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Small grain diseases

If you grind flour from your own grain crop, make sure it’s healthy
Photo courtesy of University of Maine

Growing your own grain for homemade goodies is very rewarding, but watch out for diseases that can ruin a good loaf of bread.

Julie Dawson is a horticulture professor at the University of Wisconsin. She says if you’re planting a small grain crop for food, do not follow corn. There are diseases that live in corn residue that can cause problems for humans and are not a pleasant thing to have in your flour.

One is fusarium head blight, which is carried in by the wind or from overwintered corn stover. It infects wheat and barley spikes when they’re flowering, especially in times of high humidity or rainfall.

"If it infects the spike then it can produce a toxin that can cause a lot of stomach distress. It’s called vomitoxin, and it’s actually regulated by the FDA. It needs to be present at less than 1ppm in food," says Dawson. "So if you’re growing at a very small scale, you might want to look into getting it tested at a lab if during the period where your wheat is flowering, it’s raining a lot."

Dawson says there are seed-borne diseases that won’t make us sick, but cause esthetic problems in the grain and contaminate the soil for next year. Loose smut and common bunt are two common fungal diseases. Loose smut replaces the wheat spike with a black mass of fungal spores.

"Scouting your field, looking for shorter plants with a black spike and then roguing those out is important. It won’t totally get rid of it but it’ll help. Common bunt is harder to see in the field, but you can watch for it when you’re starting to clean the grain," says Dawson. "That releases a mass of spores that smells like rotten fish, so you don’t want it in your flour."

Reduce the chance of infections with crop rotation and good cultural practices, and don’t replant seed from infected fields.

Learn more about fusarium head blight

Tips for fighting diseases in small grain production

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