained Jackson. “Those are the parents for the future generations of plans, and from there, a bigger percentage will survive.”

There has also been some evidence showing good drought resistance in plants across the globe.

The variety of perennial wheat that the Land Institute has helped to create is called Kernza. The Land Institute describes Kernza as their domesticated intermediate wheatgrass. They are currently working to increase seed size and yield.

Kernza shows an intermediate between common annual wheat varieties and perennial grains from the dawn of civilization, exhibiting increased root systems and larger plants.

According to the Land Institute FY 2011 Annual Report, “In the 2010-11 field nursery, 819 (wheat) plants survived both the summer after harvest and the winter, a much larger number than in any previous case.”

Additionally, more than 50 new DNA markers were developed to identify each chromosome in the hybrid population. The population of wheat/wheatgrass plants is constantly being improved to expand genetic diversity, as well.

Other research in sorghum has developed a selection of “winter-hardy” perennials that are seen as superior plants. Continued research with sorghum in Hawaii has allowed development of plants that are growing faster in the second generations.

Along with research at the Land Institute, collaborating institutions, including the University of Minnesota, Prescott College, Dordt College and Michigan and Minnesota universities, as well as Applied Ecological Services in Wisconsin, have helped to further research.

Jackson has also begun approaching various foundations with a plan to increase research that is feasible.

“We need to have a 30-year program devoted to developing agriculture based on the way natural ecosystems work,” said Jackson. “We can do it now because we have perennials on the horizon, and we are able to take what we have learned from the broad discipline of ecology and apply it to our fields.”

Jackson’s plan involves using scientists and 11 candidate locations around the globe to continue research, as well as five virtual research sites at academic institutions across the United States.

“If we were to train 110 PhDs in various disciplines, we would have them work in clusters around the planet,” added Jackson. “The cost to educate and train those 110 fellows is only $24 million.”

Research efforts at the Land Institute utilize natural processes and molecular genetics, but not gene splicing, to reach the end goals.

Molecular genetics is a tool, according to Jackson, to help identify the markers in plants that code for the traits they desire. He emphasizes they are not genetically splicing or modifying plants, but rather using the approach to reduce the workload and time required to develop successful perennial plants.

Jackson describes that. by merging molecular biology techniques and knowledge of ecology, a new revolution in science will begin.

“Every time there has been a synthesis, there has always been a flowering of knowledge and energy develops, something great,” emphasized Jackson, who used examples of Darwin’s merge of natural history and biology and Watson and Crick’s development of genetic code as being prominent starting points in the development of scientific knowledge. “Now we have the chance for the fourth synthesis with perennials on the horizon – ecology and agriculture coming together for crop and for grain agriculture.”

Jackson hopes that perennial plants will combine agriculture and ecology to ultimately create more sustainable systems.

“There is a reservoir of knowledge that has been paid for and put on the shelf. We know how these systems work,” said Jackson.

Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

No, we are not talking about your neighbor or relative. DON is in reference to Fusarium Head Blight, also known as scab or DON, which is a fungal disease that significantly effects wheat and barley crops. This could be a potential concern to Wyoming’s farmers, who produced 4.75 million bushels of wheat and 6.74 million bushels of barley in 2014.

This fungus attacks the grain of the crop causing yield loss, low test weights, low seed germination and mycotoxin contaminated grain, which results in lost revenues for farmers and potential rejection of the harvested grain at elevators. The main identifying symptom for this disease is bleaching of some florets in the crop’s head prior to maturity, while severe infections can cause premature bleaching of the entire head. Infected kernels often have pink- or orange-colored mold on them and are often shriveled, white and chalky in appearance.

Causing blight

The disease is caused by several species of fungi from the group known as Fusarium, hence the name. Fusarium graminearum is the most common. This disease can be introduced into fields by spores blown in by the wind or contaminated seed. Like most fungi, Fusarium Head Blight thrives in warm moist conditions that can be caused through rain, irrigation, fog and/or long, evening dew events. Therefore, this disease is more prevalent in irrigated fields than dryland. However dryland fields can become infected if climatic events line up correctly.

Once established in a portion of the field, Fusarium Head Blight spreads rapidly throughout the area by wind and splashing water. The most susceptible portion of the wheat and barley plant is the head, particularly when the crop is flowering. After the growing season, the fungus overwinters on crop residue and can re-infect the following wheat or barley crop. It should also be noted that Fusarium Head Blight can also persist and colonize corn and other grass crops such as forage grasses.

Preventing and reducing disease

What can be done to prevent or reduce this disease?

First of all, if there is no history of scab in your fields, neighbor’s fields or county, then the chances of infection are extremely low, and Fusarium Head Blight is probably not a huge concern.

If there is a concern of potential infection, following an integrated pest management (IPM) or multifaceted approach is highly recommended.

Typically the first recommendation for IPM would be to use resistant varieties. Currently there are several spring wheat varieties that are tolerant, though there are no tolerant or resistant barley or winter wheat varieties.

The next management implementation is crop rotation, which breaks the cycle of the disease and declines the fungi population that causes reinfection, especially if a legume crop or broadleaf crop is rotated between grain crops. Research has proven that Fusarium Head Blight infection is two times higher when wheat is planted into wheat stubble than when wheat is planted into soybean stubble.

Research has also revealed that infections to wheat and barley are five to 10 times higher when planted after a corn crop. Wheat or barley crops are also at risk if they are planted adjacent to last year's infected fields.

Removing residue

The next management strategy to implement would be the removal of the grain crop residue. Unfortunately this disease is benefited by soil health practices of residue retention through no till, minimum till and strip till because the residue allows the disease to persist in the environment until the next host crop, whether that be wheat, barley, corn or grasses, can be infected.

Montana’s 2015 malt barley crop saw fairly high infections of fields that were planted after corn. The practice almost guaranteed infection of barley directly planted into corn stubble under a no-till system. Effective means for handling crop residue are burning, burying or complete removal.

Irrigation

Irrigation management can also be used to decrease the potential risk of scab infection.

If possible, time irrigation to prior to and after flowering of the crop. This practice provides adequate water to the crop while leaving a dry microclimate in the crop canopy that is less favorable to the fungi.

Though not necessarily an option to all farmers, it is worth noting that furrow or flood irrigation can provide a slightly drier crop canopy than pivot or areal irrigation and typically does not spread the disease through the splashing of water droplets on infected crop material.

Fungicides

If the prior management practices fail to prevent an infection and an infection is found early enough, then a fungicide is the last option. Fungicides only suppress the disease. They do not kill or eliminate it.

For fungicides to be effective at suppressing the disease, application timing is crucial and should occur at the first sign of anthers extruding from the wheat head or directly prior to barley head emergence. Fungicide products are locally systemic, meaning they only protect the tissue they are applied to and not the entire plant.

The most effective fungicides provide about 50 percent control compared to untreated crops, so do not base full management plan on chemical control.

In summary, if there is no history of this disease in your area, Fusarium Head Blight is probably not a large concern. However, if there is a history, then this disease is controllable with sound management practices.

Fusarium Head Blight needs warm humid conditions during flowering to favor an infection and production. Rotating crops from cereal crops to non-cereal crops will aid in breaking the disease’s life cycle. Removal of cereal crop residue will further aid in breaking the disease’s life cycle. Planting barley or wheat after corn, especially into corn stubble, greatly increases the risk of infection.

Fungicides only suppress the spread and impact of the disease on the crop. It does not kill the fungus.

For more information please contact your local Extension office or industry representative.

Jeremiah Vardiman can be reached at 307-754-8836 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

Cody – According to NRCS District Conservationist Jay Fuhrer of Bismark, N.D., cover crops have enabled wheat farmers in his area to increase crop diversity, rebuild soil health and increase productivity in commercial systems.
    Fuhrer was present at the early November joint meeting of the Society for Range Management Wyoming Section, the Soil and Water Conservation Society Wyoming Chapter and The Wildlife Society Wyoming Chapter in Cody.
    Fuhrer was referring to a region-wide effort to rebuild soils depleted from intensive commercial wheat production.
    “We had started into tillage systems with high amounts of summer fallow and season-long grazing on the rangeland,” he explained. “One day we sat down together and asked ourselves how long we could continue to mine the Great Plains. We needed to restore and reclaim, but how do you do that in a production ag system?”
    “I started looking at the foundation blocks of soil health and how they relate to cropping/grazing systems using cover crops,” said Fuhrer, bringing up what he called the “three sisters” – corn, beans and squash. “A lot of the Native American systems were based on those three because they all brought something to the table and it was sustainable.”
    “We went from low crop diversity – we were wheat people – to high crop diversity with no-till systems, eventually bringing in cover crops,” said Fuhrer. “We went from season-long grazing to pasture grazed less than a week each year. What we’re harvesting now in the Great Plains is sunshine, and there’s a lot more sunlight we can harvest in early-seeded crops.”
    The shift began in 2006 when Fuhrer planted cover crops as monocultures and two- to eight-way mixtures. One thing he found was, with a little over one inch of precipitation in the 2006 growing season, an extreme difference between the poly- and monocultures.
    “The soil temperatures were extremely different between the poly- and monocultures, and as the summer evolved the monocultures completely dried up, but the eight-way flourished and produced a little over 4,000 pounds of production on a little over one inch of precipitation,” he explained.
    Fuhrer said ground cover is key to a healthy system. “When I’m talking ground cover, I’m talking significant,” he said. “It was one of our missing elements. The soil is alive, and like livestock you have to take care of its home and provide a food source.”
    He said there’s no such thing as too much ground cover. “There’s no amount of cover you can’t no-till through,” he said. “And you get extremely uniform emergence, which comes from having a uniform cover crop.”
    As an example he told of a field mechanically tilled for over 100 years, with the crop residue baled and taken off. The first year a field pea cover crop was planted and rolled down to cover the soil. “No rational person would do that, but he provided a cover the field had never had and you could hear the soil go into shock,” said Fuhrer. “Then we could start to reclaim.”
    Following the field peas a mixture of cover crops was brought in. “Where a monoculture struggled we brought in an eight-way cover crop and they’re not competing – they’re helping each other,” he explained.
    Fuhrer said his template for managing cropland is native rangeland, which has hundreds of plant species. “Diversity is what drives our systems. We brought those same crop types into cropland – cool season and warm season grasses and both seasons broadleaf plants.”
    Following the initial experiments with mixtures in 2006 Fuhrer said 70 to 80 percent of the county moved to no-till systems, with 10 percent direct seeding and 10 percent that he said never will change.
    “We went from primarily wheat to all four crop types, and through that a lot of our disease and insect pressures diminished,” he said.
    Increasing crop diversity also increases water holding capacity in the soil. “A no-tiller builds soil aggregates, which builds pore space back in, which is what’s degraded with tillage,” said Fuhrer. “That little space is where the extra water is held, and where air can occur and where it all happens.”
    Increasing diversity also increases cycling, or the amount of time required to incorporate crop residue into the soil system. Cover crops also help with weed suppression, which reduces inputs.
    Regarding livestock, Fuhrer said a cropping system can be brought to a higher level if livestock are brought in. “A lot of good things happen with integration,” he said, in soil nutrients and especially in the way the cover crop’s harvested. “It’s chopping versus grazing, and the cattle have legs. What we’re moving to in North Dakota is bringing the cattle to the land.”
    “Crop diversity provides a balanced diet for the soil,” said Fuhrer. “Wheat does not provide a balanced diet – it’s only one food source for the soil biology. Soil organisms are like livestock – they require a balanced diet to attain high performance.”
    Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..