OSU extension Jeremiah Dung

Oregon State University Extension plant pathologist Jeremiah Dung at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center’s Grass Seed Field Day May 22 encourages growers to help researchers monitor ergot spore counts by placing traps in fields.

Oregon State University Extension plant pathologist Jeremiah Dung hopes to engage growers in a citizen-science approach to monitor for ergot in grass seed crops.

Dung told Eastern Oregon grass seed growers during the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center’s Grass Seed Field Day that he hopes the approach will help researchers overcome logistical limitations that hinder their ability to expand spore trapping.

Currently, the team of researchers involved in monitoring ergot spores are utilizing three traps, Dung said: One in La Grande, one at the Central Oregon Agricultural Research and Extension Center and one at the Hermiston center.

The citizen-science approach is made possible by the fact researchers have discovered a spore trap that costs a fraction to build compared to the trap they are using. Growers can purchase materials to build the rotating arm trap for around $100, Dung said. Materials are easily accessible online, and, he said, the trap is simple to construct.

Conversely, it costs $5,000 to purchase the spore trap researchers are employing, Dung said. Parts are proprietary and custom-made, so can be difficult to obtain, and getting the traps serviced can be difficult.

Dung said that grower involvement in scouting will help producers pinpoint when spore counts are high enough to warrant treatment. “This way, we can scout for pressure before infection occurs,” he said.

Dung added that growers should be keeping a close watch on their crops at this point in the growing season and keeping abreast of spore counts in the university traps.

“When your crops are starting to get into the boot stage, you should start thinking about putting on that first fungicide application to protect flowers,” Dung told growers.

He added that researchers are utilizing a blog format to relay information to growers again this year, allowing them to provide more frequent updates than when they were sending out updates via email.

Ergot is a fungal disease of grasses grown for seed that affects perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass in Eastern Oregon production systems. Ergot spores reduce yield by replacing seed in seed heads. The fungus requires an unfertilized flower to infect, so once pollination occurs, flowers are no longer susceptible.

Researchers started catching spores immediately after they initiated trapping on April 24, he said.

“We are seeing some ups and downs in spore production,” he said, “but generally we are seeing less than 50 spores produced in a day.”

Dung said researchers also are evaluating the potential for resistance to two commonly used ergot fungicides this year.

“We want to establish a baseline that we can have in our back pocket, so we can monitor populations of ergot and make sure that we aren’t encountering fungicide resistance in certain growing regions,” Dung said.

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