Fusarium head blight, also known as scab or tombstone kernels, is a potentially devastating disease mostly found in grassy species such as wheat, barley, rye, oats, corn, canarygrass, and forage grasses. FDK can occur in other crops but is less likely. It can cause: seedling blight, head blight, foot rot, fusarium damaged kernels (FDK), and possibly produce dangerous toxins. These can create problems with grades, feed for animals, emergence and yield loss. The disease can be carried in seed and also can persist in fields on trash for long periods of time. The best control is prevention by planting uninfected seed and using seed treatments.

There are numerous species of Fusarium. Four species in North America can cause Fusarium Head Blight. These are F. graminearum, F. culmorum, F. avenaceum, and F. crookwellense. The first three routinely cause the disease. F. graminearum and F. culmorum both produce DON (deoxynivalenol or vomitoxin). Fusarium graminearum is generally considered to be the most important pathogen and was therefore recently declared a pest under the Alberta Agricultural Pests Act. Fusarium culmorum is as aggressive as F. graminearum and produces toxin. However it is not as efficient at getting into the head, and is thought to be less important than F. graminearum. F. pseudograminearum is also found on cereal seed and can cause Fusarium Head Blight. It is found less frequently on seed and is more likely to cause foot rot. It is difficult to distinguish from F. graminearum, which may not be important as zero levels of either one are desirable.

There are several ways to test for Fusarium in grain. One can use DON tests (which test for the toxin), or PCR tests (which test for the genes) or seed plating and incubation tests which look for the fungi and spores created by the disease. Right now the plating and incubation tests are the most used for seed crops. They have the advantage of giving a percentage of infection as well as show whether or not the organism is viable. They can also be used for many different crop kinds.

In our Fusarium screen at Seed Check we report the incidence of both Fusarium graminearum and Fusarium culmorum. If we see something else of concern like high levels of Cochliobolus (common root rot) we may also let you know at no extra cost.

Seed Check Staff are experts in Fusarium testing. We follow strict quality procedures to ensure our clients receive accurate seed health test results. Seed Check Technologies Inc. employs accredited disease analysts who are always ready to discuss your results.

Excellent Sources of information on Fusarium Head Blight:

Alberta Agriculture Website:


Canadian grain Commission Website: