Fungal diseases are one of the leading causes of crop loss around the world. And not only do these diseases cause loss in yield (amount of crop produced), many fungal diseases produce toxins that cause severe sickness or death to humans and livestock.
Here in Kentucky, mycotoxins in corn and wheat are carefully monitored by grain buyers. If the amount of mycotoxin in the grain is too high, it may be severely discounted or rejected by the buyer.
Plant pathologists work with farmers to provide management strategies that will reduce occurrence of fungal diseases, such as cleaning equipment, crop rotations, and fungicide applications. Weather also plays a large role in the occurrence and severity of some diseases, so there may be little a farmer can do to prevent it. The University of Kentucky, however, has been breeding resistance to Fusarium head blight, also known as head scab, in wheat for many years, to reduce grain loss.
Plant pathologists and plant breeders are an important part of the our strategy to grow enough food for a growing population.