Manitoba’s Winter Hammered By Fusarium – for Sep. 2, 2010

Manitoba’s winter wheat crop has so much fusarium head blight damage this year the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) is hoping it can blend it with winter wheat from Saskatchewan and Alberta.

To that end the CWB issued a notice to farmers last week asking them to submit winter wheat samples as soon as possible.

“Samples from Saskatchewan and Alberta will fill out the quality picture, allowing the CWB to solidify its marketing strategy and determine what kind of special fusarium program may be offered,” the CWB notice said.

This was the second-worst year for fusarium head blight in Manitoba’s winter wheat crop since monitoring began in 1998.

“The worst year was 2005,” Andy Tekauz, a plant pathologist with Agriculture and Agri- Food Canada at its Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg, said in an interview.


Agriculture Canada officials inspect 30 or so winter wheat fields annually. They sample a number of wheat heads and count the number of heads that are infected with fusarium. They also estimate what proportion of the head is infected. The two measures are used to calculate an infection index. The only year to have a higher infection index was 2005, Tekauz said.

Winter wheat was so heavily infected this year, despite fungicide applications in many cases, because disease inoculum was present when crops were flowering and the weather conditions – warm and humid – were ideal, Tekauz said. The other factor is winter wheat is much more susceptible to the disease than most cultivars of spring wheat.

CWB agronomist Mike Grenier believes another factor was at play – later flowering because winter wheat is being planted later.

“Farmers are planting their winter wheat later in the fall,” he said. “It used to be everybody tried to seed their winter wheat by the (Labour Day) long weekend. Now people aren’t in such a rush.”

There’s more longer-season canola grown, which delays winter wheat seeding.


It used to be thought fusarium wouldn’t be a problem in winter wheat because it usually flowers before conditions are right for infection.

“It can really change year to year,” Tekauz said.

“One year or so out of five you have the possibility of getting a higher level of fusarium than you might expect.”

The level of fusariumdamaged kernels (FDK) in Manitoba’s winter wheat crop varies from one to nine per cent, with lots of samples in the four to seven per cent range, Grenier said.

Levels in the southwest are more in the one to two per cent range. While lower than levels in the east they’re still too high for blending, Grenier said.

The good news is the ratio of FDK to deoxynivalenol (DON), the mycotoxin created by fusarium is close to one to one. In recent years DON levels have been increasing relative to percentage of damaged kernels, which made marketing infected wheat even trickier.

The maximum FDK allowed in No. 1 and 2 Canada Western Red Winter (CWRW) wheat is one and two per cent, respectively. But as of Aug. 1, 2011 the tolerances drop to 0.8 and one per cent for No. 1 and 2, respectively.


The CWB’s notice says its wheat customers are increasingly sensitive to the presence of DON mycotoxin found in fusarium-infected crops. Buyers from Europe, for example, are particularly sensitive. Buyers from other regions, such as the Middle East and Asia, are also looking for maximum DON guarantees in wheat.

While the CWB wants win-t er wheat samples from Saskatchewan and Alberta, Grenier said it needs more samples from western Manitoba too.

To deliver a winter wheat sample farmers can contact their farm business rep (FBR) to make pickup or drop-off arrangements. Farmers can find FBR contact information at or by calling 1-800- 275-4292. [email protected]


“Samples from Saskatchewan and Alberta will fill out the quality picture, allowing the CWB to solidify its marketing strategy and determine what kind of special fusarium program may be offered.”


About the author


Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.



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