Stripe Rust in Wisconsin in 2024?

Damon Smith, Extension Field Crops Pathologist, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Shawn Conley, Extension Soybean and Small Grains Agronomist, Department of Plant and Agroecosystem Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The last several winter  wheat seasons in Wisconsin have been very quiet when it comes to disease. Hot and dry weather has meant that while the inoculum for some pathogens might be in Wisconsin, we haven’t seen any epidemics of disease that needed active in-season management. That could change in 2024 as we watch the stripe rust situation in the south and mid-south.

The current stripe rust Ag Pest Monitor shows numerous counties in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Kansas positive for the disease (Fig. 1). Most recently, Cumberland County Illinois was also found to be positive. This latest positive is the earliest we have seen stripe rust move up this far in the “rust pathway” in a few years. Given that the winter wheat crop in Wisconsin is not yet to flag leaf growth stages, we need to watch the progression of this disease carefully. We are about to come into a critical time of the season, that if we have active stripe rust, we will need to supply in-season management.

Stripe rust of wheat is caused by the fungus Puccinia striiformis. Stripe rust can be identified by orange/yellow pustules that typically occur in a striped pattern on the surface of the wheat leaf. However, under low severity, single, or very few sparsely spaced pustules may be observed. Subsequent infections can arise from a single pustule. Disease is favored by prolonged periods of rain (or dew), high relative humidity, and cool temperatures ranging from 50 to 60 ºF.

Management of stripe rust includes using resistant cultivars and applying fungicides. Although it is too late to make decisions on a cultivar, scouting should be prioritized to fields where you know there was a susceptible cultivar planted. Considering the early start to the stripe rust epidemic to our south, careful and frequent scouting will be critical this season. If stripe rust pustules are observed, consider sending samples to the University of Wisconsin Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic for positive identification. If stripe rust is confirmed and it appears to be active, a fungicide application might be necessary.

In recent years in Wisconsin, we have not needed to apply a fungicide before the Fusarium head blight timing of Feekes 10.5.1. However, in years when stripe rust starts early, research has demonstrated that an application at the flag leaf emergence timing (Feekes 8) helps to protect grain yield. For more information on growth-staging wheat, check out the “Visual Guide to Winter Wheat Development and Growth Staging.”

In our work titled “Wheat grain and straw yield, grain quality, and disease benefits associated with increased management intensity” we found that years with intensive stripe rust epidemics (2016 and 2017) a fungicide application at Feekes 8, in addition to a second application of fungicide at Feekes 10.5.1, helped to protect yield at the end of the season. In years where there was no stripe rust, a Feekes 8 application of fungicide was not needed, but an application at Feekes 10.5.1 almost always provided a positive return on investment.

If you find stripe rust and are considering an application of fungicide at Feekes 8, you have lots of options of products. Be sure to consult the “Fungicide Efficacy for Control of Wheat Diseases” table (Fig. 2) to find products that provide excellent control of stripe rust. Be sure to check your local recommendations and also the label to verify the use of all products in your area. You can also check out our fungicide test reports HERE. Be sure to go back to the 2016 and 2017 era reports to find data on stripe rust, as those were the last years of epidemics suitable to obtain efficacy data on stripe rust.