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Tom Hintgen/FOCUS Area farmers gathered south of Fergus Falls to hear University of Minnesota educators and other speakers talk about crop yields, disease, soil fertility and other issues of importance.

Many area farmers facing challenges in 2012

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Drought stress in parts of Otter Tail County and other areas of west central Minnesota has been evident in many agricultural fields in recent weeks.

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In late June, the majority of northwest Minnesota was rated to be in a moderate drought while a large portion of west central Minnesota was considered abnormally dry. Plant disease is a concern of many farmers.

Challenges facing area farmers was addressed on July 9 during a University of Minnesota Extension seminar and crop tour at the John Walkup farm, south of Fergus Falls. Topics included plant diseases, soil fertility, crop yields, small grain variety performance and the wheat breeding program.

"We had a great and early start to planting this year, but virus problems have been a challenge to many farmers," said Extension Educator Doug Holen, who is based in Morris and Fergus Falls. "Specifically, we'll talk today about Barley yellow dwarf and Aster yellows."

Barley yellow dwarf is caused by a virus of the same name, and is the most widely distributed viral disease. It affects the economically important crop species barley, oats, wheat and rice. Barley yellow dwarf has been especially devastating in southeastern Minnesota, where many barley crops have been plowed under and replaced with soybeans.

Aster yellows is a chronic plant disease caused by a bacterium-like organism called phytoplasma. In agricultural settings such as carrot fields, some chemical insecticides have proven to minimize the rate of infection by killing the vector.

"You don't see Aster yellows very often and, in fact, the last major outbreak here in Minnesota was in the 1950s," said Dr. Phil Glogoza of the U of M Extension Office in Moorhead.

Other speakers July 9 included Drs. Jochum Wiersman, Madeline Smith (plant pathologist based in Crookston), and Ian MacRae. The event was organized by the Crop Improvement Associations of Otter Tail and Wilkin counties.

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