WASHINGTON, June 26, 2015—In May 2015, APHIS confirmed the detection of the fungal disease Urocystis tritici, also known as flag smut, in Kansas. After surveying commercial and research wheat fields throughout the state, APHIS determined that the disease appears to be limited to small areas in Kansas. The total known affected area is less than 3,000 acres which is a small fraction of the 9.4 million planted acres of wheat in Kansas.
Flag smut presents no human or animal health concern and has no impact on grain quality, but can reduce wheat yield. Flag smut has been found periodically in the United States since the early 1900s and has been effectively controlled through the use of treated seed, crop rotation and modern production practices. In the last 30 years, the disease has been detected only on a few plants on individual farms in the Pacific Northwest.
APHIS is working closely with state and industry officials to communicate directly with affected growers about recommended safeguarding measures for harvesting, storing and distributing wheat from commercial fields where flag smut has been detected. These safeguarding measures include delaying the harvest of infested fields until uninfested fields are harvested; communicating with market outlets to avoid commingling of wheat from infested fields with wheat from uninfested fields; cleaning harvesting and transportation equipment; treating wheat that will be used as seed for planting; and marketing wheat from infested fields for non-export uses, such as domestic milling and animal feed. These measures will help prevent the spread of this disease to other areas and keep infected wheat grain out of export market channels. APHIS is also working with state and industry officials to strengthen and implement best management practices that will reduce the likelihood that this disease will re-appear in the 2016 wheat crop.
The United States is the 4th largest wheat producing country and the world’s largest wheat exporter, exporting approximately twenty-nine million tons of wheat each year worth about $6.6 billion dollars. In 2013, Kansas produced $2.2 billion in wheat on 9.4 million planted acres. In marketing year 2015/2016, USDA’s World Agricultural Outlook Board forecast that the United States will export 25 million tons worth $5.7 billion at current export prices. Currently, sixteen countries regulate wheat grain for flag smut. The total value of U.S. exports of hard red winter wheat to those countries alone is approximately $800 million a year. APHIS is working with trading partners to prevent potential trade restrictions or additional import requirements from countries concerned about the presence of flag smut in this year’s hard red wheat crop from Kansas.