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Surveying the fight against scab

GRAND FORKS — Art Brandli knows the damage that scab can cause to small grain. He also knows that farmers don’t enjoy filling out surveys.

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So Brandli, a retired Warroad, Minn., farmer and co-chairman of the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, takes a special interest in a survey that will be sent in February to 16,000 producers in 17 states.

The survey, which will go to a representative sampling of wheat and barley producers, will assess what farmers are doing to combat Fusarium head blight, often referred to as scab. The survey was designed by Brandli and other Scab Initiative officials to compile as much information, with as little bother to farmers, as possible.

“We (farmers) all know what those surveys are like. You get tired of them pretty quickly,” said Brandli, 72, who retired from active farming five years ago.

But Brandli, who battled scab in his own fields, said farmers’ input in the February survey will be put to good use. Scab has hurt quality and yields in at least 18 states, doing at least $3 billion in damage since 1990, according to the Scab Initiative’s website.

In response, federal, state and private-sector scientists are working with growers, millers and food processors to stamp out the disease through the Scab Initiative. The February survey is part of that effort.

Brandli describes the four-page survey as “straightforward” and one that requires “simple answers” to questions such as the type of fungicides farmers use.

“We (Brandli and other Scab Initiative officials) bounced the questions around for a number of months before they got put in there,” he said

Specific questions on the survey will vary depending on where the farmer lives.

The survey will be conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Brandli farmed in northwest Minnesota and raised wheat, among other crops.

“Scab has been a problem in much of the country. But my personal feeling is the worst it can possibly be is in the Red River Valley (of western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota). I don’t know of any situation where it’s been as bad as it was here,” he said.

Farmers who have battled scab understand the importance of combating it with the use of “good, clean seed, good fungicide application” and other tactics, he said. “But when people haven’t had such dire circumstances, they’re a little less likely to follow proper procedure.”

Brandli first became involved in the Scab Initiative through his service with the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council. He first served a three-year term as co-chairman of the Scab Initiative and now is on a four-year term that expires in 2015.

Brandli, who remains involved in agriculture through a number of farm and commodity groups, said his time with the Scab Initiative is well spent.

“I don’t want what’s happened here (in northwest Minnesota) to happen elsewhere,” he said.