Wheat-crop-destroying virus becoming more widespread

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LANE COUNTY, Kan. A virus is destroying entire crops of Kansas wheat. The Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus, responsible for yellowed and stunted fields, has always been around, but it's only recently become more widespread.

This is the time of year when wheat fields in Kansas should be lush and green. In some fields, however, the wheat is yell, sparse and flat. The culprit is the What Streak Mosaic Virus. Some farmers affected by it say it's all thanks to their neighbors.

"In 40-some years of farming, this is the worst Wheat Streak Mosaic epidemic I've ever seen in my life," Lane County farmer Vance Ehmke says.

In previous years, Ehmke says the spread of the Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus was controlled by proactive farmers cutting down the volunteer wheat the virus uses as a host. But tough economic times have recently changed that.

"Real low incomes and low wheat prices, and some farmers feel like they don't have enough money to do the right thing and kill volunteer wheat, which if you kill volunteer wheat, you eliminate the problem with the Wheat Streak Mosaic."

Roger McEowan, Farm Bureau Professor of Agriculture Law and Taxation at Washburn University says the choices made by some farmers to not destroy their volunteer wheat is causing problems among those who are losing crops to the virus.

"A farmer cannot sustain damage such as this that otherwise shouldn't be there because of what is alleged to be neglect of a neighbor when you're already facing lower commodity markets to begin with," McEowan says.

While there is no law that can force farmers to remove volunteer wheat, McEowan and Ehmke hope that changes.

"The widespread consensus, if we had some laws that would force farmers to do the right thing, we could really bring this thing to a conclusion," Ehmke says.