St. Paul, Minn. (June 8, 1998)—Sorghum, an extremely important cereal crop worldwide, has developed a serious enemy, ergot. This fungal disease has plant pathologists working intensely to accumulate information and develop strategies to combat the disease which can cause severe crop loss and economic hardship.
"Ergot is a serious disease primarily affecting the production of hybrid sorghum seed," says Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, plant pathologist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Patancheru, India, and a member of The American Phytopathological Society (APS). "In India, losses of 10 to 80% have been reported in hybrid seed production fields. In Zimbabwe, annual losses of 12 to 25% regularly result and, on occasion, total losses are realized. This is significant when you consider that sorghum is ranked fifth among the most important cereal crops of the world, providing an important component to diets in the form of unleavened breads, boiled porridge or gruel and malted beverages. It’s also a significant component in feed grain."
The United States first reported the disease in Texas in March of 1997. By October, it had spread throughout Texas and was recorded in Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, and Nebraska. The epidemic in the Americas began in Brazil in 1995, the first outside Asia and Africa. The disease quickly spread North to cover almost all countries where sorghum is grown in South America, Central America, the Caribbean and North America. "One of the amazing characteristics of this disease is its propensity for rapid, uncontrollable spread," says Bandyopadhyay. "In Brazil, less than one month after the initial ergot sighting in 1995, the disease had spread over an area of more than an 800,000-km square."
A research and education response to the threat of ergot is currently underway, involving scientists and agencies worldwide. "This cooperative effort reduces the risk of ergot introduction and provides controls that can rapidly be implemented as ergot is introduced," says Gary Odvody, plant pathologist at Texas A & M University and member of APS. "It’s a time consuming process—that is why global cooperation with fungicidal control, host-plant resistance, and ecology of ergot is extremely important."
An ongoing interchange and the latest ergot research findings will be featured at the National Sorghum Ergot Conference, June 24-26, 1998, at the Omni Hotel, in Corpus Christi, TX.
The American Phytopathological Society is a professional scientific organization dedicated to the study and control of plant disease with more than 5,000 members worldwide.