Managing Fusarium Head Blight

Alyssa Koehler, Extension Field Crops Pathologist; 

When it comes to controlling Fusarium Head Blight (FHB) and keeping deoxynivalenol (DON) levels low, it is important to have an integrated approach. When thinking about the disease cycle of FHB (Figure 1), the FHB pathogen (Fusarium graminearum and other Fusarium sp.) is able to grow on crop residues from corn and small grains. In your field rotation plan, try to avoid planting wheat or barley into corn residue; this will help to reduce the amount of initial inoculum in your field. As the pathogen grows on debris, it eventually releases spores that can be rain dispersed or moved through air currents. As the grain is flowering, spores land on the head or anthers, colonize these tissues, and move into the grain head. Once inside the grain, water and nutrient movement is disrupted which results in the bleached florets we associate with FHB (Figure 2). Shriveled and wilted “tombstone” kernels can reduce yield and result in grain contaminated with mycotoxins. DON, also referred to as vomitoxin, is a health hazard to humans and animals. Wheat heads colonized later in development may not show dramatic symptoms but can have elevated DON.

Figure 1. Fusarium Head Blight Disease Cycle. For more information on the FHB disease cycle visit

Figure 2. Wheat head showing bleached florets from Fusarium Head Blight. Image: A. Koehler, Univ. of Delaware.

In addition to rotation considerations, seed selection is another important piece of FHB management in wheat. There is no complete host resistance against FHB, but you can select wheat varieties with partial resistance. The University of Maryland sets up a misted nursery to compare FHB index and DON levels across local wheat varieties to aid in variety selection decisions Unfortunately, barley does not have any resistance to FHB. At this point in the season, rotation order and variety are established, but you can consider these factors as you plan for next season.

As we think about 2019 in-season disease management strategies, a well-timed fungicide application can help to reduce disease severity and DON levels. It is important to remember that fungicides can help to reduce disease levels and DON (traditionally around 50% reduction on a susceptible variety) but they do not eliminate FHB or DON. To maximize the efficacy of fungicides, it is important to apply at the correct timing. Fungicides for FHB are most effective when applied during flowering in wheat and at head emergence in barley. As wheat approaches heading, the Fusarium Risk Assessment Tool ( is a forecasting model that uses current and predicted weather forecasts to predict FHB risk. Historically about 70% accurate, this tool can help you assess your risk for developing FHB as your wheat approaches flowering. The pathogen that causes FHB infects through the flower and rainfall 7 to 10 days prior to flower can allow for spore production and increased risk of infection. Optimal wheat fungicide application is at early flowering (10.5.1) to about 5 days after. When wheat heads begin to flower, look for yellow anthers in the middle of the wheat head. When at least 50% of main stems are flowering, you will want to initiate fungicide applications. As the flowering period continues, anthers will emerge from the top and then the bottom of the wheat heads (Figure 3). Anthers can stay attached after flowering but usually become a pale white. Triazole (FRAC group 3) fungicides that are effective on FHB include Caramba (metconazole), Proline (prothioconazole), and Prosaro (prothioconazole + tebuconazole). This year there is also a new mixed mode of action product on the market, Miravis Ace. This product contains propiconazole (DMI, FRAC 3) and pydiflumetofen (SDHI, Group 7). On this label, application can begin at Feekes 10.3 through 10.5.2. Although this product can be applied at the earlier timing, preliminary data has shown that optimal FHB control and lower DON levels are achieved at the 10.5.1 timing or a few days beyond this timing. If you spray too early, heads that have not emerged will not be protected by the fungicide application. Rainfall during flowering can increase levels of FHB and delay the ability to get into fields to apply fungicides. The expanded application window of Miravis Ace may offer options if periods of extended rainfall are in the forecast, but 10.5.1. to about 5 days after should still be the target if the weather allows. As a reminder, fungicides containing strobilurins (QoI’s, FRAC 11) should not be used past heading because these fungicides can result in elevated levels of DON.

Figure 3. From left to right Feekes 10.5, Feekes 10.5.1 (beginning flowering), Feekes 10.5.2 (flowering growth stage), Feekes 10.5.3 (full flower). Image from