What is Ergot?
Ergot is a type of fungus that grows on many grasses, rye, wheat, barley, and triticale.It infects the floret of the grass or cereal and mimics the process of pollinated grain growing on the plant. On ergot infected plants, a spore destroys the ovary, and then connects to the plant by attaching itself to the plant’s seed nutrition system. An infected floret can also infect other florets by insect dispersal of the asexual spores. That means that an insect can carry millions of the spores to other plants in the region. When mature ergot drops to the ground the fungus remains dormant until proper conditions trigger its fruiting phase, germinate and re-infest an area.
Ergot is toxic. Infestations in the grain can cause spontaneous abortions in people and animals, as well as some very unpleasant symptoms. It can cause irrational behavior, seizures, convulsions, unconsciousness, even death. This explains why there is almost zero tolerance for ergot in grain for sale. Much of the grain should not even be fed to animals. Point zero one [.01%] percent is all that is allowed for a #1 specification.
Ergot has infected a wide area in Saskatchewan and Alberta over the last few years. Some places have had the infestation 3 or more years in a row with various areas having ergot at 0.7% and higher. It is getting worse. My personal belief is that it is here to stay. Some years will be better than others but it will always be a market factor. Plant scientists don’t even have a straight answer to this problem. There is a wide difference of opinion. Maybe a prolonged dry spell will reduce the amount but as soon as it rains at the right time again we are back to ergot woes.
This is only one man’s opinion…
Next installment, how do we proceed? Colour Sorters vs. Gravity Tables.