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New wheat disease tool helps alert producers and consumers

Amarillo, TX - As our wheat fields become infected with viruses and diseases, the cost of keeping it under control can affect the prices we see at the grocery store.

Wheat disease is being confused as a drought issue, which is forcing farmers to water their crops more, and wasting water. In the past, wheat producers were unsure of why their crops were dying, and spending extra money to keep them alive. 

The result? Dead crops and a higher demand for wheat, raising prices for consumers. Texas Wheat Producers have funded the research for the development of a system to give producers a "heads up" on disease outbreaks in the panhandle.

Charlie Rush, an AgriLife Professor of Plant Pathology, said a new warning system has been developed to help farmers and consumers cut their losses. "We are developing an early warning system for growers that will get the information to them so when the disease first is identified in a particular area, they'll know about it and they can start thinking about how they're going to deal with it," Rush said.

Researchers gather samples throughout all the counties and bring them back to the lab for testing. If a virus is detected an alert message is sent out through e-mail to all farmers who may be affected.

"We do a lot of work here with the wheat farmers and all the farmers in the panhandle, but not just in the panhandle, but all across the great plains," Rush said. "And one of the big problems that these guys have is a disease called 'wheat streak mosaic virus' and it's moved from plant to plant in the field by a little mite."

Researchers said this disease has already been found in potter county. 

"It's a big problem," Rush said. "The growers don't really know what to do once this disease is up in their field, whether or not we should continue irrigating the field, or adding fertilizer, and because we are so limited on water, it's really tremendously important we are just able to use our water effectively and not waste it."

Jacob Price, a Senior Research Assistant under Rush, explained exactly how the system will work.

"Through this early virus detection system, what it is is an e-mail group list serve and when samples are brought into the diagnostics lab when they are first discovered to have these viruses for a particular county, an e-mail goes out to the members of the group, which tells them the county that the pathogen was found, what pathogens were found and the date," Price said. 

While methods for getting rid of the virus vary to catch it early, it ultimately saves the crop and keeps prices steady for us.

If you would like to be added to this alert system, you can visit specific information such as name, address of the submitter/producer, will be included. Anyone can become a member of the alerting system and all personal information, including email address, will be kept confidential. 

For more information, contact Jacob Price at 806.677.5600

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