Wheat crop hit hard with stripe rust disease
By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican
Some years, wheat harvest’s already on the downhill slide by the 4th of July. This year, wheat harvest isn’t expected to start until sometime after the 4th.
The reason rests mainly with the variance in maturity levels in the fields.
Local wheat grower Tom Luhrs of Imperial fears this year’s harvest could drag out as a result. Cutting of the irrigated wheat usually follows a week or so behind the dryland.
With the cool, wet weather in May, Luhrs said the plant set on more heads, known as sucker heads. Many of these sucker heads are still green while the main heads are moving closer to maturity.
He said the nights have been cool and humid, which isn’t helping the maturity process.
Rust a big problem this year
Luhrs said this year’s wheat crop has been hit hard with stripe rust disease.
He said experts have said they have never seen rust hit as hard and as widespread as it has this year.
Rust problems began in Texas and have moved north through the wheat belt.
Luhrs said the disease winters in the warmer Texas climate. He said Texas had lots of early rain which allowed the disease to propagate.
As those wheat conditions moved through the wheat belt, the rust spread with it.
Several other factors also came into play. Drought conditions on some of the wheat, combined with winter damage made the plant more susceptible to the disease.
Winterkill also hampered this year’s crop in the region.
Luhrs said stripe rust infects the plant tissue of the wheat plant and causes it to deteriorate. That in turn stops the photosynthesis in the plant and it stops growing.
What’s left behind is a plant that will produce less grain due to less test weights.
With the drought and winter issues, Luhrs said some farmers in the wheat belt opted not to treat for the rust disease with fungicide. As a result, that allowed the disease to continue to spread to other fields.
Luhrs doubted there was a wheat farmer that didn’t have problems with stripe rust this year.
Last year, rust didn’t prove to be a problem because it was dry in Texas and Oklahoma so the disease didn’t spread.
While the fungicide treatment is costly in itself, Luhrs said farmers who didn’t treat their crop can expect lower than average yields, along with lower than average quality.