The provincial government has launched a mobile-friendly tool that will allow cereal producers to measure their fusarium head blight risk.
“Fusarium became a huge issue in Alberta last year,” said Brian Kennedy, grower relations and extension co-ordinator at Alberta Wheat Commission, which also worked on the tool.
“It’s been sneaking up on the province for a number of years, moving north and west. There were a lot of economic consequences to fusarium head blight last year in the province of Alberta.
“We want to have this tool available to growers to help them manage the economic risk.”
In 2016, fusarium head blight shot up significantly in both incidence and severity, with almost one-quarter of all crop samples in Alberta testing positive for the disease, up from about six per cent in 2015.
Prior to this tool, Alberta didn’t have a fusarium risk model like the ones available for Manitoba and Saskatchewan growers, said Alberta Agriculture and Forestry agrometeorologist Ralph Wright.
“Each and every day, both those provinces are putting out a map showing you what the risk for fusarium is,” said Wright.
“What we did was develop a mobile-friendly website that gives you an hourly graph of what fusarium is doing.”
The tool draws from over 375 weather stations across Alberta that report hourly and then looks at the number of hours of precipitation and the number of hours the temperature was between 15 and 30° over the last seven days.
“It will get the fusarium disease severity value from the closest weather station,” said Kennedy.
“Then it comes up with a gauge of the current disease severity index of low, moderate, and high risk.”
Risk assessment, not a forecast
But this isn’t a forecast, he added.
“A forecast is predicting that something is going to happen,” said Kennedy.
“This is just showing the risk of whether these conditions are favourable for the development of fusarium head blight. Then it’s up to growers to be aware of the other factors.”
And the No. 1 risk factor is timing. “If their crop is not heading out yet, there’s basically no risk.”
But growers also need to be aware of what variety they planted, whether a seed treatment was used, whether they planted infected seed, what was on their field last year and how much fusarium there is in their county, among other things.
“Using that information, this is one more tool that will help growers make a decision on whether or not they need to take some action to control the risk of infection,” said Kennedy.
“When growers see that the risk is elevated in their area, this will help them to determine the economic value of applying the fungicide.”
Because this is the first year the tool is being used, and because it’s based on Manitoba’s model, researchers will be refining the tool over the coming year to ensure its accuracy. A Prairie-wide study is also being initiated to develop a standard model for the Prairies and “tweak” the maps going forward.
“It’s another tool that helps growers in decision-making,” said Kennedy.
“We think it’s pretty accurate, but we need to continually validate and ground-truth it in the hope that someday it will be possible to have a forecast like the wheat midge maps.”
To access the tool, visit the site, choose the weather station closest to you and switch to the ‘Derivatives’ tab, selecting ‘Fusarium Disease Severity Value.’