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White Heads in Wheat

The last week I have received questions about white heads in wheat.  An excellent resource from UNL to determine various wheat head disorders can be found here.  If the heads are completely bright white and you can easily pull those heads out of the stem, the culprit is the wheat stem maggot.  This insect will sever the stem above the top node so that the stem upward to the head are white while the rest of the plant remains green.  I usually only see a few of these types of heads scattered around in fields and there’s no recommendations for managing it because damage isn’t considered economical.

If your heads have white or pink colored kernels in them in addition to regular looking kernels, chances are the discolored kernels have Fusarium Head Blight also known as head scab.  The kernels eventually may have a brown discoloration to them and the stem just below the head may also turn a brown-purple color.  The Fusarium fungus that causes head scab is the same that causes stalk rot in corn.  Wheat on corn rotations in no-till systems have a greater potential of scab in wheat, but these situations don’t mean that scab will always occur.  Ultimately, rainy, humid conditions for a 2 week period around flowering is the primary factor for allowing scab to occur.  

If you are finding scab in your fields, there’s nothing to spray or do now.  Set your combine to blow out the lighter, shrunken, scabby kernels to help avoid dockage at the elevator.  I would also recommend to avoid saving back scab-infested seed.  Plan to purchase certified seed instead for next year and be sure to have a fungicide seed treatment applied to it to avoid problems with smut.

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