Farmers Must Be Vigilant Against New Disease

Two crop experts from the University of Idaho Extension are warning farmers to watch out for a soilborne crop disease that is brand-new to northern Idaho.

The soilborne wheat mosaic virus, which most frequently affects and causes damage to fall-planted cereals like wheat and barley, was identified for the first time in the Pacific Northwest in 1994 in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It was discovered in the Columbia Basin of Oregon in 2005, and in the Walla Walla region in 2009.

The illness was also discovered in the Culdesac region this spring. Agronomists in the area suspected the virus had infected a few more fields close to Culdesac in addition to the one Idaho crop where testing has confirmed its presence.

The best way for cereal farmers in the area to protect themselves, according to Douglas Finkelnburg, a local Extension educator who specializes in crop systems, and Kurt Schroeder, a UI Extension cropping systems agronomist based in Moscow, is to become familiar with the virus’ symptoms and test any winter cereals that show unusual symptoms the following spring.

We’re going to teach folks how to scout for it at field days this summer, Finkelnburg added. “If they can identify the disease, they can select resistant varieties in the fields where the disease is present.”

Mostly in soil, a parasite that resembles a fungus by the name of Polymyxa Graminis spreads the virus. It is mainly transmitted from field to field by dirt on contaminated farm equipment, therefore keeping equipment clean is crucial to preventing its spread. Winter wheat develops green and yellow mosaic patches in the spring, especially in moist, low-lying sections of a field, due to the virus.

Although it was intermittently dispersed across the field in the Culdesac area, infections frequently follow the path of plowing.

When cereals emerge from their winter hibernation at temperatures between 35 and 50 degrees, the virus reproduces. Once temperatures climb above the mid-sixties, it can no longer replicate, and new, healthy plant tissue begins to form.

However, it leaves its mark by causing plants to become stunted and reducing yield potential by reducing tiller growth. Soon after the virus was discovered close to Culdesac, the weather warmed and the symptoms subsided, making it difficult to thoroughly explore other farms.

New Wheat Virus Discovered in Idaho

In densely infested fields, growers who plant a sensitive wheat variety might anticipate output losses of 50% to 80%.

Schroeder believes the virus has likely been present in Idaho for some time but has merely been mistaken for other diseases and agricultural stresses that manifest similar symptoms, like nitrogen shortage.

Schroeder asserted, “I’m confident if we start exploring around, we’ll probably discover more of it, at least in that local region.

To assist James Woodhall in setting up his Parma, Idaho-based laboratory to do statewide disease testing, Schroeder and Finkelnburg want to send him materials. Woodhall is a plant pathologist with the UI Extension.

Fortunately, crop breeders may use a few potent resistance genes to create crops that can fight the virus. There are currently a number of resistant types available, and Schroeder and Finkelnburg have been researching the literature to find the best possibilities for Idaho producers to use.

The virus is not something we’ve closely monitored, which is a drawback for north Idaho, according to Schroeder. “I believe there will be more interest among the breeders to move toward more resistant varieties as this disease becomes more pervasive.”

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Louis Ebert

Louis Ebert is a talented content writer with a passion for creating compelling stories and informative articles. With years of experience in writing, Louis has honed their skills in crafting engaging content that resonates with readers.As a content writer for, Louis explores the many facets of life in Hillsboro and the surrounding areas. From delving into the latest trends in local business to highlighting community events and leaders, their writing offers a unique perspective that captures the essence of the area.

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