Alberta Barley

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Smut

There are two types of smut: covered smut and loose smut. Covered smut is externally seed-borne, spread by spores from diseased plant heads to the surface of healthy seeds. The disease is favoured by seeding into cold soil in late fall and early spring. Covered smut can stunt plants, blacken kernels and deform awns. Yield losses are directly related to the percentage of diseased tillers and smut-infected grain could be downgraded in quality.

Loose smut is internally seed-borne, and barley has poor resistance to the disease. Spores from smutted heads are dispersed by wind or rain to healthy heads, where they infect the developing grain. The disease thrives in cool, wet, July weather. Infected seed will appear normal and will germinate. However, the following year, after germination, the fungus will grow with the plant and replace the head with spores. Plants will appear normal until heading, when infected heads will be visibly black and filled with dusty spores. Yield losses are directly related to the percentage of diseased tillers.

Prevention/management tips:

  • Use resistant varieties or disease-free seed
  • If infected barley is being grown for seed, or the variety does not have good resistance, spray with fungicide

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