Source: National Association of Wheat Growers

Wheat and barley researchers and stakeholders met last week in Milwaukee for the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative's (USWBSI) annual conference.

The meeting is an opportunity for scientists and stakeholders to discuss the latest research being done to minimize the threat of Fusarium head blight, commonly known as scab, to producers, processors and consumers of wheat and barley.

Once again, the Forum emphasized the importance of resistant varieties as a key part of an integrated strategy to combat the devastating disease, particularly since a scab epidemic can occur any year when weather and disease conditions are right.

At the meeting, participants learned additional details about an outreach tool launched in 2010 to send out regular updates on scab risk at critical points in the growing season. This system is being upgraded in 2011 to send state-by-state updates by text message.

Another notable presentation included a review by a representative of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the results of their sampling work on DON, the toxin that results from scab, in grain, wheat flour and bran. Their results confirm the grain industry is meeting FDA's advisory levels on DON, meaning changes to the levels deemed acceptable aren't warranted at this time.

USWBSI is a unique project funded by Congress and administered by USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS). The $5 million initiative coordinates work to fight the disease and awards research grants to university and ARS scientists in the areas of variety development, management, pathogen biology and genetics, gene discovery and food safety.

Among other things, USWBSI funds integrated management and fungicide trials to demonstrate to growers the most effective strategies to combat scab. This information is summarized in an easy-to-read format for growers and others at USWBSI's Web site,

NAWG Director of Government Affairs for Research and Technology Jane DeMarchi served on the planning committee for the Forum and attended as NAWG's representative.

During a session on gene discovery and genetic resistance, she spoke to researchers about the wheat industry's work to pave the way for the eventual introduction of biotechnology into the wheat crop. Addressing the problem of scab is a key area of work in known research that could lead to a commercialized biotech trait in wheat.

USWBSI is chaired by Art Brandli, a wheat producer from Warroad, Minn., and Dave Van Sanford, a researcher at the University of Kentucky. NAWG has a permanent seat on the USWBSI Steering Committee.

For more about USWBSI's work, please visit