Published January 1, 2002 | January 2002 issue
A pesky fungus has wreaked havoc on the nation's grain, causing affected crops to be unsuitable for food or feed. Fusarium head blight, or scab, caused $870 million in direct yield losses and price discounts from 1998 through 2000, according to a new North Dakota State University study. While significant, the losses were less than those estimated in a 1993 to 1997 report. Since that earlier report, scab-resistant varieties of wheat have been introduced in North Dakota and Minnesota.
Nonetheless, combined with secondary impacts, losses totaled $2.7 billion, of which 41 percent, or $1 billion, was absorbed in North Dakota. Minnesota was next with $375 million in losses; South Dakota lost $183 million and Michigan more than $150 million. One researcher commented that the three-year combined losses of $879 million would exceed the annual value of all barley and oat production in the United States, which was $797 million in 2000. The annual loss represents nearly 7 percent of the total value of all the U.S. winter wheat production, and 4.7 percent of the value of spring, winter, durum and other wheat.