Seed To Fight Scab Epidemic Keeps Rolling In
ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Don Comis, (301) 504-1625, email@example.com
June 28, 1999
One California wheat field just played a crucial role in helping embattled
farmers fight back against wheat scab, an epidemic threat to millions of
acres in the Northern Great Plains. In April, the 50-acre field near
Brawley, Calif., yielded 3,800 bushels of seed of McVey spring wheat.
McVey, released earlier this year, was developed by Agricultural Research
Service geneticist Robert H. Busch and ARS and university colleagues. It is
the most scab-tolerant wheat variety released so far, according to Busch, at
ARS' Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minn. ARS is the chief
scientific agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
All 8,000 bushels of McVey seed produced to date have been planted this
spring, on about 5,000 acres in Minnesota. The expected harvest, more than
200,000 bushels, should supply enough certified seed for Northern Plains
farmers to plant next spring on more than 120,000 acres.
Normally only 3,000 to 5,000 bushels would have been planted this spring,
but the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council, Red Lake Falls,
Minn., and the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association, St. Paul, sped up the
process in response to the crisis.
Wheat and barley scab has been a disaster in the Red River Valley area of
Minnesota and North Dakota since 1993. Nationwide, the fungal epidemic began
in 1991, costing farmers at least $1.6 billion in crop losses.
In 1993, Minnesota farmer Tom Anderson--like many other growers--realized
something was wrong when almost no kernels turned up in the hopper of his
combine. At first he thought the hopper had a hole. Instead, he found, scab
had shriveled the grain kernels until they were so light they were blown out
the back of the combine like dust. By 1997, Anderson joined forces with
Michigan State University breeder Rick Ward, along with other industry and
research leaders across the nation, to form the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab
Initiative. In partnership with the initiative, USDA has distributed $3.5
million this year to 68 scientists for 104 anti-scab research projects.
A comprehensive story on ARS scab research appears in the June Agricultural
Research magazine and on the web at:
Scientific contact: Robert H. Busch, ARS Plant Science Research Unit, St.
Paul, Minn., phone (612) 625-1975, fax (651) 649-5058,
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