Why Farmers Should Be Assessing Sclerotinia Risk on a Field-by-Field Basis

Anthony Stibbard

Jul 20, 2022

It is important to keep on top of your Sclerotnia management program, as under conducive conditions it can cause significant yield losses with reports of >20% when management is poor.

Assessment of sclerotinia risk is important by identifying the risk of sclerontia developing on a field-by-field basis. Sclerotinia can survive for up to six years in the soil. A good rule of thumb is that if a field or adjacent field has had an infection of sclerotinia in the last 3 years, you can assume the field is at high risk of developing the disease. Fields with a tight rotation are also at risk, meaning if a susceptible crop has been grown in the field in the last 2 years, you can assume the field is at high risk. Susceptible crops include canola, lupins, chickpeas, lentils, faba beans and field peas. Certain weeds such as brassicas (including wild radish) and capeweed can also be infected with the disease. The best tools for management of soil borne diseases are rotating and keeping crops as clean as possible. 

As we are already well into the season, monitoring at-risk fields will be key to managing a potential outbreak of the disease. During cool and damp conditions during autumn or winter, the sclerotina spores in the soil germinate to produce small mushroom shaped structures (called apothecia). This happens in temperatures between 50-72 degrees F. The apothecia produce thousands of air borne spores, which can be carried significant distances on the wind. If apothecia have been identified in the field or anywhere on the property, your canola is at risk of developing the disease.

It is important to monitor conditions during flowering and implement a management strategy because these spores can infect the petals of the canola plant.  Like most fungal diseases sclerotnia loves moist conditions, therefore moist conditions during flowering puts the crop at significant risk of developing sclerotinia. During this period of moisture during flowering, the infected petals fall into the canopy and stick to the leaf axils (the joint of the leaf and stem). The fungus then invades the healthy stem and causes the stem to bleach, rot and the plant subsequently lodges.

Timing of fungicides is important in preserving your yield and preventing a severe outbreak of the disease. Optimal timing is available on fungicide labels. However, it is always more beneficial to apply fungicides before or in the early stages of a disease outbreak.

Does the field present a risk of developing sclerotinia – either by rotation, presence of inoculum in or in nearby fields (or on neighbor's farm)?

Crop growth stage

Favorable weather conditions – rainfall and humidity during and after flowering is critical for disease infection of both the petals, and the secondary infection of the stem.

Yield and gross margin potential – in years like this it is a bit easier to determine the need to spray, but a yield assessment, and gross margin assessment should be done before making the decision to apply fungicide.

It is a difficult decision to apply a fungicide for sclerotinia. Every season is different and sometimes the conditions after spraying are not conducive of infection and the disease does not eventuate.


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Anthony Stibbard

Jul 20, 2022