Source: The West Australian [edited]
A damaging fungal disease has been reported near Geraldton leading the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development [of Western Australia, DPIRD] to issue a stark warning to wheat growers in the region. DPIRD's Ciara Beard said [they] had received several reports of flag smut across the grain belt to Esperance.
She said growers in the region should monitor crops for signs of the disease and adopt preventative measures to reduce the risk for next year's  crops. "We have already received a report from one grower who has seen black spores on their header as they are harvesting."
DPIRD recommends growers with infected paddocks report the infection and regularly wash machinery to avoid spreading the disease.
[Flag smut of wheat is caused by the fungus _Urocystis agropyri_. The disease is known to infect wheat and many grass species, but the strain(s) that affect wheat are specific to wheat. It occurs in some European countries, Australia, Canada, and the USA. Yield losses of up to 10-15 percent have been reported. Even where yield losses are limited, it can have a serious impact on export trade. Many nations have quarantine restrictions prohibiting the importation of wheat products from countries with the disease.
Affected plants are severely stunted. Excessive tillering is common and often the ears fail to emerge, remaining within the boot. Plants show long dark grey to black streaks on the leaf blades and leaf sheaths. The streaks eventually erupt so leaves become ragged, the black spores are exposed giving the plant an appearance of being covered in soot. Spores are wind dispersed and can drop onto the soil where they are very persistent, surviving up to 4 years. Disease management may include cultural practices, but systemic chemical seed treatment is the most effective means of controlling the disease.
Because flag smut has mostly been considered of low importance for decades, specific resistance breeding programmes do not seem to exist. Re-emergence of the disease reported from South Australia in 2008 (ProMED-mail post 20080919.2953) was attributed to farmers cutting back on seed treatments.
Australia (with states):
Locations of towns mentioned above via:
Wheat flag smut symptoms:
Additional news story:
Information on wheat flag smut:
https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/mycrop/diagnosing-flag-smut-wheat (with pictures),
Flag smut life cycle:
_U. agropyri_ taxonomy and synonyms: