Wheat crop faces head scab outbreak

Untimely rains have spawned an epidemic of the fungal disease head scab in winter wheat fields in Kansas, reducing yields and quality just as harvest gets under way in the state, industry experts say.

The disease could drop total wheat production in Kansas by 1 percent to 2 percent, said Erick DeWolf, a plant pathologist at Kansas State University.

The last head scab epidemic in Kansas was in 1993, he said, and this year’s outbreak is definitely in that category.

Worst hit are fields in eastern Kansas, where the incidence of the disease is between 10 percent and 20 percent, DeWolf said. That could mean yield losses in some of those fields of 40 percent to 50 percent.

Bill Wood, agriculture agent for K-State Research & Extension in Douglas County, said that area fields were far from immune from the disease, which shrivels up wheat berries so much that they simply blow out the back of a combine.

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” Wood said. “We just have to live with it. It will shrivel some heads. : You lose bushels is what you lose.”