MILFORD, Del. — What a difference a year makes.
Last year, wheat farmers were suffering through an outbreak of scab, a common wheat disease that can cause wheat to be rejected by processors.
Earlier this month, the Mid-Atlantic Soft Wheat Tour in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania found acres of healthy, hearty and robust wheat nearing harvest. Fields were thigh high and most appeared thick and nearly ready for the combine.
The tour, held June 19, found barely a sign of the dreaded scab, although the wet winter and spring is expected to cause yield loss due to areas being drowned out.
“Last year, we would see heads and the top half would be dead,” said Lee Sproull, director of grain marketing for Mountaire Farms.
“Wheat scab is caused by a fungus called Fusarium graminearum. It is a common problem in Europe, Asia, South Africa, and the Midwestern and Eastern U.S.A. Scab severity is very erratic and depends heavily on wet weather conditions. Scab can reduce both yield and quality of the grain,” according to an article on the Kansas State University website.
“It’s a much better tour,” said Sproull, pausing beside a wheat field near Frederica, Del. The Delaware tour began in Milford and worked its way northward through Frederica, Kenton and Townsend before reversing course and ending in Harrington.
Numerous wheat samples were taken in a number of fields, and similar tours took place in both Maryland and eastern Pennsylvania on the same day.
There was almost no signs of scab found in southern Delaware fields, although isolated areas were found in some of the more northern locations, according to Sproull.
While still present, Sproull said the amount of scab, sometimes characterized by a pinkish or whitish grain color, was dramatically less than what was found last year. Cool, wet weather can lead to an increased amount of scab.
Sproull speculated that the change was due to two factors: better weather for growing wheat this year and increased awareness by farmers who are doing a better job of applying fungicide at the proper time. He explained that the fungicide needs to be applied either at or just before flowering.
Participants later met in southern Pennsylvania for dinner and to compare notes.
Sproull said similar findings were reported by the two other tours. While some scab was reported, perhaps more so in northern areas, it was dramatically reduced from last year, he said.
He explained that scab can lead to the presence of vomitoxin. The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, only allows 2 parts per million of vomitoxin, meaning wheat that contains vomitoxin can and sometimes is rejected by processors.
“Last year, there wasn’t a field that didn’t have evidence of scab. This year, we had to struggle to find any,” he said. “We have some good news. Let the harvest begin.”
Sproull also said the wheat fields appeared to have a high yield weight and moisture levels that were declining.
The tour took place as Delaware farmers were harvesting or finishing the harvest of barley. Wheat fields were expected to be ready for harvest within days, particularly in southern areas.