Alberta Barley

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Sep 10

Why am I seeing so much ergot and how can I avoid seeing it next year?

Posted on Sep 10 By: Jeremy Boychyn MSc P.Ag.

If you are in a region of the province that received ample moisture through spring and into flowering, you will likely notice an increased occurrence of ergot. Ergot infection generally does not affect yield. However, it will decrease your grade at the elevator and impact your price. An increase from 0.04% Ergot to 0.10% will drop you from No.1 to Feed.

Ergot is a dark coloured, hardened resting body (sclerotia) either in your grain heads or in your grain sample. Rye faces the highest risk of infection due to it being open pollinated.

Ergot bodies survive in your soil for one to two years. During moist conditions, spores are wind dispersed from the soil and infect crops during the flowering period. Unfortunately, there is no in-crop control of Ergot. However, there are a still a number of best management practices that can help reduce the likeliness that you’ll face infection, or help reduce the impact on fields that are already infected. 

Best management practices to avoid ergot infection:

  • Lengthen your rotation: This is your best option for control. Having one to two years between susceptible crops will reduce its impact.
  • Mow your field edges: This prevents susceptible volunteers in your ditches from increasing the soil and area spore load. Mowing should happen prior to the flowering period of the ditch volunteers.
  • Ensure you have adequate cooper and boron levels in your soil: Low soil copper and boron levels can also increase the risk of Ergot infection. Those two nutrients, if lacking, will delay the pollination process and lead to increase infection risk.
  • Use clean seed: If the grain you had intended to use for seed has Ergot infection, it would be best to find a clean seed source instead. Reseeding infected seed will only increase your fields infection levels.

What to do if you’re noticing infection in this year’s crop:

  • Look for concentration in your headlands: If you notice high amounts of ergot in your fields, check to see if infection is concentrated in your headlands as you may be able to combine the headlands separately.

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