Soilborne diseases can spell trouble for crops

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Lush and robust wheat fields start with durable, deep and disease-free roots. These roots absorb the all-important nutrients and moisture that produce healthy plants with strong yield potential, which is why growers should keep their wheat’s root health top of mind when preparing for the season.

By incorporating preventive measures now – including best management practices and seed treatment applications – growers can ensure healthy root systems and get their crops started on the right foot.

Underground Threat

What’s so bad about soilborne diseases? For starters, they attack both seeds and roots, stealing nutrients and key resources needed to produce quality crops.

Dr. Wayne Pedersen, emeritus plant pathologist at the University of Illinois, said their impact can sometimes sneak up on growers.

“Some directly kill the plant before or shortly after it emerges, thereby directly affecting harvest population,” Pedersen explains. “Others reduce the number of small fibrous roots that affect water and nutrient uptake – and often, their only visible symptom is a reduction in yield.”

Three main soilborne diseases in wheat are:

  • Rhizoctonia, which is common in cereal fields around the world, causes lesions around the root and leads to seedling collapse.
  • Pythium, which quickly infects germinating seeds and young seedlings and nibbles away at root tips.
  • Fusarium, a yield-robbing soilborne pathogen that infects the roots and eventually gets into the crown.

Each of these lives below the surface eating away at roots and significantly damaging yield and profit potential.

Manage and Treat

Growers should get ahead of these diseases to maximize yield potential and help crops develop with healthy, efficient root systems.

“Growers do not have to wait until the beginning of the season to protect their wheat from disease,” said Nathan Popiel, agronomic service representative for Syngenta in North Dakota. “With best management practices, growers can protect their wheat even before planting.”

He makes the following recommendations:

  • Plant certified seed, which will have gone through the rigors of a certification process and inspection for contaminants. Older seed has lost some of its vigor, which can make it more susceptible to certain soilborne diseases.
  • When available, select varieties with genetic tolerance.
  • Monitor soil fertility levels. Balanced soil fertility is extremely important because the plant is less stressed.
  • Rotate to a non-host crop to help break the disease cycle.
  • Because soilborne diseases thrive in wet conditions, plant into well-drained soils.
  • Destroy any green residue in fields at least two weeks before planting begins to eradicate the green bridge, break disease cycles and reduce chances of soilborne pathogens carrying over from past seasons.
  • Scout fields for symptoms of soilborne pathogens to manage diseases early.
  • Apply a seed treatment to protect crops from the start

The toughest diseases can still survive despite best agronomic practices, so growers should also strongly consider a seed treatment application, advised Dr. Tim Paulitz, research plant pathologist with the USDA-ARS at Washington State University.

“My trials, even those in fields completely infested with Rhizoctonia, clearly show that seed treatment fungicides will help protect young seedlings against this and other soilborne diseases,” Paulitz said.

Seed treatments, such as CruiserMaxx Vibrance Cereals seed treatment insecticide/fungicide, shield seeds from disease and insect pests such as wireworms and aphids, which can carry and spread Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV). This enables healthier, stronger root systems to develop. With CruiserMaxx Vibrance Cereals, protection begins the moment seeds are planted and continues as they work systemically to protect young, growing plants.

"It's so important to get started off on the right foot to give your wheat crop the best chance to withstand the elements,” Popiel emphasized. “Plan and act ahead, and you'll reap the rewards."

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