Among the diseases noted so far are net blotch of barley, mildew of winter wheat, tan spot of wheat, and stripe rust of grasses also in the wheat. The stripe rust is a particularly bizarre surprise blow, as it has rapidly taken over several winter wheat fields, having previously only been seen in isolated small swaths.
“When you look under the leaf you see this ruddy yellow powder. Never seen anything like it. The tractor turned orange after driving through the field. I had to wash it,” wondered commercial farm Gavsene chief Aigars Zadins from Dundaga.
He only noticed the sickness by chance upon driving by. What shocks him most was the speed with which it took over the summer wheat crop.
“Everything was fine, looking healthy. Within three days perfectly fine plants visually turned the whole field reddish yellow,” the professional agronomer told Latvian Public Radio (LR) Tuesday.
With the help of fungicides and timely consultations with experts, Zadins managed to stop it from spreading, but the damage is apparent in the orange-striped residue underneath the dried-out stalks that comes off on his finger as he touches it.
Agronomer and phytopathologist Ilze Priekule says many farmers have been surprised by the stripe rust.
“It’s an infection, all right,” she confirmed, “especially on winter wheat in the area around Stende. One of the problems is that it’s airborne. It’s hit Scandinavia pretty hard this year. It could have something to do with masses of Scandinavian spores carried over by winds,” she suggested.
Mildly cool and even cold temperatures at the start of summer together with air masses moving from Europe could have brought the particular disease to Kurzeme’s wheat crop. Farmers can protect their fields by catching it in time and applying the proper fungicides, Priekule explained.
Meanwhile the Dundaga farmer has already sunk more than two thousand euro into saving his fields from total destruction. He hopes the damage will turn out to be less than it now appears.
In Latgale, apple- and pear-growers expect significantly smaller harvests from last year. Following a snow-less winter and frosts, plus recent warm and moist weather that has been conducive to pests, aphids have beset the apple-trees of farmer Dmitrijs Pavlovs at Kirsi homestead, one of the largest producers in Rezekne district’s Lendzi Parish.
“Dry and warm – perfect for them this year, they must not have frozen out. It’s the main pest this year, really spreading. The leaf curls up, they’re like little fleas, sucking out the juice, that’s why the tree looks like this and the apples are small and ugly,” he demonstrated to LR on Monday.
Fruit Growers’ Association Latgale regional rep Janis Batars said the harvest this year will depend on the site, with sloped rather than flat orchards being the proper type of land on which to grow fruit trees.
The weather this summer hasn’t coddled them, he admits. “The diseases came, the aphids came. Fruit-growers couldn’t afford to sleep, couldn’t spray in time because of all the rain, but that’s perfect for the aphids and apple-scab. Now we wait to see if the codling moths will arrive. It’s been warm and we’re expecting them. And we still need to get rid of the aphids that are left,” the fruit-growers’ spokesman said.
This follows earlier news in July that growers of vegetable produce in Zemgale, known as Latvia’s southern-central agricultural breadbasket, are likely facing weaker harvests as this season’s cool damp weather dragged on unseasonably beyond the midsummer holiday before finally warming up.