A team from CIMMYT and the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) recently conducted the first extensive monitoring of off-season wheat crops, in the Mude and Nigale (Sindhupalchok district) and Ziri region (Dolakha district) of Nepal. The survey was suggested in light of the risk posed by a major inoculum load of yellow rust spreading from the hills of Nepal to the north-western Gangetic plains of India and the Terai of Nepal. By studying the presence of off-season wheat crops and barberry plants (an alternate host of wheat rusts), the team hoped to gain a better understanding of the magnitude of their role in yellow rust epidemics in the main season.
During the trip of 23-24 August, the group (made up of Sarala Sharma, plant pathology division, NARC; Madan Raj Bhutta, NARC; and Arun Joshi, CIMMYT wheat breeder) found that off-season wheat was grown on around 5,000ha, with farmers taking two wheat crops per year. Whereas previously the popular ‘red wheat’, Sonalika, was grown, most farmers now grow an unknown variety of white wheat. Farmer Kaila Shrestha said that most producers prefer a variation with a shorter duration (120 days) for the off season, as opposed to the main, winter season, when they grow varieties with a longer duration (135-140 days). Many of the farmers surveyed expressed interest in trying new varieties and learning the skills of seed production, and NARC and CIMMYT hope to disseminate new varieties to these areas next growing season.
Approximately 80% of wheat in the surveyed area was in the tillering stage, with sporadic presence of selfgrown adult plants. Yellow rust was found in some fields, and in some barberry plants, which numbered thousands in the 200km route between Kathmandu and Ziri. Substantial rainfall during the survey meant that most rust appeared washed out, but samples were successfully collected from more than a dozen sites, and will be analyzed at the Khumaltar station of the NARC. It is hoped that a more comprehensive study can be conducted in October (in collaboration with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research), when the crops will be at a more suitable stage for analysis (in term of plant development and inoculums load).