HAVRE — Wet weather has left wheat crops in north-central Montana vulnerable to fungal diseases, officials say.
Hill County Extension Agent Joe Broesder said the main battle is with stripe rust fungal infection, but tan spot and powdery mildew are also prevalent.
"If the weather would straighten out, it would help with the others," Broesder said told the Havre Daily News.
Arleen Rice of Taylor Aviation said the company has had to bring in more planes for aerial spraying.
"You can walk out in the fields right now and the bottom of your boots turn red," she said. "We have sprayed tens of thousands of acres already."
Broesder said winter wheat is heading into its late stage with broad flag leaves so it's crucial to control infections.
Besides winter wheat, the fungus has started showing up in spring wheat crops.
Mary Burrows, plant pathologist at Montana State University Extension in Bozeman, said the fungus cuts yields by 10 percent to 20 percent. Tests she conducted found that spraying for stripe rust increases yields by an average of 10 bushels an acre.
"Spray as soon as you see it," Burrows said. "If they don't have stripe rust they have tan spot, so you might as well just spray."
Cost to spray is up to $20 an acre.
"The economic loss is huge, but the economic output for growers is a major consideration," Burrows said. "They've got such a huge investment already in this crop and there's a beautiful crop out there."
Montana Grain Growers Association Treasurer Ryan McCormick, who farms near Kremlin, said it's been decades since the combination of high levels of moisture, cool nights and warm days coincided to open the door for the fungal diseases.
"It's something we've never really dealt with since the 1970s," he said. "It's a new management issue for us."