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Fusarium Head Blight: 6 Things You Need to Know about the Invisible Disease That's Infecting Western Cereal Crops


Written By: Amy Rederburg, Dec 04, 2017
Fusarium head blight (FHB) is a crop infection that has traditionally been found in Manitoba. Over the past three years, it has begun to spread and is moving west through the prairies. According to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, FHB was found in 98 percent of wheat and 97 percent of durum samples in 2016 (Fusarium Management Guide).
 
The Flaman Grain Cleaning team travelled to Melfort, Saskatchewan to take part in a Fusarium Management workshop presented by NARF at the Canadian Ag Research Farm. Here are the top 6 things you need to know in order to manage the disease and get the most out of your fusarium-infected grain.
 
1. What’s so bad about fusarium head blight?
  
There are around 17 different strains of fusarium, but fusarium graminearum is the most common form of FHB that is causing downgrades growers' grain.
 
The fungus causes a by-product, which is known as vomitoxin (VOMI). DON is a particularly nasty type of VOMI that poisons grain. Once infected, only a certain percentage of VOMI in your grain is acceptable for animal consumption.
 
2. Once you see signs of fusarium head blight, it's too late.

If you don't know much about fusarium, you're not alone. Most producers aren't aware of the catastrophic damage an infection can do to their crop until it's too late.
 
Once you see traces of fusarium in your crop it will reduce your ability to sell the grain and affect the growth of new seedlings. In extreme cases fusarium will decimate an entire crop.
 
At the fusarium management workshop, the team learned there is no quick solution to eliminate fusarium from your grain. However there are ways to mitigate the damage so that you can make the most of your yield.
 
3. Three key areas of fusarium management on your farm.
 
Ron Knox from AAFC Swift Current studies the disease triangle of fusarium's complex cycle. He highlights three key areas of disease management:
  1. Host crop: Breed your grain for resistance, or select a less susceptible crop such as barley and oats.
  2. Pathogens: Fusarium sits in the soil waiting to attack.
  3. Environment: It spreads quickest during the flowering stage with a combination of warm wind and moist weather.

4. When is the best time to spray for fusarium head blight?
 
According to Stu Brandt from Northeast Agriculture Research Foundation, the best and most effective defence is to time your fungicide application to coincide with the heading stage of the plant.
 
Environmental factors that contribute to ideal spraying applications include:
  • Wind conditions
  • Droplet size
  • Row spacing
  • Ensuring more water volume
 
Prevention is difficult to guarantee. One idea is to stagger times for seeding, so that flowering doesn't happen all at once.
 
5. Managing fusarium head blight infections the right way.
 
Fusarium can't be prevented, it can only be managed. Rex Newkirk from the University of Saskatchewan says that accurate testing of the level of Vomitoxin (DON) is what should really matter the most to you, as a grower. 
 
Andrew Taylor started specializing in removing VOMI from fusarium-infected crops at the end of 2016. He says, "The BoMill does its job. It's an interesting machine to run. It's loud, but it works."
 
He says he plans to pass on the advice about disease management to his customers, "I heard a few things about fungicide application being effective, you've got to get good coverage of kernels, and be aware of wet weather."
 
Once your grain crop has been infected a crop rotation that includes mostly pulse crops is recommended for four to five years according to Gurcharn Brar, a biology researcher of FHB at the University of Saskatchewan.
 
6. Flaman Grain Cleaning can help you sort fusarium head blight out of your crop.

Fusarium head blight is a broad disease and should be cleaned in the proper manner to give you the best results. Once you have analyzed a sample of your grain with vomitoxin testing equipment, you will have an economic decision to make. Either you will decide to clean it, dump it, or sell it as feed depending on the percentage of good quality kernels left behind.
 
Mitch Flaman, part of the Grain Cleaning division, says there are two ways to upgrade fusarium infected crops:
  1. Visually sorting fusarium damaged kernels (FDK) by the physical characteristics to a predetermined percentage (usually under 5%).
  2. Internally sorting (via NIT infrared) vomitoxin (DON) to less than 2 parts per million (PPM).
  
Once you know how fusarium head blight has affected your crop, Flaman's Grain Cleaning division can help you separate the infected kernels to recover the quality grain and save a percentage of your yield. They have several machines capable of cleaning fusarium and DON management including the ISM 40, BoMill Lab iQ, and FMS-2000.
 
Taylor found that every crop is different when using the BoMill to clean grain for his customers. He says, "Some go from four PPM VOMI to under two PPM, and some that start at three PPM won't drop at all. It just depends on how hard the crop was hit."

 
 
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Posted in Farm related news | More articles by Amy Rederburg

Saskatchewan Harvest 2017: A 48-year career farmer talks draught, agriculture technology, and facing the inevitable tough times


Written By: Amy Rederburg, Nov 09, 2017
Harvest 2017 was a tough year for many Saskatchewan farmers.
 
Doug Jones of Whitby Farms was one of Saskatchewan's first to wrap up harvest 2017. He says it's thanks to a prototype loaner combine -- one of two sent for field testing in Western Canada -- on top of the two he runs every other year. And a family team that works together year round.
 
The Flaman Agriculture team caught up with Doug while he had a few fleeting moments of free time on his hands. We talked about what effect this years' terrible drought conditions had on his farm, agriculture technology that matters for harvest 2017, and his advice for young farmers facing a tough climate for growth. All before he left for the field to help one of his neighbours finish their harvest.
 
What does Whitby Farms do?
 
Whitby Farms manages around 11 acres of land and grows a variety of grain, cereal, and bean crops; raises cattle and trains quarter horses; offers grain hauling services; and much more in the country surrounding the Great Sandhills at Lucky Lake, about 150 kilometres south of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
 
The family-owned Whitby Farms stays busy all year round. While Doug’s brother does seeding, his nephew sprays, his son-in-law manages cattle, and his daughter trains quarter horses. They have one hired man who's been with them for 10 years. After a decade of service you could say their hired man has become as close as family. In case you’re wondering, Doug refers to himself as “the gopher” of the operation.
 
We asked, "Who runs the combine at harvest?"
 
Doug jokingly replied, "That's the easiest job in the world! [With the automations these days,] mowing your lawn is way more complicated."
 
He likes that today's combines automatically update as conditions change, so you don't have to manually reset when something goes wrong. He thinks of driving a combine as the perfect job for a multitasker.
 
Harvest 2017 wisdom from a 48-year farming career.
 
Doug's been farming since 1969. And he says, "I never changed my mind once."
 
He recalls taking the leap just before the start of one of the worst periods in farming history, the farm crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, when anyone who started farming "went broke". This was due to a combination of bad economy, dried up foreign markets, and high debt resulting in thousands losing their farms.
 
But Doug was stubborn about his dream to become a farmer and raise cattle. He says it's the only thing he's ever wanted to do.
   
How did drought conditions in Saskatchewan affect Whitby Farms for Harvest 2017?
 
The lack of rain and the heat did a number on his crops, along with many other farmers around the prairies. Doug says his crops are located in the lowest rainfall RM in the province of Saskatchewan. And they didn't get a lot of rain last year, which means soil moisture was low this year. He admits they've had better looking crops in previous years.
 
Their lentils performed the worst and canola would have been a disaster without support from an agrologist.
 
He says, "When I started out farming, [this years' canola harvest] would have been less than 10 bushels in the acre." They got 20 this year, but they're used to an average of 50.
 
Despite a lackluster harvest due to the low moisture and extreme heat drought conditions, Doug remains positive. He thinks the new varieties of canola are "amazing" and credits their performance to scientific advancements in the seed.
 
But there was an upside. Whitby Farms came out with perfect quality lentils and durum over a string of three consecutive years with salvage value. Doug improved the crops’ success by implementing an irrigation system that uses water from nearby Lake Diefenbaker and a preventative spraying process.
 
He’s not the only one that’s happy with his yield given the dry conditions. CBC News reported that other Saskatchewan farmers were surprised at the quality of Harvest 2017.
 
The drought conditions affected the Whitby Farms livestock, too. Doug and his son-in-law had to dig one of the farm's springs out twice to get the water moving again. Their quick thinking likely saved the cattle and horses from heat stroke, unlike another unfortunate case that killed 200 cattle.
 
How do you stick with it during tough times like Saskatchewan Harvest 2017?
 
Doug declares, "Young farmers aren't used to the tough years!"
 
Since the farm crisis, Doug has noticed that the cycle has a way of repeating itself. He cautions many farmers face a similar fate without proper planning. 
 
"Work as hard as you can! It's going to stay dry. You'll hardly see a field that hasn't been affected by drought."
 
He adds, "[We farmers] are at the whim of markets and weather. [Have a plan in place] if your wage is cut in half."
 
Doug reminds young farmers to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, so you'll always stay ahead. The young farmers who have a lot of faith and prepare for hard times in advance can give themselves stability in tough years.
 
Doug’s final words of wisdom for Saskatchewan Harvest 2017:


"If you focus on it and stick with it through tough times, you'll make it out alright. You have to bear down. Take risks and buy some land."
 
Doug Jones is a long-time customer of Flaman Agriculture in Saskatchewan, most recently purchasing a set of new grain bins and monitoring and a longer auger to reach taller grain bins.
 
Like learning about hard-working people, community roots, and new ag solutions? Subscribe to the Flaman Agriculture blog HERE. You’ll be the first to hear about the latest insights from the team!
 
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Posted in Farm related news | Tagged with Saskatchewan Harvest 2017 grain bins wheatheart auger grain monitoring | More articles by Amy Rederburg