This is a convoluted FHB study to explain, but here we go. Led by Randy Kutcher, Plant Sciences Professor, USask College of Agriculture & Bioresources, the study aims to find optimum crop rotations for control of Fusarium Head Blight (FHB).
To accomplish this, several locations in Alberta and Saskatchewan planted long blocks of several crops ≥ let's say in north/south lines in year one. In year two, the blocks rotate to an east/west layout causing each crop to plant into the stubble from all the previous year's crop blocks creating a lattice or matrix design. In year three (2021), the entire lattice became durum plots.
Farming Smarter rotated its crop selection three times and in 2021 planted durum over all the blocks. Today, Friday July 23, 2021, technicians will sample the crop for FHB. The data will go to Randy at USask for inclusion in the overall research. However, other research sites will not complete the study until 2022. Therefore, a final report from Randy won't happen until winter 2023.
One of the study challenges for Farming Smarter in 2021 is the weather. FHB likes cool, moist weather.
"It's been so dry and so hot during the flowering period when most of the infection normally happens that the spread of fusarium isn't much," says Mike Gretzinger, Farming Smarter Research Coordinator. "I'm finding zero to one plant per plot and these are big plots. There's more grasshopper damage than anything else." Even though technicians controlled the grasshoppers.
The study, and the data collecting technicians, will also look for root rot and other cereal diseases.
"Normally, there is much more disease at this point. We walk through the plots and count 100 plants at a time ≥ in a row or 10 plants in 10 spots. Then we assess if there is any disease present. If there is, we have a scale to assess it. It is an index with incidence and severities."
So, while kochia may love this drought, FHB does not. If there is a silver lining to this hot, dry year, it is that FHB inoculum is struggling to survive.
While this study focuses on FHB, Mike observed other things going on in the plots that were of note. For instance, herbicide applications needed adjustment in some rotations, which became obvious when hemp plants started shooting above the peas planted on hemp stubble.
"Take our wild oat problem. A lot of wild oat herbicides are not labeled for durum because they could hurt it," says Mike. This meant using different herbicides on the wheat and barley than they used on the durum. "But, where we have a durum, durum, durum plot, we almost always have a resistant wild oat issue," he says.
Nick-named the Plot Matrix, this study captured a lot of interest and provided a great deal of learning. It will likely spawn other studies inspired by observations over the past few years in the Matrix.