No. 14 Article 8/June 29, 2007

Ergot on Wheat Heads

A couple of reports of ergot in wheat heads have come from the southwestern part of Illinois in the last week. Ergot is a disease of cereal crops and grasses caused by the fungus Claviceps purpurea. The most common sign of ergot is the presence of black structures known as sclerotia that replace the grain in the heads.


Sclerotia of the ergot fungus, Claviceps purpurea, in a barley head. Photo from Univ. of Illinois Extension Collection

Ergot can cause up to 10% yield loss, but most damage is a result of its toxicity to animals. Grain that contains sclerotia will be docked, and additional cleaning will likely be used to remove the sclerotia. The sclerotia and grain that contains sclerotia are toxic to animals and should not be fed.

Using high-quality, disease-free seed along with crop rotation will help reduce the risk of ergot's developing in a wheat field. Although the fungus can survive in the soil as sclerotia, rotating to a nonsusceptible crop for one to two years will allow most of the sclerotia to degrade.--Carl A. Bradley

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