Dryland foot rot, a wheat disease that resembles sulfur deficiency, appeared in at least one part of the Southeast this spring.

The wheat disease was confirmed in Darlington, Chesterfield and Marlboro counties in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, says Trish DeHond, Clemson Extension area agronomy agent stationed in Darlington.

“I have also seen this problem in Dillon County in 2010, when weather conditions were similar to this year – cold, wet weather followed by warm dry conditions,” she says. “The plants showed signs of sulfur deficiency, with bright yellow upper leaves and green lower leaves. The plant produced a head and it turned white but it wouldn’t fill out.”

But soil tests showed that sulfur was not deficient in the soil. “This tells us that something is wrong with the roots. The nutrients are there but the plants can’t take it up.”

It was identified as dryland foot rot, also known as Fusarium stem rot and crown rot.

Every time DeHond has seen this condition, it has been in drier, sandier parts of a field, or on sandy ridges in a field that has been bottom plowed.

“There is no quick fix,” she says. “Don’t make a nitrogen application. It can injure the plants.” The good news is that not a large percentage of fields is affected, and. it won’t spread through the field, she says.

How to control

There are some ways to reduce the damage or prevent it from recurring, said DeHond:

  • Reduce seedling infections by using clean or chemically disinfected seed.
  • Late-autumn seeding may decrease seedling exposure to warm soil temperatures.
  • Reduced seedling infection doesn't guarantee against infection at later stages.
  • Establish nitrogen application rates on soil tests for residual nitrogen and avoid excessive use of nitrogen fertilizer.
  • Clean cultivation discourages development of grass weeds and speeds breakdown of infested crop residues.
  • Crop rotation is advised to limit alternative hosts and to limit the buildup of pathogen populations in the soil.