Survey: tar spot is a concern for farmers, uncertainty surrounds management strategies

A new survey by AgReliant Genetics confirms tar spot is a top concern for farmers ahead of the 2023 season.

Christy Toedebusch, vice president of product management, marketing, and digital agriculture, says more than half of the farmers surveyed cited tar spot when asked about diseases that may impact their corn.  

“Tar spot was the disease mentioned most frequently and first on farmer’s lists so it’s definitely top of mind,” she says. “It’s more top of mind in the high-risk states around the Lake Michigan area but also it’s creeping into those emerging-risk areas with pockets of concern in areas like Kentucky, Missouri, and even a little bit on the eastern side of the Dakotas.”

The survey found half of the respondents detected tar spot on their farmland at least once, with 90 percent of those experiencing some yield loss.

While awareness about tar spot is high, the survey found that many farmers are uncertain how to manage it.

Toedebusch says that’s likely because the disease has only been in the U.S. since 2015.  

“Farmers reinforced the severity of the disease. Ninety percent of the farmers surveyed had some level of tar spot on their farm and some level of damage from that. Those who we surveyed who had experienced tar spot had significant loss in terms of yield and profitability in terms of spending more to protect against the disease and mitigate the risk,” she says. “The gap comes when we get to measuring their certainty and level of comfort and understanding about how to manage it. There are a lot of questions about fungicide timing, how many passes, and then there are difficulties in certain geographies where it’s difficult to get aerial applicators in for fungicide later in the season. Another challenge is the fact that the disease is sneaky. Tar spot has such a latency period that by the time you see it in the field it’s really too late to mitigate the damage that it’s doing.” 

The survey also found that although a dry growing season limited tar spot this year, more than 70 percent of farmers expressed heightened concern because of its rapid spread.

Nearly 400 farmers were surveyed in October for the survey commissioned by AgReliant Genetics was conducted by Kynetec, a third-party research firm.

The farmers surveyed have a significant amount of corn acres, are decision makers on their operation, and are in states where tar spot is prevalent like Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. Fifty-six percent of the farmers in these high-risk states are very or extremely concerned about tar spot, distantly followed by northern corn leaf blight at 28 percent.

Toedebusch says this is the first time AgReliant Genetics is broadly sharing its research.

“We do this research a lot with farmers to understand what’s top of mind and what their concerns are because agriculture is so dynamic and diseases shift and change,” she says. “…we often do this research and try to track and understand what farmer’s pain points are so we can develop solutions to address them. For us at AgReliant Genetics, since we have a significant investment in R&D and we have unique genetics through our corn breeding that we bring to the U.S. market, we leverage this research a lot but we’ve never shared it with the market. The reason we did it this time was because we were hearing anecdotally a lot of confusion about how to manage against the disease, and we have genetics that we have found to be pretty highly tolerant of tar spot and so we were trying to explore the rule in a farmer’s mind today about hybrid selection as a tool in their toolbox to mitigate the risk of the disease.”

The findings were presented at the inaugural Tar Spot Summit in central Indiana.

Click here for more information.

Audio: Christy Toedebusch

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