While Fusarium graminearum is starting to establish itself in some areas of southern Alberta, it is not commonly found in the rest of Alberta.
“Fusarium graminearum is mainly a problem where highly susceptible durum and soft white wheat are grown under irrigation,” says Dr. Kelly Turkington, researcher, Agriculture Canada, Lacombe. “It’s much less common in dryland production.”
Fusarium graminearum is the fungus that causes fusarium head blight (FHB). The prevalence and severity of FHB in Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan has caused major economic losses to producers and the grain export industry.
“Surveys we conducted from 2001 to 2003 in central and northern Alberta indicated that it’s rare to find fusarium graminearum on crop residue,” says Turkington. “Residues are an important overwintering site for fusarium graminearum; if it’s not in the residue you wouldn’t expect to see a lot on the heads. More recent testing of seed and grain by private seed testing laboratories and the Canadian Grain Commission have shown the same results, i. e. outside of southern Alberta it is not commonly found.”
Turkington says there are steps producers can take to protect themselves against fusarium graminearum.
“It’s very important that you have any seed checked before planting. And avoid any seed with detectable levels,” says Turkington. “You want to avoid introducing a problem into your fields if it’s not there.”
In southern Alberta, if fusarium graminearum is already present, Turkington suggests using rotations, and choosing a variety with as high a level of resistance as possible. A good rotation and resistant variety are also useful recommendations for areas outside of southern Alberta.
“There are also now fungicides that are registered for controlling fusarium head blight,” says Turkington. “The chemicals will help reduce the amount of disease, and the amount of mycotoxin contamination in the harvested grain in order to improve grade and yield. They will not, however, eliminate the problem.”
He says the most important thing is for producers to stay on top of things. “The old adage of ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ definitely applies here. If it’s not a problem in your area, you want to be cautious about the seed, feed grain or straw that you use to make sure you’re not bringing something in that may become a problem.”