Scab detector being tested in U.S. wheat fields

by Teresa Acklin
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   BISMARCK, NORTH DAKOTA, U.S. — A new device that acts like a vacuum cleaner could help wheat growers fight scab disease, according to a plant pathologist at North Dakota State University.

   The scientist, Leonard Francl, said the suction device could provide an early warning system for farmers and help them use fungicides to fight scab, a fungus also known as Fusarium head blight, which shrivels kernels of wheat and barley. The disease thrives in moist conditions and creates toxins that can make the grain unsuitable for food and animal feed.

   The new device traps spores to sample them for disease. It stands about 3 feet high and has a large wind vane on the back and a rain shield. A U-shaped tube carries the debris to a container.

   The equipment is being tested in 17 fields in the Red River Valley and across northern North Dakota. Mr. Francl or an assistant will stop at the sites three times a week, collect samples and bring them back to examine under a microscope to see if spores exist in the fields. If spores are found, researchers will know the fungus is present. Then, if the plant is at a sensitive growth stage with ample moisture, farmers will be advised that scab disease was possible.