Agricultural Journal 5: 162-164 (1 Aug., 1899)
Rust in Wheat—A Probable Preventive
W. Deacon, of Allora
There are several wheats which are even now more or less free from rust—I mean the streaky rust—viz., Medeah, an Egyptian wheat, which Mr. Molyneux, of the South Australian Agricultural Department, informed me has never been known to have the rust; Ward's Prolific—which Mr. Farrer says came to this country from Egypt as a stray grain in other wheat—I have known or heard of having the rust, though it is a wheat I do not like. Others are the Belatourka, the varieties of the Defiance, and Mr. Fairer says the Fife wheats, Sicilian Square Head, and Blount's Lambrig, Budd's Early have been free so far; and Allora Spring, originally called Pugh's Rust Proof—though it is not a rust-proof wheat, but rather a rust-escaping one—his many of the characteristics of a rust-free wheat, viz., it stools sparingly, it has narrow, erect leaves, and fills quickly after blooming. If rust is inherent in the seed of certain sorts as a myco-plasma, we need not despair that ultimately the seed may be so treated by some chemical preparation, or otherwise, that the germs of the rust will be destroyed. Meanwhile farmers have apparently no other course before them but to sow wheats which are named rust-resisting or rust-escaping, and to be guided in their choice of such wheats by the experience of practical men, and the advice of professional experts. Now for my probable preventive, which I may say I have been experimenting with and trying for the last 16 years. And although my knowledge and conclusions are incomplete, and I can only say that I believe it to be a preventative, but cannot go so far as to say I know it to be one, I think the time is opportune for laying it before you. I have been led to do so by a paragraph in the April number of the Department's Agricultural Journal. In that paragraph a farmer at the Cape says that he sowed 3 bushels of 2 years' old seed wheat, and the resulting crop was free from rust whilst a crop alongside from 1 year old seed was rusty. He says the crop is 18 inches high and quite green. Unfortunately he does not state the crop's stage of growth, or whether or not it was in ear, and we cannot decide whether he refers to the harmless spring rust or the deadly summer rust. I stumbled on this old seed preventive theory 16 years ago by accident. I put in a plot of 20 acres with wheat—less half-an-acre for the time being under another crop. In a month the half-acre was cleared, and there being no other seed it was sown with chickwheat, at least 2 years old, found in some corner of the barn. At harvest, on the 19 1/2 acres, the crop was nearly destroyed by summer rust, and the yield was small; on the other hand, the half-acre crop was completely free from the pest. It matured very quickly and was cut a few days after the other. For a long time this result was to me perfectly inexplicable, but at length I came to the conclusion that the plot was rust-free because I had used old seed. The succeeding seed-time the only bag of old seed I could obtain was a bag of New Zealand wheat, but it proved to be a very bad season and I had no crop. But 2 years after that, I had sufficient old seed of my own which I had saved for the purpose to sow 20 acres. It proved to be an exceedingly rusty year, the worst in my experience, and the experiment failed, but it just failed. Until it actually collapsed I was certain that it would be a success. The wheat was one which we no longer grow, for we cannot—namely, White Lammas. Had it been one of the many sorts which we now grow, I feel sure it would have been a success, for it had all the characteristics of a rust-free crop. I had mixed lime with this seed in bags to keep the weevil away, whether the lime not only protected the seed, but the rust germ as well, I cannot say, but in keeping seed over for the next season I have never since then mixed lime with it. I then for several years kept some seed over for the next year, but until 2 years ago, the rust has not been of much consequence in our district, or with me, at any rate. Consequently, I have never had a chance to fully test the theory. But old seed has always produced crops having all the characteristics of rust-free wheat—namely, the crop stooled sparingly, the leaves were erect and narrow, and the straw tough and wiry, and the interval between blooming and ripening was in my opinion shortened. In my opinion also, the grain from crops produced my 2-year-old seed on being sown also produced an improved plant, and the improvement is not lost for several generations. Two years ago, when the summer rust was prevalent to a considerable extent, and I had 40 acres out of an area of 150 acres very much damaged by it, I had not sown any old seed, but from that harvest I saved a few bags and have sown this year. I have also put in 7 plots, with different sorts of wheat, all 2-year-old seed. Now beyond the gain or otherwise from experiment, is the theory reasonable? My paper is already too long, and I cannot dwell upon this point, but just let me draw attention to this fact within the knowledge of wheat-growers: After a total failure of the wheat crop, and consequently when no new seed is or can be saved, the farmer often falls back upon some seed which he has saved in anticipation of the failure, or by accident, and sometimes procures old seed. From observation I am sure the quantity of old seed sown is very large. For many seasons then we generally have no rust. Am I unreasonable in submitting that this circumstance affords presumptive evidence in support of my theory? In conclusion, I think this Conference will agree with me that I have said sufficient to induce the Agricultural Department wheat experts and practical farmers to test the theory, especially as the experiments required will be inexpensive.