Wheat in Oregon is a $300 million industry, and a $2 billion industry in the Pacific Northwest, so growers keep an eye out for diseases that can affect their yield and quality. Soilborne wheat mosaic virus is responsible for a disease that is shown to reduce wheat biomass growth by 37 percent and decrease grain yield by 40 percent.
The virus was found in the Midwest as early as 1919, then identified on the West Coast in 1994. In 2008, it was detected in three adjacent fields in Oregon. Still, few people have a working knowledge of this virus even though Oregon wheat growers continue to worry about its impacts.
In response, Christina Hagerty, an Oregon State University assistant professor and wheat pathologist, looked around the United States to see how others have dealt with this virus. She is currently testing varieties for genetic resistance to soilborne wheat mosaic virus for public and private breeding programs. Luckily, genetic resistance is present in most programs, but genetic resistance can come with tradeoffs.
“Farmers are forced to take a gamble: Do I want lower yielding variety that has resistance, or do I want a higher yielding variety with no resistance?”, said Hagerty, who conducts research and performs Extension outreach at the Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center outside of Pendleton. She does expect yield improvements in the soilborne wheat mosaic virus resistant varieties over time.
Hagerty is experimenting with seeding trials and following breeding programs to produce a wheat varietal more conducive to the Pacific Northwest, but she said finding a solid option for growers will take time.
For a more immediate solution, Hagerty published a diagnostic guide for wheat soilborne mosaic virus and is examining other management techniques and conducting field trials in partnership with growers. For example, she’s found preliminarily that nitrogen applications can help strengthen wheat’s ability to fight the virus, but that method is strongly dependent on rainfall. Her program will continue to investigate cultural management solutions to help growers avoid yield loss due to soilborne wheat mosaic virus.