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Wheat crop looking good, but rust raising its ugly head

WINNSBORO, La. - LSU AgCenter experts say the Louisiana wheat crop "looks good" but stripe rust is presenting new problems for some producers.

Information on this year’s wheat crop was given during a Wheat and Oat Field Day at the LSU AgCenter’s Macon Ridge Research Station near Winnsboro. Ed Twidwell, an LSU AgCenter agronomist, said the "state crop looks good overall" with an estimated 150,000 acres planted in fall 2003.

"Last fall was relatively dry, getting the crop off to a good start," Twidwell said. "And it’s been a pretty dry spring. We’ve had a few problems with stripe rust and leaf rust. Overall, though, the crop has very good yield potential."

If all goes well, Twidwell said the Louisiana wheat harvest could average about 40 bushels per acre this year.

The potential threat is from stripe rust that’s showing up in Louisiana wheat fields. Boyd Padgett, an LSU AgCenter researcher at the Macon Ridge location, said the stripe rust outbreak this year is the worst he’s seen in years.

"Cool nights and moisture drive this disease," Padgett said.

Steve Harrison, another LSU AgCenter agronomist, said the physiology of the disease may have changed – making it even more of a problem.

"The rule of thumb is that when the nighttime temperatures reach 65 degrees, stripe rust goes away," Harrison said. "But it hasn’t this year."

Padgett and other researchers have been evaluating fungicides such as Tilt, Stratego, Headline, Quilt and Quadris on stripe rust.

The researchers also are trying to develop a forecasting system that will tell producers when to apply fungicides.

Not only does stripe rust seem to be changing, but the amount of sulfur in the soil in the area seems to be changing, too, according to researchers.

Rick Mascagni, a researcher at the LSU AgCenter’s Northeast Research Station in St. Joseph, has been conducting sulfur tests on wheat for the past two years in the northeast region of the state.

"What we’re finding is sulfur tends to accumulate the deeper you go down in the ground on Macon Ridge soil," Mascagni said.

More sulfur may be needed in certain soils, particularly sandy soils, he said, explaining that less sulfur is being added to some soils because of fewer emissions from industries. Modern fertilizer also has less sulfur and fewer micro nutrients than fertilizer materials used years ago, he said.

Other topics discussed at the field day included weed management in wheat, fusarium head blight, seed rate studies and variety trials with wheat and oats.

Jimmy Clements, a representative from Plantation Seed Conditioners Inc. in Newton, Ga., traveled the farthest of any participants. He said he comes to the LSU AgCenter field day every year to get vital information to bring back to his producers.

"One reason I come is because Steve Harrison is one of the best wheat breeders in the country," Clements said. "I come, hoping I can get top-producing varieties to bring back to the producers in Georgia."

Clements said the research done by land-grant university researchers is "very important" to the farming community.

"What scares me about land-grant universities is that funding has been cut to the point where many breeding programs are now in question," Clements said. "Some states are not even replacing retiring breeders with full-time breeders. This should scare everyone in the farming community, because these programs are greatly needed."

For information on wheat and other crops, as well as economic, health and finance issues, go to

Denise Coolman is a writer for the LSU AgCenter.

e-mail: [email protected]

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