Promoting Canadian Oats

There are four diseases of oat that typically affect the crop each season. The two major ones, Stem Rust and Crown Rust, sweep into Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan each year to the degree in which the weather is favourable.

Moisture and temperature are the drivers of disease and once established in a field, the pathogen will spread from plant to plant. Breeding for resistance to these diseases is time consuming and costly. Furthermore sources of new plant resistance, that is the means by which the oat plants defend themselves, are more difficult to find and implement now. In any crop, there isn’t an endless source of resistance genes waiting to be used. The crown rust fungus for instance continues to evolve and develop new races that are able to overcome genetic resistance. Therefore, resistant varieties become susceptible to crown rust as new races develop.

CROWN RUST (Puccinia coronata)10 crown rust min

Crown rust, sometime called “Leaf Rust”, generally is the most widespread and destructive disease of oats in western Canada. Crown rust can reduce yields, lower test weights and groat percentage, and increase lodging through a weakening of the stem.

Crown rust is identified by the pustules on the leaf producing yellow-orange spores that infect leaves primarily. As the crop approaches maturity, a black spore stage (Teliospores or “resting spores”) may also be found on the oat leaves, appearing as a black or dark brown ring around the yellow-orange pustules.

These black spores are the overwintering stage, although in western Canada they generally don’t survive the cold. The name “Crown Rust” comes from the microscopic look of those Teliospores which have a crown like structure on their surface.

Each spring in Canada, spores of this fungal disease and Stem Rust as well are blown in from winter, oat-producing regions in the southern United States.

10 crown rust canada map minSeeding early will allow the crop to develop past the most susceptible stage in the areas where the risk of Crown Rust is greater. The Red River Valley is the first area to receive the spores from the south, as shown in the image here, and the Crown Rust infections will gradually spread to the western Prairie depending on the weather.

“Ideal conditions for oat crown rust are mild to warm daytime temperatures, so sunny days at about 20 C to 25 C, and moderate nighttime temperatures around 15 C to 20 C, along with good dews and adequate moisture.” – Albert Tenuta, plant pathologist, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Growing varieties with disease resistance is an effective and economical method of controlling Crown Rust. Refer to the latest oat variety selection guide to select varieties resistant to prevalent races of Crown Rust.


STEM RUST (Puccinia graminis f. sp. avenae)

Stem rust epidemics are infrequent on the Canadian prairies, but they have the potential of being serious in southern Manitoba if oats are planted late and winds occur that blow spores in from the south. Spores of the fungal stem rust minpathogen Stem Rust, like those of Crown Rust, drift northward seasonally from the U.S. in a weather dependent manner.

Stem rust and crown rust are distinguished fairly easily on the basis of spore color. Stem Rust spores are more red in colour, while Crown Rust spores are a yellow-orange. The coloured and dusty pustules erupt on the plants and release hundreds of thousands of spores to the air which may infect neighbouring plants and produce new pustules in 7 to 10 days. These colourful mid-summer spore types are replaced in August with a mass of black overwintering teliospores. As mentioned earlier, winter temperatures in western Canada are too cold generally for the spores to survive.
Control of stem rust, as with crown rust, can be economically accomplished by using resistant varieties. Refer to the latest selection guide to determine the level of resistance in available varieties to the prevalent races of stem rust. Stem rust resistance in oat varieties is generally more stable than crown rust resistance. Stem Rust resistance at first however, is more difficult to breed into the oat crop.

Also refer to the most recent edition of provincial Crop Protection Guide for details of the registered disease control products with which Stem Rust can be controlled.



10 barley yellow dwarf virus minBarley yellow dwarf (BYDV) is a virus that can cause significant yield loss in oats in western Canada. As the name implies, the barley yellow dwarf virus also infects barley as well as wheat. It is transmitted from plant to plant by several species of grain aphids. These aphids usually acquire the virus when feeding on infected plants in the southern half of the U.S. and then are carried to northern oat fields in winds and by storm fronts. The disease potential greatly depends on the northward movement of 10 barley yellow dwarf virus stems minthese aphids from southern fields.

Barley yellow dwarf-infected plants normally are first seen along edges of fields. The leaves turn a yellow red to reddish brown. The entire leaf blade may die prematurely. The plants generally are stunted and heads of infected plants often are severely blasted and seed is low in test weight. Oat varieties have some tolerance but there are no resistant varieties. Early planting can be helpful in reducing damage caused by BYDV.


LOOSESMUT (Ustilago avenae) & COVERED SMUT (Ustilago kolleri)

10 loosesmut minSmuts of oats have not been serious problems in western Canada. As with loose smut of barley, this disease can be controlled with seed treatment.

Most oat varieties are resistant to smut and provide good control of this fungal disease.

Consult crop protection guide for details of the registered seed treatments if desired.



FUNGAL LEAF SPOTS10 fungal leaf spots min

Leaf spots on oats can be caused by a fungal pathogen known as Septoria avenae blotch. The disease is prevalent in eastern Canada but is of minor importance in western Canada. A crop rotation which puts two years or so between oat crops will help in the reduction of disease organisms for carryover. A number of fungicides are registered for the control of leaf spots. Refer to the most recent edition of provincial Crop Protection Guide for details of the registered products.



10 blast minBlast of oats occurs when the florets do not develop completely and sterility results. Florets are the developing flower structure on an oat panicle which typically forms two seeds. When Blast is observed, the florets are seen as white, skinny and empty.

Frequently, blast is due to high temperatures and moisture stress occurring at the time of panicle differentiation. As Blast is a stress related condition in oats, diseases may contribute to the problem.

Early planting reduces the likelihood of blast while late seeding and high seeding rates may favour the occurrence of blast.



Fusarium Head Blight is a fungal disease that is known to affect oats as well as other cereals (Bailey et al., 2003). The causal agent can be one or a complex of several Fusarium species, with Fusarium graminearum being the most common. Yield losses may be in the form of poor seed fill, floret sterility or impaired seed germination (Bailey et al. 2003). Fusarium head blight (FHB) is difficult to detect in standing oat crops. The major problem is the presence of mycotoxins on harvested seeds (Tekauz et al., 2004).

Deoxynivalenol or DON is the most common mycotoxin and is a risk to human and animal health, and can result in a lower grading. FHB is of highest concern in Manitoba and Saskatchewan with limited economic importance in Alberta (Tekauz et al. 2008). This disease is most common in the black soil zone, associated with high rainfall. The spread of disease is assisted by rainfall during crop flowering but can also occur via wind and planting of infected seed (Canadian Grain Commission, 2010).



The decision to grow a disease resistant variety is a tool for a successful growing season on the farm. Fungicides are also an important tool for the protection of a significant investment during the crop production season. May growers choose to apply a fungicide even on a variety that shows good disease resistance. The two can work together for success, and starting with a disease resistant variety is like a back up plan. Should the weather be such that getting to the field to spray a fungicide is not possible, the oat crop with disease resistance, through the breeding that went into it, will provide a good safeguard to your investment.

A number of fungicides are registered for use on oats. Many growers consider applying fungicide when the yield potential and value of the crop is high, when leaf diseases in the area develop early in the season and also if the long-range weather forecast is for continued moist weather. Refer to the most recent edition of provincial Crop Protection Guide for details of the registered products.

2017 Alberta guide to crop protection:$Department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex32/$FILE/606-1.pdf
2017 Saskatchewan guide to crop protection:
2017 Manitoba guide to crop protection

[Please see the research summary below for an additional look into the value of using fungicides.] 

RESEARCH PAPER (2014): Canadian Journal of Plant Science (2014) 94: 911-922

“Are fungicide applications to control crown rust of oat beneficial?”

W.E. May1, N. Ames2, R.B. Irvine3, H.R. Kutcher4, G.P. Lafond1†, and S.J. Shirtliffe5 .

  1. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Indian Head Research Farm
  2. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals
  3. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Brandon Research Centre
  4. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Melfort
  5. Department of Plant Sciences, University of Saskatchewan

Crown rust causes significant damage to the Canadian oat crop and the organism continues to evolve. Plant breeding efforts continue in their efforts to try to defend the crop against the disease. “Currently, prophylactic fungicide applications are recommended to oat growers by industry agronomists, even in the absence of symptoms. Our objectives were to determine the influence of seeding date, cultivar and fungicide application on oat yield and quality in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.”

In this study, conducted during 2009 to 2011, 6 locations were used: two in Manitoba and four in Saskatchewan. The locations were: Portage la Prairie, Brandon, Indian Head, Canora, Melfort, and Saskatoon.

AC Morgan, CDC Orrin, CDC Boyer, and Leggett were the varieties of examination. With respect to crown rust resistance they are categorized as very susceptible, susceptible, partially resistant and resistant respectively.

One fungicide was used in the study, the pyraclostrobin compound Headline®.

“These results indicate that prophylactic fungicide applications are unlikely to provide yield improvement when early planting is combined with even a moderately disease-resistant cultivar.”

“The only cultivar that consistently benefited from fungicide application was AC Morgan. Seeding in mid-May with even a moderately crown rust susceptible cultivar eliminated any benefit from fungicide application. In conclusion, it is recommended that growers seed early with a crown-rust resistant cultivar to avoid the need to apply a fungicide on their oat crops.”

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