All News

Seeing Ergot in Your Harvested Cereals?

This year we saw almost perfect conditions for ergot, caused by fungal pathogen Claviceps purpurea. The large black growths that replace a kernel, thrive with adequate moisture and high temperatures. The available moisture promotes plant growth and flowering, but unfortunately it is also ideal for sclerotia germination. Although grain yield loss tends to be minimal from ergot infection, it can result in economic loss from downgrading at the elevator. In wheat, the tolerance for No.1 grade is only 0.04%. The tolerance for barley is 0.05% for feed and 0% for malt. Tolerances are so low as consumption by humans or animals can seriously impact health.

So how can ergot infection be prevented in the future? Unfortunately, there aren’t very many control options available, but there are some management practices that can help.

  • Crop Rotation: ergot bodies can only survive for approximately one year in the soil, so rotating away from cereals for 1-2 years is recommended.
  • Tillage: burying cereal residue to a depth of 4cm can prevent germination of ergot bodies the following growing season.
  • Seed Cleaning: While seed cleaning can be expensive, if farmers have access to the equipment, it may be worth it to not lose a grade.
  • Copper Fertilizer: addition of copper fertilizer to copper deficient soils can greatly reduce incidence of ergot.
  • Plant Clean Seed: planting seed infected with ergot can lead to infection in fields that were previously clean.

For more information:

Manitoba Agriculture: Ergot

Saskatchewan Agriculture: Ergot of Cereals and Grasses