A microscopic mite and the disease it carries – wheat streak mosaic -- are destroying wheat fields throughout the West.
Now, Montana State University faculty and students are fighting back through a new collaboration that involves the Agricultural Research Service and six universities including Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture recently awarded a five-year, $3.4 million grant to be shared by seven institutions, starting in January, 2013. MSU's portion is $800,000, but an additional $200,000 grant raises that to $1 million.
Members of MSU's team say they will use their funds to build on research that has been conducted over the past six years. One major goal is developing an accurate forecasting model to give farmers additional tools to fight wheat streak mosaic.
The disease destroys 20 million bushels of wheat a year.
The MSU team will conduct research, develop educational materials and hold outreach events.
They will share their findings and materials with growers, scientists, tribal college students, K-12
MSU scientists will test pesticides this winter to see if they can find new products that might economically control the vector of the virus, the wheat curl mite.
They also want to help figure out why the severity of wheat streak mosaic varies by state.
No varieties of wheat are known to resist the malady, and no pesticides appear to work against it at this time.
Growers who believe they are planting resistant varieties or spraying effective pesticides are mistaken, says Mary Burrows, MSU team leader. Not only are they wasting money, but they might make matters worse if they apply imidacloprid pesticide, she notes.
The chemical kill insects it directly contacts, but often increases mite populations by destroying their natural enemies, says Burrows.
Weed management is considered an important tool, since mites and viruses don't just hide in wheat, but also in weeds and native grasses, says MSU's Fabian Menalled, a weed control specialist.