Diseases of Barley - Non-Infectious

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 Copper Deficiency
What to look for?
Heavy lodging, weak stems, small grain heads along with the presence of ergots as well as the depicted symptoms.

Photo: Evans
Picture description
Copper deficiency causes pollen sterility and failure of grain formation. Such male sterile flowers open allowing cross pollenation or ergot infection.

Photo: Evans
Picture description
Failure of the head to emerge a condition resembling phenoxy herbicide injury is a copper deficiency symptom.

Photo: Evans

Picture description
In some barleys heading out may be delayed by as much as 10 days as a consequence of copper deficiency.

Other symptoms are pigtailing of the leaf tips, stunting and excessive tillering as seen on the plants to the left along with the presence of ergots.

Photo: Evans

Picture description
On basic peat (fenland) the natural copper is so tightly sequestered by the peat there is total crop failure as in the foreground. Some 100,000 such acres exist in Alberta and all must be heavily and regularly fertilized with copper. Such land previously considered marginal for barley is now with copper amendments capable of 100 bushel crops.

Copper deficiency can cause lignin failure in the stems resulting in excessive lodging and "tough" stands of barley. Copper-based enzymes are involved in lignin formation which give stem strength to cereal straw.
Management strategy
Soils with less than 0.6 ppm of copper (DTPA extraction) or less than 2 ppm using newer malic acid extraction technology are considered to be deficient for both barley and wheat. High yield inputs (N+P), heavy livestock manuring, wet growing seasons, certain group I herbicides and sandy or peaty soils can individually or in combination cause catastrophic yield and quality loss. Copper may be applied to such soils either mixed with other fertilizer, broadcast or banded and/or supplementally applied as a foliar spray at early to late tillering. Late tillering to early boot stage is the most effective. Foliar applications of copper at or after anthesis may cause yield reductions.

A more complete description of copper deficiency in barley.

Photographs and information assembled and prepared for AAFRD by Dr. Ieaun R. Evans Agri-Trend Agrology Ltd.

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This document is maintained by Amrit Matharu.
This information published to the web on December 1, 2003.
Last Reviewed/Revised on December 8, 2010.