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Weather, Research Bring Relief from New Barley Disease

By Don Comis
September 3, 1999

A sudden drop in winter temperature coupled with a dry spring brought temporary relief to most barley growers in the Pacific Northwest this year. The weather prevented a buildup of a fungal disease called barley stripe rust.

But weather is fickle, so growers can also rely on new, research-based controls they didn't have in 1995, when this disease began plaguing the Northwest's barley crop.

Barley stripe rust spreads by powdery, yellow spores that look like rust and form large, yellow stripes between leaf veins. It can quickly cover leaves and barley heads and suck the plant dry. It can wipe out a farmer’s entire harvest, but this year the damage was minimal in most fields.

In 1995, Northwestern farmers had almost no control options: no resistant barley variety and no adequate registered fungicide. Their options are increasing, thanks to Agricultural Research Service scientists like Roland F. Line and Darrell M. Wesenberg. ARS is the principal research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Line, a plant pathologist at ARS’ Wheat Genetics, Quality, Physiology, and Disease Research Unit in Pullman, Wash., helped get emergency approval of the fungicide Folicur from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He is helping make two more fungicides available.

Wesenberg, an agronomist with ARS' Small Grains and Potato Germplasm Research Unit at Aberdeen, Idaho, developed Bancroft, the first rust-resistant barley adapted to the Pacific Northwest. It will be available for commercial production this year. He did this with help from Line and an international research team. Genetic engineering offers the possibility of more strongly resistant varieties in the future.

Line and colleagues have identified 26 genes for resistance so far and have spent the past summer evaluating more barley plants. The genes should be easier to find because of a new technique they developed for finding gene markers linked to rust resistance.

For more information on barley rust research, see the story on the web at:


Scientific contacts:Roland F. Line, ARS Wheat Genetics, Quality, Physiology and Disease Research Unit, Pullman, Wash., phone (509) 335-3755, fax (509) 335-7674,; Darrell M. Wesenberg, ARS Small Grains and Potato Germplasm Research Unit, Aberdeen, ID, phone (208) 397-4162 (ext. 108), fax (208) 397-4165,

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