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Seed To Fight Scab Epidemic Keeps Rolling InBy Don Comis
June 28, 1999
One California wheat field just played a crucial role in helping embattled farmers fight back against wheat scab, an epidemic threat to millions of acres in the Northern Great Plains. In April, the 50-acre field near Brawley, Calif., yielded 3,800 bushels of seed of McVey spring wheat.
McVey, released earlier this year, was developed by Agricultural Research Service geneticist Robert H. Busch and ARS and university colleagues. It is the most scab-tolerant wheat variety released so far, according to Busch, at ARS' Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minn. ARS is the chief scientific agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
All 8,000 bushels of McVey seed produced to date have been planted this spring, on about 5,000 acres in Minnesota. The expected harvest, more than 200,000 bushels, should supply enough certified seed for Northern Plains farmers to plant next spring on more than 120,000 acres.
Normally only 3,000 to 5,000 bushels would have been planted this spring, but the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council, Red Lake Falls, Minn., and the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association, St. Paul, sped up the process in response to the crisis.
Wheat and barley scab has been a disaster in the Red River Valley area of Minnesota and North Dakota since 1993. Nationwide, the fungal epidemic began in 1991, costing farmers at least $1.6 billion in crop losses.
In 1993, Minnesota farmer Tom Anderson--like many other growers--realized something was wrong when almost no kernels turned up in the hopper of his combine. At first he thought the hopper had a hole. Instead, he found, scab had shriveled the grain kernels until they were so light they were blown out the back of the combine like dust. By 1997, Anderson joined forces with Michigan State University breeder Rick Ward, along with other industry and research leaders across the nation, to form the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative. In partnership with the initiative, USDA has distributed $3.5 million this year to 68 scientists for 104 anti-scab research projects.
A comprehensive story on ARS scab research appears in the June Agricultural Research magazine and on the web at: