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Ag experts share info on keeping a healthy crop

With planting season in full swing for some area farmers, there are ways producers can prevent crop disease, experts said.

"We aren't in an epidemic or anything like that," said Roger Ashley, Extension agronomist for North Dakota State University's Dickinson Research Extension Center. He added that planning crop rotations accordingly and knowing signs of disease give planters the edge they need to have a healthy crop.

"The earlier a disease affects a crop, the more damage that will occur to yield and quality," he said.

Much of southwest North Dakota has seen dry weather in recent months, which could prove beneficial in the fight against crop disease, Ashley said. But ultimately, each disease is different, he added.

If the area sees more rain, tan spot could emerge in spring wheat and winter wheat, Ashley said.

"(Tan spot) is favored by moist conditions, as well as lack of rotation," he said.

Additionally, wheat streak mosaic is a virus area producers might want to watch out for. Ashley recently ran into a case involving the virus, which often leaves signs of yellow tips on winter wheat.

Ben Lee, location manager for Alliance Ag Coop in South Heart, recently approached Ashley with samples of a crop that was exposed to the virus. Ashley said Lee was unsure if the field, five miles southeast of South Heart, was exposed to the disease or just suffering a nutrient deficiency.

"It's kind of a scary thing for the neighbors," Lee said, adding that mites can carry the virus to nearby fields.

Lee also said it's best not to plant immediately after discovering wheat streak mosaic in a crop, adding that the owners of the field he examined replanted with spring wheat at the site.

"It's not really recommended," he said.

Like Ashley, Lee said engaging in proper plant rotation can be instrumental in preventing diseases like wheat streak mosaic.

Kurt Froelich, extension agent for Stark/Billings County NDSU Extension Service, added that knowledge is power when it comes to fighting crop disease.

"Disease, in just about anything, it's kind of like a three-legged stool," Froelich said, adding that if producers can identify the host, pathogen and environment involved with certain cases, they can better forecast future planting and disease prevention.

"The best tool that we've got is that Ag Weather Network," he said. The network is a tool North Dakota farmers use to measure moisture levels, temperature, wind speed and other factors that affect crop development, he added.

"Research has gotten better over the years," he said.

Ashley agrees, considering ongoing efforts NDSU staff is engaged in.

"We participate in the variety trials, and NDSU, as well as their various companies that breed new varieties, are constantly working at trying to find varieties that are resistant to these diseases," Ashley said. "We also participate in a number of fungicide trials, and we screen fungicide materials that at least provide producers an option to use when they haven't followed crop rotations or haven't planted resistant varieties."

Ultimately, being able to identify and predict diseases is a plus for area farmers, Ashley said.

"There isn't anything in a can that can replace management," he added.