Bloomberg News

U.K. Wheat Survey Finds 97% Shows Fungal Blight Signs

July 31, 2012

U.K. winter-wheat tests found 97 percent of samples showed signs of fusarium head blight, a fungal disease encouraged by wet weather that can reduce yields and produce grain-spoiling toxins.

Most of the symptoms in the surveyed samples were caused by fungal species that don’t produce toxins, CropMonitor wrote in a report on its website. The toxin risk for the U.K. was rated moderate to high, it said.

The U.K. is the European Union’s third-largest wheat grower. The country’s harvest will be as much as 10 days delayed this year after wet weather and a lack of sunshine slowed plant development this year, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board reported last week.

“Despite being wet in June, the weather was also very cool, which appears to have favored fusarium species that don’t go on to produce mycotoxins just before harvest,” the U.K.’s National Farmers Union wrote in an online statement today.

The U.K. received more rain in the first two weeks of July than it normally gets in all of the month, according to the Met Office. That followed the country’s wettest June since records began in 1910, and the coolest temperatures since 1991.

Fusarium head blight can be caused by the fungus fusarium graminearum, which produces a mycotoxin called deoxynivalenol, also known as vomitoxin. Pigs may refuse to eat grain with the toxin, and humans eating flour made from contaminated wheat may experience fever, headaches and vomiting, according to the American Phytopathological Society.

Fungal head blight can cause “severe” crop losses, and is estimated to have cost U.S. wheat and barley farmers more than $3 billion since 1990, according to the society.

Toxin-Producing Species

CropMonitor said 90 percent of wheat samples collected from five sites across England have been assessed, with the specific pathogens causing the head blight symptoms identified for 37 percent of the samples.

Fusarium graminearum was found in 19 percent of the samples, while fusarium culmorum, another toxin-producing species, was present in 7 percent of wheat surveyed.

“To date, the South West appears to have the highest risk of mycotoxin contamination,” CropMonitor wrote. “The level of rainfall between now and harvest will determine the level and type of mycotoxin contamination in grain.”

In the South West region, 29 percent of samples were contaminated with fusarium graminearum, similar to infection levels in 2007 and 2008 of 33 percent and 24 percent, respectively, CropMonitor wrote.

CropMonitor is a service run by the Food and Environment Research Agency, and partners include the Home-Grown Cereals Authority, the Association of Independent Crop Consultants and Bayer AG (BAYN)’s crop-chemical and seeds unit.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rudy Ruitenberg in Paris at rruitenberg@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Claudia Carpenter at ccarpenter2@bloomberg.net


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