U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative

The U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative (USWBSI), reauthorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, spends about $5 million annually on 120 projects to fight Fusarium head blight, commonly known as scab.

USWBSI coordinates work on this fungal disease to avoid duplication and increase the speed with which basic and applied research is translated into tools for farmers and other stakeholders.

Since this collaboration was formed in 1997, its scientists have helped the industry achieve a dramatic reduction of losses.

From 1991 until 2000, an estimated $4 billion was lost at the farm gate due solely to scab. Since 2001, however, USWBSI leaders estimate losses of only about $500 million, despite epidemics in the mid-South (2003-2004), North Dakota (2005), the South (2009) and Ohio (2010).

This progress is directly attributable to USWBSI funding, which supports breeders working to deliver more resistant varieties and develop best management practices for farmers.

Despite these successes, scab is still a major threat to American farmers because of the complex, intransigent nature of the disease. Until farmers of all classes of wheat have access to highly resistant varieties, scab will continue to be an issue.

Funding reductions are also a threat to this project; funding for USWBSI was just cut by $1.4 million – 30 percent – to back-stop ARS cuts in other areas in 2012.

Learn more about the USWBSI at the project’s website.

NAWG President Erik Younggren, who farms in far northern Minnesota, included his experiences with scab in testimony supporting funding for the 2012 Farm Bill. That testimony is available in full here.