NDSU Extension - Griggs County


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August 17

The Extension Connection

By Megan Vig

Combines are scattered across the landscape and the roads are bustling with semi-trucks hauling grain-- harvest is upon us.  As wheat is being delivered to market, there has been an increasing incidence of ergot being found in spring wheat in counties to our west.  Ergot is a fungal disease of the seed head in cereal grains and grasses.  Ergot can cause 5 to 10% yield loss in small grain cereals.  It can also cause losses in forage grasses grown for seed production.  Apart from actual yield reduction in small grain cereals, additional losses are incurred when contaminated grain is discounted or rejected at the elevator.  Wheat is graded as “ergoty” when it contains more than 0.05% by weight of ergot sclerotia.  Some western elevators have been rejecting loads for too much ergot.

What do producers do when there is too much ergot?  Andrew Friskop, NDSU Plant Pathologist notes ergot has a higher incidence of occurrence in field margins.  Scout your fields and if you are noticing ergot, develop a harvest and storage strategy to keep ergoty grain separate.  If disposal of ergoty grain is being considered, understanding the lifecycle of the ergot is crucial.  Ergots are compact masses of fungal mycelium also known as sclerotia.  These bodies are produced in place of a normal grain seed.  Ergot bodies (sclerotia) remain viable for about 1 year when left on or near the soil surface.  When ergot bodies are buried at depths greater than 1-inch, the germinated fruiting bodies are not able to reach the soil surface to release spores due to the spore bearing structure unable to crack the soil surface.  Cleaning grain with a density type of cleaner may remove some ergot bodies but will not completely get rid of the ergot problem.  Lastly, consider the grassy weeds that are located within your field and field margins.   Ergot has a wide host range so preventing grassy weeds from flowering will help reduce ergot incidence.

                Ergot sclerotia contain poisonous compounds known as alkaloids.  Ingestion of ergots in grain and flour can cause illness or death in humans and domesticated animals.  Diseases caused by ingestion of ergot-contaminated feed or food have been called by various names throughout history, including ergotism, ergot poisoning, ergot toxicosis and St. Anthony’s fire.  Exposure length and amount ingested can lead to varying forms of the disease.  For further information, connect with the Extension Office at 797-3312.  Source:  Univ. of Nebraska Extension publication EC1880, Ergot of Small Grain Cereals and Grasses and its Health Effects on Humans and Livestock.


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