Wheat Disease Update – 23 April 2021

This article was written by Dr. Bob Hunger, Extension Wheat Pathologist

      Just a brief update to relay that stripe rust continues to increase across Oklahoma.  Bryan Vincent (Crop Consultant; north-central OK) reported severe stripe rust in “hot spots” on an unknown variety just north of Lamont, OK (Grant County) close to the Kansas border (Figure 1; left photo). In Major County, which is immediately south of Grant County, Josh Coltrain (Winter Wheat Technical Development Lead, Syngenta) reported he had, “found quite high incidence of stripe rust” in Syngenta’s plots near Carrier, OK.  Here around Stillwater, I have observed severe stripe rust in spreader strips of the susceptible variety Pete. These infections stood out because of resistant breeder lines planted immediately adjacent to the strips of Pete (Figure 1; center photo and photo to the right).

Figure 1. Severe stripe rust in a susceptible variety (Pete) planted next to resistant breeder lines in a nursery at Stillwater, OK (photo on the left). The photo on the right shows the severity of stripe rust pustules on an individual leaf of Pete.

      However, the most striking example I have seen of stripe rust in some time was observed by Jeff Wright (Coordinator of Production Operations; OFSS; Oklahoma State University) in an increase field of the old variety Triumph 64 near Perkins (about 15 miles south of Stillwater).  As you can see in Figure 2 (two top photos), much of the entire field (9 acres) appears yellowish.  Examination of leaves reveals severe stripe rust infection associated with yellowing of the leaf (middle photo). The bottom photo in Figure 2 is of Jeff’s tractor after applying a fungicide.  Although the fungicide should protect the green leaves remaining in the field, much of the leaf tissue will be killed from the stripe rust infection.  This is a good example of the importance of applying a fungicide to a susceptible variety sufficiently early to prevent such widespread infection. What and how such a big and uniform infection occurred is puzzling to me, but I suspect that is related to overwintering of the stripe rust fungus in the field.

Figure 2. Severe leaf rust on Triumph 64 wheat near Perkins, OK (about 20 miles south of Stillwater, OK). Top two photos show the yellowish cast to the foliage. The middle photo shows stripe rust pustules associated with severe chlorosis (yellowing) of the foliage. The bottom photo shows Jeff’s tractor after applying a fungicide spray two days ago.

      In other wheat around Stillwater, there continues to be a high incidence and severity of powdery mildew.  Barley yellow dwarf also is easily found in many trials and varieties.  Dr. Tom Royer has sent out an alert about finding English grain aphids around the state.  These aphids also were observed by Bryan Vincent in north-central OK and by me here around Stillwater. Finally, the wheat field days start next week, so observations from those locations will start to appear in subsequent updates. A complete schedule of those field days can be viewed at: http://wheat.okstate.edu/Home/plot-tours/

Assessing potential freeze damage on wheat

Amanda de Oliveira Silva, Small Grains Extension Specialist

Temperatures dropped below freezing in the past hours in northwestern Oklahoma and Panhandle (Figures 1 and 2), and freezing temperatures are expected across most of the state tomorrow morning (April 21) (Figure 3). There is a potential for freeze injury to Oklahoma wheat. The extent of that will depend on several factors, including the growth stage of the plants, how low the temperature will get, and how long it stays at those cold temperatures.

Figure 1. Minimum air temperature (in Fahrenheit) over the past 24 hours at each Mesonet station. Figure courtesy Oklahoma Mesonet.
Figure 2. Number of hours spent at or below freezing (32°F) over the past 48 hours at Mesonet station. Figure courtesy Oklahoma Mesonet.
Figure 3. Freezing temperatures are predicted for most of Oklahoma on Wednesday morning, April 21, 2021. Figure courtesy Oklahoma Mesonet, Weather Forecast Office.

What are the temperatures that can damage the wheat plants?

This will depend on the growth stage of the plants. Anecdotal evidence suggests varietal differences in resistance to spring freeze injury, but this is likely due to differences in plant growth stages when the freeze event occurred. Earlier maturing varieties are more likely to be injured from these recent freeze events than later maturing varieties because they are likely more advanced. The susceptibility of wheat plants to freeze injury steadily increases as we progress through the spring from jointing to heading and flowering. Figure 4 below is a general guide to the minimum temperature threshold and its impact on yield. Keep in mind these temperature thresholds are not exact but provide a decent rule of thumb. Temperatures closer to the soil surface might be higher than those reported by weather stations one meter above the soil surface, especially if moisture is present. It is difficult to have exact numbers because each freeze event is unique. While a field at the jointing stage could spend two hours at 24 F, it is possible that the same amount of injury could occur at a 28 F temperature that was sustained for a more extended period.

Figure 4. Temperatures that can cause injury to winter wheat at different growth stages. Source: Kansas State University publication C646: Spring Freeze Injury to Kansas Wheat.

How long should I wait to assess the injury?

Another important thing to keep in mind is that we need to be patient before assessing freeze injury. The extent of a significant freeze event may not be apparent 1 or 2 days after. If warm temperatures return quickly, you should wait about 5-7 days before determining the injury. Suppose temperatures remain cool after the freeze event. In that case, it may take 10-14 days before the extent of the injury can be fully assessed.

What are some freeze injury symptoms to look for?

A typical freeze injury symptom is leaf tips turning yellow and necrotic (Figure 5). This is very often just cosmetic and will not hurt yield in the end. More severe damage can result in the entire leaf turning yellow to white, and the plants become flaccid (Figure 6). You may even notice a “silage” smell after several days.

Figure 5. Leaf tips which have turned necrotic due to freezing temperatures. Photo taken in March 2017 courtesy of Josh Bushong, OSU Northwest Area Extension Agronomist.
Figure 6. More severe freeze damage causing the leaves to turn yellow-white with plants losing their overall turgidity. Source: Kansas State University publication C646: Spring Freeze Injury to Kansas Wheat.

The most important plant part to check is the developing head (i.e., growing point)

This will be important for areas of the state with fields with plants at flag leaf emergence stage. Sometimes we can see what look like healthy plants overall, but the developing head has been damaged or killed. To get a look at the developing head, you can slice the stem open lengthways. A healthy growing point will have a crisp, whitish-green appearance and be turgid (Figure 7). Often, you can lightly flick the head, and if it bounces back and does not break, it is still healthy. If it is mushy, limp, and breaks or parts of it break off when you lightly flick it, it has been compromised. It may also have a brown color (Figure 8, right). Another indication that the growing point has been compromised is that the next emerging leaf is necrotic, and the lower stems are discolored, with lesions and enlarged nodes.

Figure 7. Close up of a healthy wheat head (growing point) above the second node with whitish-green color and turgid.
Figure 8. Plants that appear healthy could have damaged heads. The photo on the left shows a healthy head, and the photo on the right shows a freeze-damaged head.

Freezing at the boot stage may cause the head to be trapped by the sheaths of the flag leaf resulting in issues with head emergence (Figure 9). The whitish tips of the awns indicate that it was exposed to freezing temperatures and that the flower parts could have been compromised. Freeze during the flowering stage may result in flower sterility via the death of the anthers (male organ) and consequently poor kernel set and grain yield losses (Figure 10).

Also, the percent of damaged heads may not translate into percent yield loss. For example, there is still an opportunity for wheat to produce additional tillers and/or retain secondary tillers at the jointing stage. Whether or not these tillers can compensate for larger tillers that were lost due to freeze will depend on the subsequent weather. If conditions are favorable, there is a chance for late-emerging tillers to have a shot at producing grain. If the wheat is more advanced (which is the case for most Oklahoma wheat), it will be more challenging to make this type of recovery.

Figure 9. Freeze at the boot stage may cause the head to be trapped in the boot and not being able to emerge properly.
Figure 10. Freeze during the flowering stage may result in sterility via death of the anthers (male organ) and consequently poor kernel set and grain yield losses.

A few points to consider:

Every freeze event is unique and freeze injury needs to be checked on a field by field basis – the temperatures and time durations we use regarding freeze injury are rules of thumb and are not exact. I have seen instances where conventional wisdom would indicate complete crop loss, and we skate through with minimal damage.

The amount of injury observed will depend on – the growth stage of the plants, how low the temperature got, and how long it stayed at those cold temperatures. Other factors such as elevation, residue cover, and moisture can influence the observed temperature within the canopy as well. Because of the number of influential factors, it is important to check each field. It is possible to have variability in injury symptoms among fields and even within fields.

It will take a few days to see how bad things are – Symptoms may start to appear mid-next week and will likely be identifiable by the end of the following week. Healthy wheat heads will remain turgid with a green color. Damaged wheat heads will be bleached, yellow, or brown and will easily break when pushed against.

Additional Resources

Contact your local Extension office.

C646: Spring Freeze Injury to Kansas Wheat.

Aphids: Bird Cherry-Oat Aphids and an Invasion by the “English” (Grain Aphid that is) and Armyworms: Decisions……

This article was written by Dr. Tom A. Royer, Extension Entomologist

The good news is that Oklahoma has a healthy, good-looking wheat crop. Now, it must be protected from any swarming hordes of insect pests that want to eat it!  Dr. Kris Giles has been surveying wheat fields in SW and Central Oklahoma. I have been collecting data from our wheat plots in Chickasha, Stillwater, and Lahoma. Dr. Giles found increasing bird cherry oat aphid (BCOA) numbers, and its main natural enemy (Lysiphlebus testaceipes) may have been set back by the record cold temperatures that we experienced in February. I have seen mixed populations of English grain aphids and bird cherry oat aphis in our wheat plots.

Sometimes, aphid infestations are overlooked. Bird cherry-oat aphid infestations do not produce visible damage until they become very numerous and English grain aphids often bury themselves in between the seeds where they blend in. So check your field for bird cherry oat aphid, English grain aphids. 
Bird cherry oat aphids are olive green to dark green with two rusty patches that surround their “tailpipes” (cornicles).  They feed on plant juices with their piercing sucking mouthparts. They can reproduce rapidly, so fields should be scouted to make a determination as to the need to control them.                                                                                   

Lady beetles and most importantly, the Lysiphlebus wasp that parasitizes them, often control bird cherry oat aphids.  Parasitized aphids swell up and form “mummies” that can easily be seen (below).  If an aphid infestation has 10-15% mummies, the rest are probably also parasitized.     

BCOA and aphid mummy

English grain aphid is larger than either greenbug or bird cherry oat aphid (0.125 inches), green with long black cornicles and legs that have alternate bands of green and black. Their appearance is sometimes characterized as “spidery”. Suggested thresholds are 5 per stem at flag leaf, and 10 per stem at head emergence through milk stage.

English Grain Aphids in a wheat head

My suggestion is to scout the field beforehand to determine if there are GROWING numbers of bird cherry oat aphids that could be or are of concern.  Count bird cherry oat aphids on each of 25 randomly selected tillers across a zigzag transect of the field and note mummy activity. If 10 to 20% of bird-cherry oat aphids are mummies, and there are numerous lady beetle larvae in the wheat, consider control.  If wheat heads have emerged, look for English grain aphids imbedded in the head.

Unpublished research provided by Dr. Kris Giles (OSU) and Dr. Norm Elliott (USDA-ARS) combined with studies on spring wheat from the Dakotas and Minnesota indicate that 20-40 BCOA per tiller causes 5-9% yield loss before wheat reaches the boot stage.  My suggestions: if BCOA numbers average 10-20 per tiller, figure on a 5% loss, if 20-40 per tiller, figure a 7% loss, and if BCOA aphids are more than 40 per tiller, figure a 9% loss.

Estimate APHIDS PER TILLER_______ /tiller =       Total # aphids ______/25 tillers

Estimate CROP VALUE $_______/acre =                 Expected yield ______bushels/acre X $ _____/bushel

Calculate CONTROL COSTS $______/acre =           Insecticide $______/acre + Application $____/Acre 

PREVENTABLE LOSS $_____/acre = Crop value $________ X______loss from aphids/tiller .   



Here is a Table of Preventable Loss estimates for bird cherry-oat aphids for expected yields of 30 to 50 bushels per acre, expected wheat prices of $3.00, $3.50, and $4.00 per bushel, and bird cherry-oat aphid numbers of 10-20, 20 to 40, and over 40 per tiller.

This cool, rainy spring weather, while providing excellent growing conditions for wheat, is also foodstuff for “producing” armyworms. Armyworm infestations typically occur in late April through the first two weeks of May. They feed on leaves and awns, (below left) and occasionally clip the head from developing plants. The head clipping (below right) I have noticed over the years is mostly restricted to secondary tillers with very small, green heads that contribute very little to yield.

Since armyworm infestations tend to occur more frequently around waterways, areas of lush growth, or areas with lodged plants, check them first to determine the size of the infestation. Early signs of an infestation include chewed leaves with ragged margins.  You may find “frass” i.e. the excrement from armyworm caterpillars, around the base of wheat stems and clipped heads.  Also, look for evidence of armyworms parasitized by the wasp Glyptapanteles militaris. This parasitoid attacks armyworms as well as several other caterpillars. When the larva emerges, it produces a cottony cocoon (below right) about the size of a Q-tip. Scout for armyworms at five or more locations looking for “curled up worms” (below left)

Armyworm caterpillars tend to feed at night, so another good strategy is to bring a flashlight, shine it on the emerged wheat heads after dusk and count armyworms that are feeding on the heads and plant stems. 

The suggested treatment threshold for armyworms is 4-5 caterpillars per linear foot of row (bottom left). Generally, no control is needed if wheat is past the soft dough stage unless there is visible head clipping, and caterpillars are present and feeding.

If a producer is considering a fungicide application, this might be an opportune time to evaluate your field for bird cherry oat aphid, English grain aphid and/or armyworms. If NEEDED, combine an insecticide with a needed fungicide application to control multiple pests.  Check CR-7194, “Management of Insect and Mite Pests in Small Grains” for registered insecticides, application rates, and grazing/harvest waiting periods.  It can be obtained from any Oklahoma County Extension Office, or found at the OSU Extra Website at http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-2601/CR-7194web2008.pdf

Wheat Disease Update – 14 April 2021

This article was written by Bob Hunger, Extension Wheat Pathologist

      Last week (08-April) in southwestern OK, Gary Strickland (Jackson County Extn Educator) reported seeing only very little stripe rust, but that tan spot was still present in the lower canopy.  Southwestern OK has been hot and dry, so conditions in that part of Oklahoma have not been at all favorable for foliar disease development.  Also last week, Bryan Vincent (Crop Consultant; north-central OK) reported seeing mostly tan spot and powdery mildew across northern OK, with little to no rust, but some barley yellow dwarf starting to appear as well as aphids.  Greg Highfill (Woods County Extn Educator) also reported heavy tan spot in a no-till, wheat- after-wheat field.

      More recently, although still scattered and light, both leaf and stripe rust (more so stripe) appears to be increasing across Oklahoma.  Lanie Hale (Manager, Wheeler Brothers) sent out the following report.  “Yesterday, Will Bedwell and I scouted 22 wheat fields in southern Major, northeastern Dewey, and northwestern Blaine Counties.  The wheat variety was unknown to us in most of the fields.  In seven of the fields, we found leaf and/or stripe rust in isolated areas, certainly not widespread across the fields.  We found powdery mildew in a few fields, but only where the canopy was heavy and dense.  Septoria and/or Tan Spot was noted on lower leaves in most fields.  Many of the fields had infestations of Bird Cherry Oat Aphids ranging from light to moderately heavy.  We saw several Lady Beetles and larvae in fields; I only saw one mummified aphid indicating not many parasitic wasps are present.  One of the fields had been sprayed over the weekend.  The flag leaf is emerging in most fields we scouted.  We did not scout any field with 100% emerged flag leaves.”

      Yesterday around Stillwater, I saw wheat that ranged from flag leaves emerging to wheat headed, although by far and away most of the wheat was at the boot/pre-boot stage (GS 9 or so).  By far, the most prevalent disease I observed was powdery mildew (Figure 1).  Stripe rust also was present, but at a low incidence.  I also noted quite a few spots or patches of barley yellow dwarf in various trials, but in contrast to other reports, I saw very few aphids.

      Given these reports and observations, it is advisable for producers to start watching their fields closely and prepare for applying a fungicide, especially if growing a variety susceptible to either rust and/or the other foliar diseases.  For more information on fungicides and their use, see OSU CR-7668, which can be found at:  https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/foliar-fungicides-and-wheat-production-in-oklahoma-march-2016.html.

Figure 1. Wheat leaves observed near Stillwater, OK on 4-13-2021 with powdery mildew and stripe rust (top photo) and with stripe rust (bottom photo).

Perhaps the most striking observation is that wheat streak mosaic (Figure 2) is starting to be reported across both Oklahoma and Texas as a couple of samples have tested positive for Wheat streak mosaic virus in the last week.  For more information on this and other mite-transmitted viruses, please see OSU EPP 7328 that can be accessed at:  https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/wheat-streak-mosaic-high-plains-disease-and-triticum-mosaic-three-virus-diseases-of-wheat-in-oklahoma.html

Figure 2. Wheat streak mosaic virus has been observed in northwestern Oklahoma and western Texas.