Mittwoch, 15. August 2012

Biblical Plagues ravage on many States of the US. Crops that barely survived the drought are now threatened by Corn smut. The prognosis to save some of the corn harvest looks even worse than expected.

Dr. Edith Breburda

Madison/Wisconsin. The severe drought in the USA is the media topic. For some it seems incredible, even unethical, that the government still plans to use part of the corn harvest for the production of bio-fuels at the risk of global hunger. Many farmers are being forced to slaughter their animals because of a lack of feed. The United Nations has urged the USA to stop the ethanol production in face of the drought, to prevent elevated global food costs.

We already know that global consequences of the drought will be severe but agriculture is taking a second lethal punch. The extreme heat stress has weakened the cellular defense of 85 percent of the Midwest corn crop. This weakened state, coupled with sudden rains, has left the crop vulnerable to infection with corn smut (Ustilago maydis).

This pathogenic plant fungus causes gall formation on all above-ground parts of corn plants. Disfigured tissue develops into galls within days after infection. Most obvious are the tumor-like formation growing on corn cob. 

The entire ear is sometimes replaced by the smut gall, which is filled with spore powder.

Large galls are originated from individual infected kernels and might reach up to six inches in diameter. People in Mexico and some hobby gardeners consider immature galls as a delicacy and not as a disease.

Throughout most of the world, however, corn smut is seen as a troublesome disease of corn. In 1911 when smut was first reported in Barthust, New South Wales, Australia, the infected crop was destroyed and corn was not planted on that farm for a decade. 

Just as in the USA in 2012, losses to smut are increased in situations in which the plant is already injured by an unusual long period of drought. With no genetic resistance to the fungus, the disease is responsible for significant crop loss. In the USA, smut is of greater economic consequence in sweet corn, where the annual loss is up to 20 %. According to the National Corn Growers Association, a study at the Danforth Plant Science Center of St. Louis, MO, reported a loss of $1 billion in crop losses to corn smut in 2011.

The damage increases in plants heavily fertilized with nitrogen. One recommendation to control the disease is crop rotation, but genetically modified crops are always planted in large monocultures and modern seed companies offer no other options.  

Corn smut infested silage can affect animal health. A paper written in 1868 by Dr. H. Burt, Amer. Homeop. Obs, observed that pregnant cows fed with infected corn miscarried their calves eight days later. The toxin is thought to be similar to Ergot, which was used for obstetric purposes to produce perfectly regular intermittent uterine contractions that induced labor. Given its history of inducing labor, Ustilago maydis was also used as abortifacient.

Interestingly, the fungus that contains abortifacient drugs is destroying corn plants at the same time that the government-mandated free abortifacient for women, is destroying human morals.    

See also youtube video on that topic

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