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Stripe Rust Showing Up in Texas Wheat Fields

Less than six weeks into the new year, and we're hearing reports of stripe rust in winter wheat in Texas.

Clark Neely, small grains and oilseed specialist at Texas A&M Agrilife, says stripe rust has been found in eastern and central portions of that state. While the infestation is not yet severe, that it is seen in February should prompt producers to scout their wheat fields. 

"It's pretty early for us to be seeing rust in wheat," Neely says. "We had similar conditions last year. And when we see it this early, it gives us cause for alarm." 

Stripe rust is identified by linear rows of rust pustules on the wheat leaves; below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation serve as an incubator for the disease. Left unchecked and in severe cases in susceptible wheat varieties, yield losses of 40% can be expected. 

It's early to treat the Texas wheat crop with a fungicide application, but Neely suggests growers need to begin scouting fields and prepare to take action. "Growers need to be aware of what they planted and whether the varieties are resistant. If so, and the disease is not too severe, they can hold off," he says. "If it's heavy pressure and the varieties are susceptible to stripe rust, they should consider a fungicide application." 

Much of the wheat in the region is at the jointing stage. Protecting the crop from diseases is most important as the flag leaf emerges. That gives growers a few weeks to scout, watch the weather conditions, and continue to monitor the progression of stripe rust.

Knowing the variety is essential. Some varieties are susceptible to stripe rust altogether; some have resilience against the disease and some show vulnerability to stripe rust, only to have the resistance kick in as the plants mature. 

Impact on Oklahoma, Kansas
Stripe rust in Texas in no way means that states farther north will be affected by the disease. However, growers throughout the Wheat Belt will want to continue to monitor weather conditions to gauge the northern progression of the disease.

"A severe stripe rust outbreak in Texas in February sets the stage for wheat fields farther north to get it," says Erick DeWolf, plant pathologist at Kansas State University. 

If Texas gets cool, damp weather in February and March, stripe rust could continue to develop and move northward. Weather forecasters predict El Niño will continue this spring, which means cooler-than-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation - both of which contribute to stripe rust infestation. 

Should stripe rust persist, growers can treat the wheat crop with generic tebuconazole or propiconazole products for about $10 per acre, including application.

Still, it's too early to make any hard-and-fast decisions, DeWolf says. "It's only February. There is a lot of growing season left to go. It will come down to environment in the next few months." 

For more information: 
Texas A&M Wheat Variety Disease Ratings
Kansas State University Wheat Disease Identification Guide
University of Nebraska Wheat Fungicide Payback Scenarios

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