The scourge of the small cereal and rye
grain, ergot (Claviceps purpurea
) can negatively impact the quality of barley grain, and in turn, the profitability of the crop. A fungal parasite, the second phase of ergot development generates spores from the primary germinating sclerotia. As the spores become wind-borne and settle onto the flower of the barley
plant, intercellular hyphae grow downward between the cells of the style and extend into the ovary. Because of the nature of spore transmission, ergot infection is most successful when the barley plant’s flower is fully open.
The fungus becomes increasingly prolific and difficult to manage during unseasonably cool, wet spring weather. The excessive moisture and cool weather prolong the flowering period and encourage the plant to form shallow roots.
As a general consensus, research supports that infection risks may be mitigated through proper micronutrient management. Specifically, producers should maintain an assessment of boron levels and the availability of the micronutrient to developing plants.
Boron, among other micronutrients, is directly correlated to ear fertility and can influence duration of bloom, retention of flowers, and plant health. A fertile ear is both indicative of a healthy plant and the most effective prevention of ergot infection. Ear fertility and plant available boron are important to the prevention of ergot infection because boron deficiency can inhibit pollination, which, in-turn, increases the plant’s exposure to ergot spores.
Because boron is a mobile nutrient, both leaching and removal of boron from the soil profile by cash-crop uptake are concerns. Additionally, as growers apply higher levels of nitrogen and potassium, plant available boron is also compromised.
To ensure a steady supply of plant available boron, foliar spray applications of Solubor®
should be made at the late tillering and early boot stages. These treatments, after a particularly wet spell, will provide targeted application of the micronutrient at meristem locations and help ensure reproductive success—while curbing ergot infection.
A granular application, to provide season-long boron availability, may also be applied as a soil amendment in the fall. Both foliar applications and granular soil amendments will improve the availability of boron to the plant—also improving the uptake and translocation of boron within the plant.
For questions, promptly reach out to a member of your U.S. Borax team
, we are only a phone call away.