ITHACA, N.Y. -- Fusarium head blight, a plant disease also known as wheat scab, has taken aim at America's breadbasket and threatens New York's $30 million wheat-growing industry, according to Cornell University plant pathologists. The scientists will be speaking at the American Phytopathological Society's annual meeting, Aug. 9-13, in Rochester, N.Y.
"Wheat is an important crop in New York state. As in most of the Midwestern states, epidemics of scab disease threaten New York's wheat industry," said Gary Bergstrom, Cornell professor of plant pathology.
In New York, winter wheat is grown on 120,000 to 150,000 acres annually, primarily in the western and central parts of the state, he said. The wheat grain, with a New York grower cash receipt value of approximately $30 million annually, also is milled and processed by several New York food companies into flour for crackers and other pastry products for human consumption.
But, the scab is increasing as a threat to sustainable wheat production. In 1996, New York wheat farmers lost more than $12 million due to the widespread occurrence of scab, Bergstrom said. "All of our adapted pastry wheat varieties are susceptible to scab, which is most severe when wet weather occurs while the crop flowers in late May-early June," he said.
Fortunately, wet weather was not encountered during wheat flowering this year in New York, and preliminary estimates call for excellent yields of New York winter wheat in 1997.
In the Midwest -- North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota -- yield and grain quality losses amounted to nearly $1 billion in 1993 and ranged from $200 million to $400 million annually since then. In Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, losses from wheat scab exceeded $300 million in 1995 and 1996. Food safety is also an issue with the scab, as products made from the infected grain could be contaminated by a mold by-product, a poison known as vomitoxin.