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Mysterious wheat crop loss puzzles researchers

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Articles - April 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
“It was a perfect storm issue, but we need to keep a closer eye in the future to see what’s happening,” Maley says, noting that what happened last fall was good practice for the future. “We have to stay on top of this, not just from an economic but social standpoint. The world relies on wheat; it’s a staple of diet. We have to make sure.”

OSU recently received a $4 million grant to study how farming will affect and is affected by climate change. According to OSU’s Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center superintendant Steven Petrie, who is working on the study, increased CO2 levels likely also could increase future wheat yields for Oregon’s $354 million wheat industry. Petrie is confident that this past fall was a fluke. “I’ve been out here for 30 years and I’m constantly impressed [by growers],” he says. “They’re always looking years ahead.”

But the case of the malformed wheat remains unsolved in Gilliam County. When Maley visited the infected field in late September, he looked for the aphids that had swarmed him during his runs, possible carriers of a virus. Despite a thorough search of the disfigured leaves, he found nothing.

“We may not come up with an answer because of all the climatic and management factors,” the veteran ag man says. “Hopefully it will never repeat itself.”



 

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