CSU researchers awarded emergency funds to study corn disease

A corn leaf infected with bacterial leaf streak

Colorado State University scientists will be studying a corn disease with limited treatment or prevention methods through a grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. FFAR, a nonprofit organization established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, awarded $148,499 to CSU to investigate bacterial leaf streak. The disease is causing yield losses for corn growers in the western corn belt, including western Kansas and Nebraska and eastern Colorado, where it is most severe. The University of Nebraska and the University of Illinois will collaborate on research projects led by the CSU research team.

Disease has quickly spread

Bacterial leaf streak is characterized by narrow, wavy-edged lesion that may be tan, brown or orange-yellow in color and may range from an inch to several inches on infected corn leaves. The disease was first identified in the U.S. in 2016. It has quickly spread to fields in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, and South Dakota.

Colorado State University, University of Nebraska, and the University of Illinois are matching the Foundation’s grant for a $296,000 total investment. Additional support is also being provided by the Colorado Corn Administrative Committee and the Nebraska Corn Board, as the growers in these states have prioritized this disease as one of their top concerns.

“This research is important for the corn industry, but it will also help other industries be prepared as this disease spreads in the U.S.,” said Sally Rockey,  executive director of FFAR. “By responding rapidly to this emerging issue, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research hopes to create solutions that will help farmers and reassure their many customers in the United States and around the world.”

15.2 billion bushels

According to the latest estimates available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers produced an estimated 15.2 billion bushels in 2016, a record crop, at 175.3 bushels per acre. The United States exported more than 46.6 MMT (1.8 billion bushels) of corn in the 2015/2016 marketing year.

Bacterial leaf streak has been observed on field corn, sweet corn, popcorn, and volunteer corn in several states. As the pathogen is new to the U.S., there has been little research on management strategies to limit the spread or severity of bacterial leaf streak, which is caused by the pathogen Xanthomonas vasicola pv vasculorum (Xvv). CSU researchers are taking a four-pronged approach to addressing Xvv by:

1) Investigating the ecology and epidemiology of Xvv,

2) Modeling the genetic and phenotypic diversity of Xvv,

3) Generating effective disease mitigation strategies, and

4) Creating outreach and education materials for growers.

New to the United States

Kirk Broders, assistant professor of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management with an expertise in crop pathogens at CSU, will lead the team of collaborators.

“As Xvv is new to the United States and is only reported from one other country, South Africa, we have a very limited understanding of the life cycle of this pathogen including how the pathogen survives the winters, where initial inoculum comes from at the beginning of each crop season, how the bacteria spreads from plant to plant and long distance, what climatic variables favor disease development and spread, how many other plant species Xvv is capable of infecting or using as alternate hosts, and if this bacteria will be able to persist and thrive in all corn growing regions of the U.S.,” said Broders. “We plan to address these knowledge gaps and be able to relay the information to growers as quickly as possible in order to limit future yield losses.”

Co-principal investigators on this project include:

  • Tamra Jackson, associate professor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Tiffany Jamann, assistant professor at University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign

The grant is issued through the Foundation’s Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research (ROAR) program, an initiative designed to prevent and mitigate damage from emerging pests and pathogens through short-term research funding. Applicants are encouraged to form broad-based coalitions to increase research collaboration and maximize the mitigation potential of each grant.

About the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today’s food and agriculture challenges.  FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.