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USDA Research Yields New Wheat Variety to Help Farmers Fight Scab

By Don Comis
May 18, 1999

WASHINGTON, May 21--A new variety of wheat developed by USDA researchers will help farmers in the Northern Great Plains slow the spread of wheat scab, a costly fungal disease, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman announced today.

"USDA's intensified research efforts are helping American farmers fight wheat scab," Glickman said. "This new wheat variety, our most scab-tolerant ever, will be available to farmers for the spring 2000 planting season, preventing more damage by this costly disease."

Scab losses cost American wheat growers more than $2.6 billion between 1991 and 1997. Scab, or Fusarium head blight, shrivels kernels of wheat and other cereal grain crops such as barley. The disease also produces toxins that can make crops unsuitable for flour, cereal, some malt, and animal feed. Many growers discovered the problem only after harvesting wheat kernels that were empty shells.

The new variety, McVey hard red spring wheat, slows the spread of the disease in the seedhead so fewer kernels are destroyed. It is the first product to emerge from USDA's accelerated research efforts in response to the scab epidemic.

This year, USDA increased its annual research spending on scab by $3 million. The new funding to USDA Agricultural Research Service and university researchers builds on the $500,000 per year that USDA has allocated each year since 1997. The researchers are part of the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, a consortium of 20 state universities supported by many wheat- and barley-related organizations and individuals. Minnesota farmer Tom Anderson and Michigan State University breeder Rick Ward are co-chairs of the scab consortium.

The new variety is named for Donald V. McVey, a plant pathologist at the USDA's Cereal Disease Laboratory in St. Paul, Minn. Its development was funded in part by the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council, Red Lake Falls, Minn., through money collected from wheat farmers. The Minnesota Crop Improvement Association, based in St. Paul, is distributing seed to certified seed growers.

A comprehensive story on ARS scab research around the country, including development of McVey, will appear in the June issue of ARS' Agricultural Research magazine.

Scientific contact: Robert H. Busch, ARS Plant Science Research Unit, St. Paul, Minn., phone (612) 625-1975, fax (651) 649-5058,

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