Blast is on the increase this season in California

• By Luis Espino •

leaf blast

A leaf blast lesion — photo by Dr. Luis Espino, UCCE

Although blast isn’t at epidemic levels in California rice fields this season, the fungal disease nonetheless is at higher levels than during the past several years.

The last time we saw a severe blast epidemic was 2011. Since then, we haven’t had much blast; in fact, I had not seen any blast at all during several years.

Blast is caused by a fungal pathogen, Pyricularia oryzae. This fungus can affect any plant part, and usually we refer to blast according to the tissue affected. Leaf blast, node blast, collar blast, and neck blast (when it affects the node right below the panicle) are all caused by the same pathogen.

Blast can survive in crop residue, move with seed and move between fields by producing airborne spores called conidia. In California, we typically see leaf blast starting at mid-tillering.

Blast infection at this time causes leaf lesions that in severe cases can burn plants to the water level. However, most of the time these severe symptoms are limited to small areas of the field. During heading, neck blast can cause empty heads when infections occur soon after the panicle emerges from the boot.

leaf blast in a fieldblast in a California field

Left, leaf blast that has burned plants to water level in circular pattern. Right, larger area of field affected with leaf blast.

Several factors favor blast development. Moderate warm daytime temperatures, cooler nights, and long periods of leaf moisture are good for blast development.

High nitrogen rates tend to aggravate blast, and typically one can see blasted circles where plants have been killed to the water level in areas of aqua overlap. Draining fields during the season increases the risk of blast infection.

collar node blast lesion

Collar node blast lesion

Of the rice varieties grown in California, M-205 and M-104 were considered more susceptible than M-206. The variety M-205 has been replaced by M-209, which was released in 2015. Since there hasn’t been much blast pressure in the past few years, it was not known how M-209 was going to react to the disease.

This year seems to indicate that M-209 might be more susceptible to blast than M-206. I still have not heard much about M-105, the M-104 replacement released in 2011. The variety M-210, released in 2018, is resistant to the blast races present in California.

If leaf blast is very severe, a fungicide application may be appropriate. However, this level of disease is uncommon under our conditions. Leaf blast does indicate the need to protect the panicles during heading with a fungicide application at about 50% heading.

Dr. Luis Espino is a University of California rice farming systems adviser. He may be reached at