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Evaluation of Relationships Between Weather Patterns and Prevalence of Sorghum Ergot in the Texas Panhandle

June 2002 , Volume 92 , Number  6
Pages  659 - 666

F. Workneh and C. M. Rush

Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, Bushland 79012

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Accepted for publication 7 March 2002.

Sorghum ergot caused by Claviceps africana was observed for the first time in the United States in Southern Texas in 1997. That year there was a widespread ergot epidemic in hybrid seed production fields in the Texas Panhandle. However, occurrence of the disease has been sparse during the past 3 years, easing fears that the hybrid seed industry in the region might be endangered. To determine whether climatic factors were associated with observed variations in prevalence of ergot, weather data (temperature, precipitation, and relative humidity) were collected from seven weather stations in the Texas Panhandle. Sorghum ergot prevalence data for the period 1997 to 2000 were collected from records of seed companies in the Panhandle and related to weather variables. Results showed that, in the southern section of the Panhandle, maximum temperature and precipitation between 1 and 15 August were associated (r2 = 0.98, P = 0.001 and r2 = 0.81, P = 0.0193, respectively) with variations in the prevalence of ergot during the 4-year period. In the northern section, only maximum temperature during 16 to 31 July was significantly associated (r2 = 0.91, P = 0.0111) with disease prevalence. Over all, 1997 was wetter and cooler, during the 1 to 15 August period, than each of the subsequent 3 years. In addition to creating humid conditions for ergot development, precipitation was associated with suppression of maximum temperature, enhancing ergot-favorable temperature conditions. Examination of historic weather data for the region showed that there were many instances in the past where temperature depression was associated with a rise in cumulative precipitation, creating ergot-favorable conditions similar to those in 1997. Cross-spectral analysis was used to determine whether such association is periodic. Weather data from five of the seven locations in the region showed peaks of significant coherency ( α< 0.05) at 2 to 4 years and 7 to 10 years or greater, indicating the existence of a periodic cycle in the temperature-precipitation association. The results of the investigation suggested that association of precipitation with temperature depression is a primary factor in development of ergot in the Texas Panhandle, and such association has a periodic cycle.

Additional keywords: honeydew, time series.

© 2002 The American Phytopathological Society