Fusarium Head Blight Management

Alyssa Koehler, Extension Field Crops Pathologist; akoehler@udel.edu

Welcome back to the first weekly issue of 2022. Although temperatures the past few nights may slow us down some, small grains have been moving right along. It is never too early to start making a game plan for disease management. Fusarium Head Blight (FHB), caused by the fungus Fusarium, is typically the most important disease of small grains in our region. Last year was one of the lowest disease pressure years that we have had recently. The weather over the next few weeks will determine how large our risk for this year will be. The Fusarium Risk Assessment Tool (www.wheatscab.psu.edu) is a forecasting model that uses current weather conditions and weather forecasts to predict FHB risk. Historically about 70% accurate, this tool aids in assessing FHB risk as wheat approaches flowering and fungicide application decisions are made. The pathogen that causes FHB infects through the flower and rainfall 7 to 10 days prior to flowering favors spore production and increases risk of infection. The model for 2022 is now live (Figure 1). Within the map you are able to look at predicted risk for the current day or 2,4, or 6 days out. You can click to adjust anticipated susceptibility based on the hybrid planted.


Map: Fusarium Risk Assessment screenshot

Figure 1. Fusarium Risk Assessment Tool screenshot of predicted risk from March 30, 2022, www.wheatscab.psu.edu


Fusarium species that cause FHB can infect both corn and small grains. Walking through fields with corn stubble, you may see orange growth on old debris (Figure 2). Since much of our small grain acreage is planted into corn fodder, FHB inoculum is maintained over winter. Wet spring conditions favor fungal sporulation that can lead to infected wheat or barley heads. As the fungus grows on corn fodder or other debris, spores are released that are then rain dispersed or moved through air currents. As the grain crop is flowering, spores land on the head or anthers, colonize these tissues, and move into the grain. Once inside the grain, water and nutrient movement is disrupted which results in the bleached florets we associate with FHB (Figure 3). Shriveled and wilted “tombstone” or “scabby” kernels can reduce yield and result in grain contaminated with mycotoxins (Figure 4). Deoxynivalenol (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 still have elevated DON.


Corn stubble with Fusarium sporulation

Figure 2. Corn stubble with Fusarium sporulation that can contribute to FHB in wheat.


Wheat heads showing bleached florets

Figure 3. Wheat heads showing bleached florets from FHB.


Healthy kernels example

Figure 4. Healthy kernels (left) White, shriveled, scabby kernels from FHB (right).


Optimal wheat fungicide application is at early flowering (10.5.1) to about 5 days after. A well-timed fungicide application can help to reduce disease severity and DON levels. It is important to remember that fungicides help to reduce disease levels and DON (traditionally around 50% reduction on a susceptible variety), but they do not eliminate all FHB or DON. To try 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. Although new products like Miravis Ace can be applied earlier, it is still best to wait for main tillers to be at 10.5.1 or a few days beyond, so that secondary tillers have a greater chance of being at 10.3-10.5.1. If you spray too early, heads that have not emerged will not be protected by the fungicide application. 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. Anthers can stay attached after flowering, but usually become a pale white (Figure 5). Triazole (FRAC group 3) fungicides that are effective on FHB include Caramba (metconazole), Proline (prothioconazole), and Prosaro (prothioconazole + tebuconazole). Miravis Ace (propiconazole + pydiflumetofen) offers a triazole + SDHI, FRAC group 7. There are also two new products on the market, Spharex (metconazole [3] + prothioconazole [3]) and Prosaro Pro (prothioconazole [3] + tebuconazole [3] + fluopyram [7]). 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. Flat fan nozzles pointed 90° down are great at covering foliage, but they do not provide as good of coverage on heads, which is the target for FHB management. Nozzles that are angled forward 30-45° down from horizontal (30 degrees is better than 45) or dual nozzles angled both forward and backward give better contact with the head and increase fungicide efficacy. For ground sprays, fungicides should be applied in at least 10 gallons of water per acre. Results from 2021 fungicide trials are included. 2021 was a very low pressure disease year, FHB was almost nonexistent and glume blotch levels were much lower than previous seasons.


Figure 5: From left to right Feekes 10.3, Anthesis, Feekes 10.5.1 (yellow anthers beginning flowering), 4 days after anthesis (white anthers post flowering).

Figure 5: From left to right Feekes 10.3, Anthesis, Feekes 10.5.1 (yellow anthers beginning flowering), 4 days after anthesis (white anthers post flowering).


Thinking beyond this season, an integrated approach can improve management of FHB and help to keep DON levels low. In your field rotation plan, if you have soybean fields that can be harvested early enough for a timely wheat or malting barley planting, this rotation helps to reduce the amount of pathogen overwintering and starting the season. 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 under very high disease pressure to aid in variety selection decisions (https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/blog.umd.edu/dist/a/434/files/2021/07/2021-MD-wheat-varieties-disease-and-yield.pdf).


2021 Wheat Fungicide Timing Trial

Treatment Yield (Bu/A)z GB % Flag Leaf Incidencey GB % Flag Leaf Severity FHB % Incidencex FHB % Severityw GB % Incidence GB % Severity
Control 92.8 g 1.0 a 9.9 a 0.08 0.31 a 1.0 a 11.4 a
Prosaro anthesisv 98.4 cd 1.0 a 2.4 c 0.05 0.18 b 1.0 a 9.2 c
Caramba anthesis 95.4 f 0.96 ab 1.43 de 0 0 e 1.0 a 10.1 b
Miravis Ace 10.3 99.9 bc 0.04 de 0.04 f 0.07 0.17 b 0.27 c 0.41 f
Miravis Ace anthesis 100.5 b 0.08 d 0.08 f 0.05 0.08 c 0.12 e 0.17 f
Miravis Ace 5 days after anthesis 102.9 a 0.02 e 0.01 f 0.02 0.04 cde 0.2 d 0.27 f
Prosaro PRO 10.3 96.6 def 0.9 c 3.4 b 0.03 0.04 cde 1.0 a 11.06 a
Prosaro PRO anthesis 97.1 def 0.94 bc 2.7 c 0.01  0.01 de 0.95 b 5.77 e
Prosaro PRO 5 days after anthesis 96.8 def 0.94 bc 2.6 c 0.01 0.04 cde 0.99 a 6.25 e
Sphaerex anthesis 96.0 ef 0.92 bc 2.2 cd 0.06 0.17 b 1.0 a 9.77 bc
Sphaerex 5 days after anthesis 97.6 de 0.92 bc 1.4 e 0.03 0.09 c 1.0 a 7.3 d
p-value 0.03 0.0001 0.0001 0.1 0.02 0.0001 0.0001
LSD (α=0.05) 1.95 0.043 0.76 ns 0.06 0.03 0.66


z Means followed by the same letter are not significantly different based on Fisher’s Least Significant Difference (LSD; α=0.05). Yield

adjusted to 13.8% Moisture. Variety: Shirley; Planting Population: 1.6 mil sd/a; Planting Date: 11/9/20; Harvest Date: 6/29/21

y Glume Blotch Incidence was visually assessed as the % of 10 flag leaves or heads per plot displaying symptoms

x Fusarium Head Blight Incidence was visually assessed as the % of 10 wheat heads per plot displaying symptoms, ns=not significant

w Fusarium Head Blight Severity was visually assessed as the average amount of symptoms present on 10 wheat heads per plot

v All fungicide treatments included the non-ionic surfactant Induce at 0.125% v/v