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Scouting for Ergot (08/06/20)

With the small grain crop approaching maturity, one disease to keep an eye out for is ergot. Ergot is a common disease in North Dakota with a very large host range including small grain crops and grassy roadside weeds.

With the small grain crop approaching maturity, one disease to keep an eye out for is ergot. Ergot is a common disease in North Dakota with a very large host range including small grain crops and grassy roadside weeds. The pathogen prefers cool (70-80 F) and wet weather and infects through the stigma of a wheat flower. Ergot sclerotia can be observed anywhere along a small grain spike, but this year, most of the photos I have received this year have shown ergot on the uppermost spikelet. This could be explained by a possible disruption (ie: heat, sterility) in successful pollination of the stigma allowing the ergot pathogen to infect the grain (Figure 1).

Generally, ergot is observed along field edges due to the close proximity to other grassy weed hosts. However, that is not always the case. In 2018, there were several reports of ergot being reported throughout a few wheat fields in ND. This year, IPM scouts have noticed low levels of ergot in wheat with one field having a higher level of ergot incidence (Figure 2). Therefore, it is important to scout fields prior to harvest, and if needed, implement a harvest strategy to avoid contamination of good quality seed lots. Ergot thresholds are determined as a proportion of sclerotia weight per grain weight with wheat having a threshold of 0.05% and barley at 0.1%. For wheat, this is approximately 10-15 ergot bodies per 2.2 pounds of wheat. For more information on ergot, please read NDSU publication Ergot in Small Grains (PP1904).

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Andrew Friskop

Extension Plant Pathology, Cereal Crops

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