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Scab, DON not likely in wheat west of Mississippi

FARGO – Upper Great Plains wheat farmers probably have little to fear from concerns about toxins in soft red winter wheat east of the Mississippi River, experts say.

Max Hawkins, a nutritionist with Alltech’s Mycotoxin Management Team in Lexington, Ky., warns that excessive rains have put the wheat harvest behind schedule and subject to Deoxynivalenol, or DON, produced by Fusarium graminareum mold. It’s the same mold that produces Fusarium Head Blight, commonly called scab, which can occur in the Northern Plains.

Fusarium graminareum is indicated when relative humidity is more than 90 percent and temperatures are 59 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, says Hawkins, whose company offers in-depth analysis of mycotoxins. He warns that there are reports from across the U.S. of DON levels ranging from 2 parts per million (ppm) to 14 ppm, and that there have been recent reports of wheat being rejected at grain terminals for levels ranging from 5 ppm to more than 10 ppm. Wheat can be used as an alternative to corn in poultry and swine diets, in which mycotoxin levels must be limited.

No problem here

Joel Ransom, a North Dakota State University Extension Service agronomist for cereal crops, says nothing has been delivered from 2014 North Dakota wheat production. Ransom says conditions have been somewhat favorable for DON in the winter wheat crop, but that will depend on locale.

Ransom says there is far less disease pressure in spring wheat – the region’s big wheat crop.

“It headed later and the environment was less conducive to scab development,” Ransom says. “Two weeks of really dry weather has helped, and what was flowered during that period is going to be almost at no risk.”

Similarly, Ben Handcock of Brighton, Colo., director of the Wheat Quality Council, says any DON problems for this year’s wheat crop are likely in the sprawling eastern soft winter wheat country, from Michigan to Florida. That classification of wheat is used largely for cookies and crackers, and has a low protein of 8 to 9 percent.

Handcock’s organization just completed a Spring Wheat Tour in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota. The wheat grown here is high in protein and often used for blending in breads. Handcock notes that the tour this year found very little in the spring wheat.

“They planted a bunch of winter wheat last fall, but they had such a horrible winter that there’s not much of it left,” he says. “But even with the winter wheat (that survived) it’s not a terrible deal.”

Farmers in the Northern Plains had problems with DON in the mid-1990s, but scientists since then have bred varieties with resistance to the disease and more farmers here apply fungicides when their crops are threatened.

Handcock notes that a Wheat Quality Council winter wheat tour in Kansas showed signs of a drought, but no scab.