Wheat Ergot Update
Numerous calls have come in on the wheat ergot situation. It must have been the perfect environmental conditions for this to happen this year in such a wide area and I need to take some time to figure out why this year during conditions that also favored scab and not a few years ago with similar environmental conditions.
Two main questions have been raised: “Can I save back seed” and “can I bale and graze straw?”. I don’t recommend that you save back seed, yet many seed fields in the area most likely were affected as well. Seed can be sifted on a gravity table to help clean it so that is an option-but most farmers don’t have means for doing this so ultimately I wouldn’t recommend our farmers to save back seed.
In regards to baling straw and grazing, while walking harvested fields, I was noticing some ergot in heads that were too short to go through the combine heads. Ultimately, the few kernels in a large amount of straw would be so dilute, I wouldn’t expect there to be problems with grazing the straw. If you’re concerned about using wheat straw for feeding or bedding, you can always dilute it with alfalfa or another feed to reduce chances of ergotism in livestock even further. I should point out that I’m talking about wheat straw in which the wheat grain has been harvested. I would not recommend feeding wheat straw that was just cut with the ergot contaminated and wheat grain in tact. If you plan to feed straw in that situation, I’d recommend sending samples to a Vet Diagnostic Center for alkaloid testing.
A third question I’ll throw in here is should you plant 2nd year wheat if that is your rotation. While it is not assumed that ergot will happen every year and while the chances of ergot happening a second year are not great, it’s best management practices to go ahead and rotate to be on the safe side as any sclerotia (black fungal ergot fruiting bodies) would be lying on the soil surface and can produce spores that could affect the next wheat crop. Again, this isn’t guaranteed to be a problem again next year (unlike things such as tan spot or septoria that are likely to show up in wheat on wheat fields), but to be on the safe side, I would recommend rotating. Dr. Stephen Wegulo also wrote an article on ergot in wheat at the following site.