Grains of knowledge: wheat, oat field day provides producers the latest crop updates

(05/03/24) WINNSBORO, La. — The weather couldn’t have been better for attendees of the LSU AgCenter’s 2024 Wheat and Oat Field Day, which brought researchers together with producers from across the state to discuss a variety of topics.

The annual informational gathering, held last week at the AgCenter’s Tom H. Scott Research Station in Winnsboro, began with a discussion of Fusarium head blight, also known as scab, from AgCenter plant pathologists Trey Price and Boyd Padgett. Price said Louisiana’s warm and rainy climate complicates fungicide applications to control the fungus.

“The fungus infects during flowering and causes yield and quality losses in wheat,” Price said. “So, to manage this disease there’s a really tight window to apply fungicide.”

Price went on to say planting a resistant variety is the most important way to manage scab.

Padgett said that although the state’s wheat crop is down considerably from last year, going from 50,000 acres to less than 10,000 this year, he hopes things will bounce back both acreage and pricewise as AgCenter researchers continue to work hand-in-hand with growers.

“We need better prices and increased acreage,” he said. “The growers have what they need as far as genetic resistance and varieties, but they need to make a profit to help feed their families. So, we need to get these prices up.”

AgCenter soil fertility expert Rasel Parvej addressed corn response to zinc fertilization. He said this was the first time there has been a zinc trial in the state, which he called “exciting.” He showed attendees plots fertilized with zinc versus an untreated control plot.

“Zinc is a micronutrient, so if the pH goes higher, the availability of micronutrients becomes less and less except molybdenum,” he said. “If the pH level is seven or above the phosphorus binds with zinc creating phosphorus-induced zinc deficiency. Soil testing is very important to determine if you need to add zinc or not.”

Entomologist James Villegas provided an update on Hessian fly infestation, which he said was down over last year. Villegas described Hessian flies as black or dark brown and about two-thirds the size of mosquitoes, with most of them dying within a day or two upon reaching adulthood.

“Hessian fly larvae cause the most injury to crops,” he said. “Typically, you see them at the base of the plant, but also at the middle portion.”

Villegas said the injury caused by Hessian fly larval feeding is stunting the growth or even killing the plants if they are susceptible varieties. As opposed to adults, the pupae can stay in the soil and stubble for two years, so if a grower has an infestation in their field one year, they will likely have the same problem the following year if they don’t plant a resistant variety or use seed treatments.

Plant geneticist Noah DeWitt and precision agriculture expert Tri Setiyono presented a demonstration on drone usage in agricultural research. Setiyono said drones are becoming an indispensable tool for crop monitoring.

“It’s designed to collect natural color and multispectral data with high resolution,” Setiyono said. “It can generate a plant height map that matches the exact real location in each plot through the use of precision positioning technology with real-time kinematic. The overarching goal is to characterize wheat performance in each of the breeding lines.”

DeWitt, along with plant breeding specialist Stephen Harrison then walked the gathered producers through rows of wheat varieties developed through the SunGrains consortium. Organized and led by the AgCenter breeding program, SunGrains universities collaborate to serve growers’ needs across the southeastern U.S. Partners include Texas A&M, University of Arkansas, University of Florida, University of Georgia, Clemson University and North Carolina State University.

In the penultimate stop of the field day, Harrison and DeWitt gave a variety trial update. Harrison said the near 40-year-old variety development program has released about 26 varieties since its inception, about equally split between oats and wheat.

“This program develops wheat varieties that are adapted for the Gulf Coast region,” Harrison said. “There are no commercial companies that do that so all of the wheat that we grow in this region is either developed by LSU or the SunGrains program.”

Harrison said the goal of both entities is to develop higher yielding varieties with better disease resistance that are more profitable for growers.

Finally, the focus shifted to oat crops as the field day moved a few miles down the road to the AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station. Harrison said oat research includes looking at conservation tillage, cover crops and deer and wildlife food plot research.

“We’ve released a handful of oat varieties that are widely grown by hunters and wildlife plantation managers for herd nutrition,” he said.

Harrison went on to talk about the AgCenter’s most recent breeding program, which revolves around triticale, a natural cross between rye and wheat, which has a tolerance to cold, acid soils and sandy soils.

“Triticale has some of the same advantages as rye does without the expense because it’s a higher yielding crop,” he said. “It’s a great poultry ration, a good cover crop, but does not have bread-making qualities because it’s missing one of the wheat chromosomes. But it’s good for distilling, beer and makes a pretty good pancake, which tastes kind of nutty.”

The field day was sponsored by AGSouth Genetics, Dyna-Gro Seed, Louisiana Land Bank, Progeny and Stratton Seed Company.

Stephen Harrison speaking at the Wheat and Oat Field Day.

LSU AgCenter breeding specialist Stephen Harrison discusses wheat variety trials with attendees of the 2024 Wheat and Oat Field Day, held at the at the LSU AgCenter Tom H. Scott Research Station in Winnsboro. Photo by V. Todd Miller/LSU AgCenter

A hand displaying wheat in a field.

An example of wheat infected with Fusarium head blight, or scab, at the 2024 Wheat and Oat Field Day, held at the LSU AgCenter Tom H. Scott Research Station in Winnsboro. Photo by V. Todd Miller/LSU AgCenter

Rasel Parvej in the field at the Wheat and Oat field day.

Soil fertility expert Rasel Parvej addresses corn response to zinc fertilization at the 2024 Wheat and Oat Field Day, which was held at the at the LSU AgCenter Tom H. Scott Research Station in Winnsboro. Photo by V. Todd Miller/LSU AgCenter

5/3/2024 4:16:09 PM
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