Some words are just too cool to be made up - I think Karnal bunt certainly qualifies.
So what in the world is Karnal bunt? And why do I care?
Obviously, most of my readers are not growing their own wheat. You could if you wanted to and I urge you to try a small patch. If nothing else, you can tell people that you have a wheat field - even if it is only a four foot square! The other reason for learning about Karnal bunt is to have greater appreciation for those farmers who feed the world, and a better understanding of what they are up against. And how many of your friends have ever heard of Karnal bunt? Just for the record, this fungi’s name is not a reflection of its character - it was first identified in Karnal, India.
The fungus that causes Karnal bunt is believed to have entered the U.S. from Mexico on infected grain in 1996. Karnal bunt is now found in 18 U.S. states, mostly in the midwest, down from 23 states, two years ago. This drop in infection rates is due largely to state and federal quarantines.
So what is karnal bunt?
Karnal bunt is a smut fungus that attacks wheat, durum what, rye, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye that is normally fed to animals). The Karnal bunt fungus (Tilletia indica) enters individual seeds (not the entire seed head) and feeds on the endosperm. The frass they leave behind smells like rotten fish and it makes the kernels inedible. That being said, U.S. regulations allow wheat for human consumption to contain up to 3% bunted kernels.
This fungus can spread through physical contact of infected seeds, farming equipment, tools, and clothing. It can also spread on the wind. Fungicides sprayed on young leaves have been shown helpful in preventing the spread of the disease. It is not a big threat anywhere, I just think the name was too fun not to share.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!