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Friday, September 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Wheat virus reaching epidemic levels in Nebraska Panhandle

Wheat ready to harvest stands ripe in a field near Plattsmouth, Neb, Wednesday, July 9, 2003. (Nati Harnik / Associated Press)
Wheat ready to harvest stands ripe in a field near Plattsmouth, Neb, Wednesday, July 9, 2003. (Nati Harnik / Associated Press)
Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. – A wheat virus outbreak has reached epidemic levels and has been damaging fields and yields in the southern Nebraska Panhandle, authorities said.

The Nebraska Wheat Association earlier this month reported that as many as 85 percent of southern Panhandle fields have been affected by the wheat streak mosaic virus, particularly in Deuel and Garden counties.

The hard-red winter wheat popular in Nebraska is planted in the fall and harvested in the summer. But many southern Panhandle farmers gave up on their fields before the ongoing harvest and filed crop insurance claims.

“It’s a frustrating thing,” Deuel County farmer Larry Flohr told the Lincoln Journal Star. “It’s going to be a severe blow. Not only do we have market price being below cost of production, now we have issues with yield. Fortunately we have crop insurance.”

The virus also has been found elsewhere in Nebraska, spread by wheat curl mites.

“Part of the reason wheat streak mosaic was widespread this year in Nebraska is the prolonged warm or mild fall that we had last year,” said University of Nebraska-Lincoln plant pathologist Stephen Wegulo. “The mild temperatures allowed buildup of high populations of wheat curl mites, which infested and transmitted the virus to fall-planted wheat.”

The mite infestations also rise after hailstorms that knock wheat grains to the ground, allowing new wheat plants to grow. The mites move from the old plants to the new, allowing the mites to continue reproducing and infecting the next crop. Hailstorms were widespread – as usual – in southern and western Nebraska last year, National Weather Service records say.

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