Indiana wheat 'excellent' despite wet planting

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Indiana's winter wheat crop is healthy and right on track despite wet weather at planting time last fall that slightly reduced the state's acreage, a Purdue University agronomist said.

Indiana farmers planted about 430,000 acres of winter wheat for 2012, compared with the nearly 460,000 acres planted for 2011. But according to Herb Ohm, the state's crop looks "beautiful" to this point.

"The wet fall delayed planting a bit, so the wheat had just emerged before it started getting cold," he said. "But because of the mild winter we've had, there's been no substantial winter kill. We haven't had many heavy rains that would have led to ponding in the fields. The wheat is in excellent condition."

Ohm said if the weather stays warm for the remainder of winter, wheat could soon come out of winter dormancy and start to grow again. The early awakening would give the crop plenty of time to tiller - something it didn't have time to do last fall.

But the mild weather might also have a downside. Ohm said farmers could see higher incidences of foliar diseases, such as septoria leaf blotch, stagonospora glume blotch and powdery mildew.

"Foliar diseases, including leaf and glume blotch, were likely established and active into December. Whether or not they become a problem will depend on the weather because both like warm, wet conditions," Ohm said. "Powdery mildew will establish early in the spring, but by May it's likely to fizzle because it likes cool, wet weather."

What has Ohm most concerned, however, is fusarium - a fungus that not only causes yield loss but also produces a vomitoxin that renders the grain useless for human or animal consumption.

Fusarium grows in corn, where it's more commonly referred to as "giberella," and can overwinter in the corn stubble left in the fields in no-till systems. Wheat planted into that stubble, or planted in neighboring fields, can become susceptible to the fungus.

"Wheat growers need to scout their fields and pay close attention to corn stubble in those fields or nearby fields," Ohm said. "If they're seeing a lot of black in the corn stalks, it's likely at least some of that black is fusarium."

The fungus thrives in humid, wet conditions - especially in April to June when wheat is flowering. It can be successfully treated with fungicides, but the application window is very small.

"Fusarium affects wheat when the crop is flowering, and that's the time when farmers need to apply fungicides," Ohm said.

Part of what makes fusarium tricky is that growers won't see symptoms in their wheat crop until after the disease is established. That's why Ohm recommends farmers start to scout fields for foliar diseases before the early boot stage, and, if significant disease is developing, apply the appropriate fungicides. If the weather is warm and humid around the time the crop starts to flower, growers need to apply a fungicide specifically for control of fusarium head blight.

"If the weather is cool and dry at flowering, fusarium will be less likely," he said.

One thing that shouldn't be a problem this year is the Hessian fly, a pest that can severely damage winter wheat, especially when it is planted early.

"Hessian fly isn't a serious concern at this point this year because most wheat in Indiana was planted late," he said.

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