Taking an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management


Integrated Pest & Crop Management


Laura Sweets
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology
(573) 884-7307

Wheat Foliage Diseases and Their Management

Laura Sweets
University of Missouri
(573) 884-7307

Published: April 13, 2011

The 2011 growing season is already presenting challenges for Missouri producers. The first dry fall in several years saw an increase in wheat acres from a record low in 2009-2010 to an estimated 750,000 acres planted in the fall of 2010. Most fields have greened up and in southern Missouri some fields are approaching flag leaf emergence. So far reports of foliage diseases on wheat in Missouri have been minimal. However, as the wheat begins to move through flag leaf emergence and towards boot and flowering stages of growth, it is important to scout fields for foliage diseases.

There are definitely foliage diseases that can cause losses on winter wheat in Missouri. Leaf rust, stripe rust and Septoria leaf blight are the three most likely to cause losses on soft red winter wheat grown in Missouri. Powdery mildew can be a problem on hard red winter wheat and, under the correct environmental conditions, may also cause losses on soft red winter wheat. The incidence and severity of these foliage diseases will depend on the weather conditions during the growing season, the susceptibility of the variety to each of these diseases and the amount of inoculum in the field or area.

There have been reports of leaf rust developing on wheat in southern states recently. However, there have not yet been any reports of leaf rust or stripe rust on winter wheat in Missouri. The development of foliage diseases on wheat and their severity this season will depend to a large degree on the weather conditions the rest of the season. Most wheat foliage diseases are favored by warm, wet conditions. Frequent light rains, heavy dews, high relative humidity and warm temperatures would be ideal for the buildup of the foliage diseases. The buildup of foliage diseases prior to flowering can lead to yield losses, especially if weather conditions remain favorable for disease development during and after flowering. It is important to scout wheat fields for foliage diseases, especially if there are scattered periods of precipitation as the temperatures warm up. There are a number of foliar fungicides labeled for use on winter wheat. This year in particular, it will be important to evaluate fields for stand and yield potential as well as for incidence and severity of foliage diseases before making a decision on foliar fungicide application.

Lesions of Septoria leaf blotch begin as light yellow flecks or streaks. These flecks expand into yellow to reddish-brown, irregularly shaped blotches. Dark brown specks (fruiting bodies or pycnida of the causal fungus, Septoria tritici) may be scattered within the centers of mature lesions. Lesions may coalesce killing larger areas of leaf tissue.

Stagonospora glume blotch (formerly called Septoria glume blotch) may also begin as light yellow flecks or streaks on leaves. The lesions also turn yellow to reddish-brown but usually have a more oval to lens-shaped appearance than those of Septoria leaf blotch. Again, the dark brown specks or fungal fruiting bodies of the causal fungus Stagonospora nodorum may be evident within the lesions. Symptoms of Stagonospora glume blotch are more common on heads than foliage of wheat. Infected heads will have dark blotches on the glumes.

The initial symptoms of tan spot are small tan to brown flecks on the leaves. These expand into tan to light brown, elliptical lesions which often have yellow borders. The centers of mature tan spot lesions may have a dark brown region caused by outgrowth of the fungus. But the fungus which causes tan spot, Pyrenophora tritici-repentis, does not produce pycnidia or fruiting bodies as the Septoria fungus does. So mature tan spot lesions do not have the distinct dark brown specks scattered throughout the centers of the lesions as do Septoria leaf blotch lesions. Although tan spot can occur in Missouri, it is not usually a problem in the state.

Leaf rust lesions appear primarily on the upper leaf surfaces and leaf sheaths. Initially, lesions are small, yellow to light-green flecks. Eventually, leaf rust appears as small, circular to oval shaped, orange-red pustules. These pustules break open to release masses of orange-red spores of Puccinia recondita. The edges of the open pustules tend to be smooth without the tattered appearance of stem rust pustules. Heavily rusted leaves may yellow and die prematurely.

Stripe rust, caused by the fungus Puccinia striiformis, has become more prevalent in Missouri over the last few years. Stripe rust may develop earlier in the season than leaf rust or stem rust. The pustules of stripe rust are yellow or yellowish-red and occur in obvious stripes or streaks running lengthwise on the wheat leaves. This disease is more commonly associated with cooler temperatures, especially cooler night temperatures.

Stem rust, caused by the fungus Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritici, is most common on stems and leaf sheaths of wheat plants but may develop on any of the above ground portions of the plant including both upper and lower leaf surfaces and glumes and awns. Stem rust pustules are small, oval, and reddish-brown. The ruptured pustules tend to have more ragged edges than leaf rust pustules. Frequently both leaf rust and stem rust occur on the same plant and both types of pustules may develop on an individual leaf.

Powdery mildew infections begin as light-green to yellow flecks on the leaf surface. As powdery mildew develops the leaf surfaces become covered with patches of cottony white mold growth of Erysiphe graminis f. sp. tritici, the causal fungus. These patches eventually turn a grayish-white to grayish-brown in color and small black fungal fruiting bodies may be visible within the patches of mildew growth.

The fungi which cause most of these wheat foliage diseases survive in infested wheat residues left on the soil surface. The next growing season spores are produced during moist periods and are carried by wind currents to susceptible wheat leaves where infection may begin. Disease problems tend to be more severe when wheat is planted in fields with infested wheat residue left on the soil surface. Eventually spores that are produced in the initial lesions on plants are wind blown to other leaves or other plants causing secondary infection.

Leaf rust, stem rust and stripe rust are exceptions to this simplified explanation of disease development. The rust fungi do not survive in infested residue left in a field. Rather, the rust fungi are reintroduced into this area each season when spores are carried up on air currents from the southern United States.

Most of the foliage diseases of wheat are favored by warm, wet or humid weather. Frequently infection begins on the lower portion of the plant. If weather conditions are favorable for disease development, the disease may move up through the plant. Severely infected leaves may yellow and die prematurely. Yield losses tend to be highest when the flag leaves are heavily infected.

There are several fungicides that are labeled for use on wheat to control fungal foliage diseases. It is important to scout wheat fields and determine which leaf diseases are occurring as well as the level of their severity before making a decision to apply a foliar fungicide. In particular be on the lookout for Septoria leaf blotch, Stagonospora glume blotch, leaf rust and stripe rust. When scouting fields, try to identify the disease or diseases which are present, determine the average percent of infection on a leaf and the number of leaves showing infection and determine the stage of growth of the crop. Generally, the profitable use of foliar fungicides on wheat depends on a number of factors including varietal resistance, disease severity, effectiveness of the specific fungicides and timing of fungicide application. The greatest increases in yield are usually obtained when fungicides are applied to disease susceptible varieties with high yield potential at the early boot to head emergence growth stage when the flag leaf is in danger of severe infection. Fungicide applications are seldom beneficial if applied after flowering or after the flag leaf is already severely infected. It is also important to read the fungicide label for specific information on rates, recommended timing of application, frequency of applications, preharvest intervals and grazing restrictions.

A management program for foliage diseases of wheat should include the following steps.

  • Plant disease free seed of varieties with resistance to diseases likely to occur in your area.
  • Rotate with non-host crops for one or more years.
  • Manage residues- if tillage system is a conservation tillage system, particular care should be given to rotation and variety selection.
  • Maintain good plant vigor with adequate fertility.
  • Control volunteer wheat.
  • Use foliar fungicides if warranted (see accompanying tables for additional information on wheat fungicides).

The North Central Regional Committee on Management of Small Grain Diseases (NCERA-184) developed a table containing information on fungicide efficacy for control of certain foliar diseases of wheat. These efficacy ratings were determined by field testing the materials over multiple years and locations by members of the committee. This table is included in this issue of the cropPest newsletter.

Table 1. Management of Small Grain Diseases: Fungicide Efficacy for Control of Wheat Diseases (REVISED: 4-6-11)

The North Central Regional Committee on Management of Small Grain Diseases (NCERA-184) has developed the following information on fungicide efficacy for control of certain foliar diseases of wheat for use by the grain production industry in the U.S. Efficacy ratings for each fungicide listed in the table were determined by field testing the materials over multiple years and locations by the members of the committee. Efficacy is based on proper application timing to achieve optimum effectiveness of the fungicide as determined by labeled instructions and overall level of disease in the field at the time of application. Differences in efficacy among fungicide products were determined by direct comparisons among products in field tests and are based on a single application of the labeled rate as listed in the table. Table includes most widely marketed products, and is not intended to be a list of all labeled products.

Class Active Ingredient Product Rate/A (fl. oz) Powdery MIldew Stagonospora leaf/glum blotch Septoria leaf blotch Tan spot Stripe rust Leaf rust Stem rust Head scab Harvest Restriction
Strobilurin Azoxystrobin 22.9% Quadris 2.08 SC 6.2 - 10.8 F(G)¹ VG VG E E VG NL 45 days
Fluoxastrobin 40.3% Evito 480 SC 2.0 – 4.0 G --3 --3 --3 --3 VG --3 NL 40 days
Pyraclostrobin 23.6% Headline SC 6.0 - 9.0 G VG VG E E G NL Feekes 10.5
Triazole Cyproconazole 8.9% Alto 100 SL 3.0 - 5.5 --3 --3 --3 --3 --3 --3 --3 --3 30 days
Metconazole 8.6% Caramba 0.75 SL 10.0 - 17.0 VG VG --3 VG E E E G 30 days
Propiconazole 41.8% Tilt 3.6 EC4 4.0 VG VG VG VG VG VG VG P Feekes 10.5
Prothioconazole 41% Proline 480 SC 5.0 - 5.7 --3 VG VG VG --3 VG VG G 30 days
Tebuconazole 38.7% Folicur 3.6 F4 4.0 --3 VG VG VG E E E F 30 days
Tebuconazole 19%
Prosaro 421 SC 6.5 - 8.2 G VG VG VG E E E G 30 days
Mixed Mode of Action Metconazole 7.4%
Pyraclostrobin 12%
TwinLine 1.75 EC 7.0 - 9.0 G VG VG E E E VG NL Feekes 10.5
Propiconazole 11.7%
Azoxystrobin 7.0%
Quilt 200 SC 14.0 VG VG VG VG E E VG NL Feekes 10.5
Propiconazole 11.7%
Azoxystrobin 13.5%
Quilt Xcel 2.2 SE5 14.0 --3 VG --3 --3 --3 VG --3 NL Feekes 10.5
Propiconazole 11.4%
Trifloxystrobin 11.4%
Stratego 250 EC 10.0 G VG VG VG VG VG VG NL 35 days
Tebuconazole 22.6%
Absolute 500 SC 5.0 G --3 --3 --3 --3 E --3 NL 35 days
¹ Efficacy categories: NL=Not Labeled and Not Recommended; P=Poor; F=Fair; G=Good; VG=Very Good; E=Excellent. Efficacy designation with a second rating in parenthesis indicates greater efficacy at higher application rates.
² Efficacy may be significantly reduced if solo strobilurin products are applied after stripe rust infection has occurred
³ Insufficient data to make statement about efficacy of this product
4 Multiple generic products containing the active ingredients propiconazole and tebuconazole may also be labeled in some states. Products including tebuconazole incude: Embrace, Monsoon, Muscle 3.6 F, Onset, Orius 3.6 F, Tebucon 3.6 F, Tebustar 3.6 F, Tebuzol 3.6 F, Tegrol , and Toledo. Products containing propiconazole include: Bumper 41.8 EC, Fitness, Propiconazole E-AG, and PropiMax 3.6 EC.

This information is provided only as a guide. It is the responsibility of the pesticide applicator by law to read and follow all current label directions. No endorsement is intended for products listed, nor is criticism meant for products not listed. Members or participants in the NCERA-184 committee assume no liability resulting from the use of these products.

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REVISED: December 8, 2011