WERA97: Diseases of Cereals

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

WERA97: Diseases of Cereals

Duration: 10/01/2015 to 09/30/2020

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

The cereal grains, particularly wheat and barley, constitute major cash crops throughout the western region of the United States. The types of cereal grains produced are diverse, including soft white winter, soft white spring, club, hard red winter, hard red spring, and durum wheat classes; 2-row and 6-row winter and spring feed and malting barley types; hay, grain and/or forage oat types; and grain and/or forage triticale types. Areas of production for these diverse crops overlap throughout the western region, and production occurs in both high and low rainfall areas, with or without irrigation, and under a wide-range of other production inputs (level of fertilization and degree of weed, insect, and disease control inputs). Overall, western cereal production is geared for the bulk commodity and specialized niche domestic markets as well as for export. In these markets, profit margins are slim and to remain competitive, cereal producers desperately seek assistance to reduce operating costs and minimize disease losses.
To maintain profitability in a diverse and changing disease environment requires constant surveillance and rapid responses to emergent disease problems. Over the last five years, several important cereal diseases have emerged in the Western United States. The most notorious of these have been Fusarium head blight, barley yellow dwarf virus and stripe rust of wheat and barley. In 2004, Fusarium head blight (scab) spread from the corn-belt states and Northern Great Plains into Inter-mountain regions of the Western U.S. causing millions of dollars in lost production. Although losses are not as pervasive as in the Great Plains, individual growers experience catastrophic losses that can only be addressed through adapting head blight control measures to local situations. This includes development of resistant cultivars suited to local production systems, the validation and adaptation of previously developed disease models, and utilization of specific agronomic practices and fungicides to reduce infection and toxin accumulation under irrigated conditions. In this situation, professional connections established through WERA-97 helped provide technical support that enhanced research responses. In contrast to Fusarium head blight, new races of stripe and leaf rust annually migrate eastward from Pacific coastal areas and northward from the Gulf states into central and northwestern regions. With ever changing virulence profiles, maintaining effective varietal resistance to both stripe rust and leaf rust requires constant vigilance. When effectiveness of specific resistance genes is overcome, the consequences are dramatic as seen with the 2003 stripe rust epidemic that caused an estimated 89 million bushels in lost wheat production, and was followed by significant losses in the 2011 epidemic. Barley yellow dwarf (BYD) epidemics in 2013 and 2015 were fueled by extremely unusual weather events and an increased acreage of corn, which is a host of the BYD virus and aphid-vectors. By enhancing cross communication among USDA rust specialists, state plant pathologists and breeders, more coordinated and responsive breeding efforts are being conducted than would otherwise be possible.
In addition to emerging diseases, changes in production practices to more intense, no-till cereal production has lead to shifts in disease dynamics. Increases in severity and incidence of Cephalosporium stripe, Fusarium crown rot, common root rot, root lesion nematodes, cereal cyst nematodes, eyespot, Fusarium head blight (FHB), barley yellow dwarf, soilborne wheat mosaic virus and wheat streak mosaic have been documented. These diseases are persistent, endemic threats that have increased in severity and incidence in the past decade. Maintaining WERA-97 is instrumental in addressing these issues on regional and national basis. Looking to the future, WERA-97 is providing a forum to address emerging threats. In particular, new races of stem rust found in North Africa are currently spreading across central Asia and can be expected to reach North America in the coming decade. The spot form of net blotch (SFNB in barley) was first documented in the PNW in Idaho on 2013 and became widespread in Idaho and Montana in 2014. In these environments of constantly changing disease dynamics, the relationships developed through WERA-97 between USDA scientists, university and local researchers are vital to maintaining a safe and secure U.S. cereal production system.
With states having limited resources to address the plethora of disease-related losses, responses need to be efficiently obtained through coordinated efforts of state and regional programs. By providing a forum for communication and collaboration, WERA-97 enhances synergy amongst participating members, minimizes redundancy and ultimately provides a more responsive targeting of research and extension efforts to assist producers in reducing disease related losses. Current member states include California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Washington. The Committee welcomes participation and input from states outside the region and is reaching out to currently non-participating western states to solicit their involvement. Joint meetings with NCERA-184 at Idaho Falls, ID, in 2007, and St. Paul, MN, in 2011, the Western Wheat Workers and the NCERA-184 at Davis, CA, in 2008, and with the Western Wheat Workers at Corvallis, OR, in 2009, Bozeman, MT in 2010, Pullman, WA, in 2012, Pendleton, OR, in 2013, and Twin Falls, ID 2014, are good examples of the Committee reaching out to a wider spectrum of researchers and disciplines related to plant pathology.


  1. Provide a forum for the communication and coordination of cooperative efforts in cereal pathology research, extension and education in the western United States through an annual meeting.
  2. Enhance cooperative research among committee members and their respective states, thereby achieving maximum efficiency, through the exchange of biological materials and methodologies, communication via the internet, and the publication of appropriate research and extension materials.
  3. Coordinate Extension programs for cereal disease control that will carry research results to growers via publications, commodity schools, and the internet. This will be especially important to cereal producers in the region dealing with emerging and reemerging diseases including wheat stripe rust, leaf rust, winter injury, root lesion nematodes, Fusarium head blight (scab), net blotch, tan spot, barley yellow dwarf, wheat streak mosaic and others.

Procedures and Activities

As demonstrated by past successes, WERA-97 acts as source of research coordination, communication, education and professional development. As a blanket organization, WERA-97 positions researchers, extension personnel, and growers to respond more effectively and rapidly to emerging disease problems through early identification of new diseases, constant monitoring of existing diseases, increased intra-regional cooperation and more rapid exchange of information on techniques and control strategies. Use of the internet and e-mail allows researchers to communicate early detection of diseases as they develop. WERA-97 has a proven record of performance in addressing dynamic disease systems in United States. In the past:

WERA-97 acted as a forum for coordination of research activities within the western region on both wheat stripe rust (WSR) and barley stripe rust (BSR). Members of the Committee were involved in the initial detection of BSR and later developed methods for monitoring its progress. Now that stripe rust is firmly established in the region, efforts on breeding for resistance are proving fruitful and continued screening for new sources of resistance is being coordinated by several members of the Committee. Expanded efforts on WSR following the epidemics of 2000-2004 and the rapid development and establishment of new races has stimulated increased efforts at integrating control of WSR, the development of a National Research Initiative for WSR, and an expanded screening program to identify new sources of both seedling and adult plant resistance for the Western Region.

WERA-97 educated its own members and other invited academic and industry participants in joint meetings with various groups, such as the Western Wheat Workers, NCERA-184, and private breeding companies including Syngenta, DOW, WestBred LLC, and Limagrain Cereal Seeds. Participants learned about the epidemiology, impact and management of numerous diseases including Fusarium head blight, wheat streak mosaic, Fusarium crown rot, wheat stripe rust, and root lesion nematode. Much of this information is of tremendous immediate importance to growers. For instance, participants learned about the toxin dynamics related to Fusarium head blight, effective fungicides to reduce both disease and vomitoxin (deoxynivalenol) accumulation, and how inoculum loads and harvest timing affect levels of toxin present in the grain.

WERA-97 keeps participants informed on changes in resources and available personnel to address disease issues, and enhances understanding and communication between private and public sector services. This information enables more efficient resource allocation and ensures critical issues continue to be addressed.

To enhance communication and coordination, WERA-97 established a website (http://plantsciences.montana.edu/wera97/Default.htm) and an electronic bulletin board (wcc97@listserv.montana.edu). These serve committee members and our clientele by providing useful information in a timely manner and permit rapid dissemination of information. In addition, WERA-97 has been actively involved in facilitating the publication of materials regarding cereal diseases for use by farmers, extension personnel, and researchers. Its members played a major role in the production of the 2nd edition of the Compendium of Barley Diseases and the just published 3rd edition of the Compendium of Wheat Diseases and Pests.

WERA-97 provided a forum for USDA-scientists to keep state pathologists abreast of rust dynamics. Participants were alerted to the vulnerability of North American wheat to the newest stem rust race from work conducted by Dr. Yue Jin of the USDA Cereal Disease Laboratory, St Paul, MN. Additional annual updates for leaf and stripe rusts are publicly available for wheat and barley breeders to incorporate appropriate disease resistance genes for their respective regions.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • The Committee provides a forum for the communication and coordination of cooperative efforts in cereal pathology research, extension and education in the western United States, specifically through interactions at annual meetings, the exchange of biological materials and methodologies, the use of an electronic bulletin board, and the publication of appropriate research and extension materials. The outcome will include improved communication among committee members and their respective states, thereby achieving maximum efficiency of research efforts. Extension programs for cereal disease control will thus more rapidly carry research results to growers via publications, commodity schools, and internet and email based “Agalerts”. This will be especially important as cereal producers in the region deal with a myriad of emerging and reemerging diseases including barley stripe rust, wheat stripe rust, stem rust, root lesion and cereal cyst nematodes, Fusarium head blight (scab), net blotch, tan spot, BYD, and wheat streak mosaic.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

Research, extension, and teaching members involved with the committee will communicate with and invite participation by plant pathology from the USDA and private industry. Currently, at least one-third of our members have extension appointments. Through them, information will be provided to growers on emerging and/or new disease problems in their areas. Members of the Committee played a major role in the production of the new addition of the Compendium of Wheat Diseases currently available through the American Phytopathological Society. In addition, stakeholder members regularly attend the WERA-97 meeting, including members of the private breeding industry. As Extension personnel are extensively engaged with their stakeholders at all times, including growers and commodity commission representatives, we are intimately aware of the needs of the stakeholders for education and research purposes.


The Chairman is elected at the annual meeting and serves the following year. This person serves as a liaison with the Administrative Advisor to see that all required annual reports are submitted to the office of the Executive Director, Western Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors. The Chairman directs the activities of the Committee and makes sure that the objectives of the committee are fulfilled. The following year’s meeting of the committee usually is at the home base of the Chairmen, who then also serves as local arrangements chair. Minutes of the meeting, state reports, and information about the activities of WERA-97 are posted on the Committee’s website (http://plantsciences.montana.edu/wera97/). Meetings normally alternate among the Great Plains and western states, although alternate sites are sometimes selected to expand committee perspectives and impacts. For examples, the 2005 site was in Lethbridge, Alberta and the 2006 meeting was held jointly with NCERA-184, our sister committee, in Fargo, North Dakota, in 2007 at Idaho Falls, Idaho, and in 2011 St. Paul, MN.

Literature Cited

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Burrows, M. 2011. Managing community diseases. Southern Alberta Conservation Society meeting. Lethbridge, AB, Canada.

Burrows, M., A. Dyer, and W. Grey. 2010. Small grain root and crown diseases. MSU Extension Publications MontGuide MT2010007AG.

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Dill-Macky, R. (2010). Fusarium Head Blight (Scab), pp. 34-36. In: Compendium of Wheat Diseases and Pests, 3rd ed.; Bockus, W.W., Bowden, R.L., Hunger, R.M., Morrill, W.L., Murray, T.D., and Smiley, R.W. Eds.; The American Phytopathological Society, St. Paul, MN; 171 p.

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