sealPurdue Agriculture News Briefs

July 2001

Sprinkler system promotes growth of wheat fungus

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – This spring, a small portion of the Purdue University Agronomy Research Center looked more like an artist’s expression than a scientist’s research tool.

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A thousand white, plastic pipes, each 4 feet tall, emerged from the prairie at 8-foot intervals. A nozzle on each showered a thousand times as many wheat plants with a cool, fine mist of water.

But this wasn't art. It was the work Purdue agronomist Herb Ohm, graduate assistant Jim Uphaus and technician Dan McFatridge.

The trio assembled the one-of-a-kind fungus irrigation system for the first time last year. This year, Ohm doubled the coverage size, using 11,000 feet of pipe to cover a 1.5-acre wheat nursery.

The objective of the misting system was not to nourish the plant, but to promote growth of a fungus that could kill the very wheat it wets.

Fusarium head blight is the number one concern of wheat farmers," says Ohm, "particularly in the Midwest."

The December 1997 issue of the scientific journal Plant Disease reported the last major outbreak occurred in 1996, causing about $38 million in losses to farmers in Indiana and Illinois.

A 1993 epidemic in the northern plains (Minnesota, the Dakotas and Manitoba) caused losses estimated at $1 billion. The fungus creates a toxin which attacks only wheat, making the grain unfit for feed or food, and causing illness in animals or humans who ingest it. In addition, any grain exposed to the disease will not germinate, damaging the seed crop as well.

Fusarium has been around for more than a century. But the increasing popularity of no-till and reduced-tillage farming in the past 15 years has caused the problem to mushroom. The fungus grows on the rotting corn or wheat residue left in the field from the previous year.

"Wet weather causes the fungus to develop and produce masses of spores that enter the wheat plant during the flowering stage," says Ohm.

Dry spring conditions inhibit the spread of the fusarium spores, making it difficult for scientists like Ohm to study the disease and produce genetically modified strains of wheat that are resistant to fusarium.

"Fusarium cannot be effectively stopped with fungicides," Ohm says. "In the future, I think controlling fusarium will require a combination of host resistance and some fungicidal application."

While the irrigation system is designed to promote the growth of the fusarium fungus, it also promotes growth of other important fungal diseases of wheat, including glume blotch, leaf blotch and powdery mildew. In a dry season like 2001, fungal diseases do not develop appreciably, making it difficult to distinguish susceptible and resistant wheat plants in the breeding nursery.

The fusarium research is expected to continue for another five to seven years, but Uphaus says preliminary results have already identified several strains that are resistant to fusarium.

Ohm has noted another benefit.

"The wheat in the misted area is several inches taller than in the nonmisted area of the nursery," he says. Ohm expects a yield rate of 100 bushes per acre, compared with a 60-bushel rate in the nonmisted wheat.

CONTACT: Herb Ohm, (317) 494-8072;

Beef producers can take advantage of high prices

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Beef producers enjoying the upside of a 10-year pricing cycle can use this opportunity to improve their operations, say Purdue University experts.

"It's a biological function of the beef cow industry that every 10 years prices are high and supplies are low," says Kern Hendrix, Purdue Extension beef specialist. "Because it takes two years for an animal to reproduce, it takes about five years for the number of animals to increase enough to bottom out prices."

Chris Hurt, professor of agricultural economics, says cattle producers could hardly have asked for better price prospects at the beginning of the year. "Led by declining supplies and strong demand, finished steer prices are expected to average about $5.50 per hundredweight higher than last year, for the highest prices since 1990 and 1991," he says.

Steer and heifer numbers are down for all weights throughout the country. Meanwhile, total beef cow numbers continue to decline in the eastern Corn Belt region, Hurt says.

The low cattle numbers coincide with a renewed consumer demand for beef.

"The National Cattleman's Beef Association and state cattlemen's associations are getting the message out that beef is a good source of protein, zinc and iron." Hendrix says. "We've reduced the amount of fat and turned the corner on the negative aspects of the product."

Improved packaging also has increased demand.

"Packers are making the product more convenient," Hendrix says. "We've had a huge increase in ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat products containing beef in the grocery stores. These products are more accepted by consumers."

He says restaurants also help increase demand by serving branded products like Certified Angus Beef.

Lower feed cost, due to an abundance of grains and protein sources, also help to enhance the profitability of beef cattle operations.

Hendrix and Hurt suggest strategies to capitalize on the current market trend:

• Pay off debts incurred during past low-price periods.

• Enhance the genetic potential of the herd.

• Purchase bulls with improved genetics for carcass quality and growth.

• Enhance forage productivity and quality as well as improve grazing system management.

• Build a financial reserve to better withstand low-price markets.

• Improve health management systems.

• Improve facilities.

With better feeding, health and calving facilities, producers can improve quality and receive more money for high-quality products – even when prices fall again, Hendrix says.

CONTACT: Kern Hendrix, (765) 494-4832,; Chris Hurt, (765) 494-4273,

'Toolbox' offers workplace fixes for farmers with disabilities

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Farming is physically demanding enough for an able-bodied person. Imagine what it's like for a farmer with a severe disability, such as an amputation, paralysis or a visual impairment.

Those images stirred Purdue University's Breaking New Ground Resource Center to action. The result was "The Toolbox," a resource manual for farmers with disabilities. First published 15 years ago, "The Toolbox" was believed to be the only such catalog of assistive technology for farmers.

The third edition recently rolled off the presses with many new and updated sections, said Paul Jones, manager of the Breaking New Ground Resource Center. The center is Purdue's outreach program for farmers with disabilities. There are about 550 different items featured in "The Toolbox."

Commercially available items are listed with supplier contacts.

"You'll find such things as tractor lifts, hitching devices and powered gates," Jones said. "A lot of these are homemade devices. Fifteen to 20 percent are homemade products people submitted."

A preview of the "Toolbox" can be found online.

"The Toolbox" sells for $80, including shipping and handling. To place an order, call Breaking New Ground toll-free at (800) 825-4264.

CONTACT: Paul Jones, (765) 494-1221;

Commercial vegetable grower guide available

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. –Purdue University has released the "Midwest Vegetable Production Guide for Commercial Growers 2001."

The annual guide contains information such as herbicide effectiveness, insect management strategies and recommendations for individual vegetable varieties.

"This guide is a useful tool for growers because it has information on variety selection, fertility and pest management for growing all kinds of vegetables," said Rick Foster, lead author of the publication and a Purdue Extension entomology specialist.

New for the 2001 edition are a table summarizing disease management strategies; new varieties of muskmelons, peppers, pumpkins and tomatoes; new weed management products; and updated information on pesticides.

Foster said vegetable varieties included in the guide were chosen for their ability to flourish in trials conducted by horticulturists in the Midwest. Varieties of asparagus, cucumber, eggplant, mint and sweet corn are among the 37 vegetables listed. Planting season, harvesting, disease treatments and weed control are suggested for each vegetable variety.

Extension specialists in entomology, botany and plant pathology, and horticulture from Purdue, the University of Illinois, Iowa State University, the University of Minnesota and the University of Missouri contributed to this year's guide.

The publication can be found online.

Printed copies can be ordered for $8.50 from Purdue's Agricultural Communication Service, Media Distribution Center, 301 S. 2nd St., Lafayette IN 47901-1232, or online.

CONTACT: Rick Foster, (765) 494-9572,

Compiled by Steve Tally, (765) 494-9809;

Purdue Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, Ag News Coordinator,;

Herb Ohm displays the misting system now in place at Purdue University's Agronomy Farm. It took two months and more than 11,000 feet of 1-inch plastic tubing to assemble the system, which was designed to grow the wheat fungus fusarium head blight. Researchers hope to find ways to battle fusarium, as well as other fungal diseases of wheat, through the project. (Purdue Ag Communications Photo by Tom Campbell.)
A publication-quality photograph is available at the News Service Web site and at the ftp site. Photo ID: Ohm.fusarium

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Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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