Wheat virus reaching epidemic levels in Nebraska Panhandle

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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) -- Officials say a wheat virus outbreak has reached epidemic levels and is decimating fields in the southern Nebraska Panhandle.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports that the wheat streak mosaic virus is spread by mites and can reduce yields. The Nebraska Wheat Association earlier this month reported as many as 85 percent of southern Panhandle fields have been affected, particularly in Deuel and Garden counties.

Many southern Panhandle farmers have given up on their fields before harvest and filed crop insurance claims. Plant experts say the virus has been found elsewhere in the state as well.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln plant pathologist Stephen Wegulo says the mild temperatures last fall allowed a buildup of wheat curl mites, which transmitted the virus to fall-planted winter wheat.