Whatever the weather does as winter wheats approach flowering this season, think hard before omitting an ear spray, especially if you grow milling varieties.

That message, from Syngenta, is being reinforced by the UK’s largest flour miller, Rank Hovis, which needs 1.4m tonnes of good quality wheat a year to produce over 400 different types of flour.

With fewer Group 1 variety sowings last autumn and growing concern about the knock-on effect of drought both here and abroad, farmers with those crops are well placed to take advantage of the market opportunity, the firms’ staff believe.

Add in new legislation on mycotoxins introduced last summer, and the fact that many T2 flag leaf sprays are probably going on earlier than usual, the case for T3 treatments becomes even stronger, they maintain.

Noting that London wheat futures for November have already touched £100/t, Rank’s Gary Sharkey has revised his estimate of world wheat production for 2007/08.

In 2006/07 594m tonnes were produced but 621m tonnes consumed, and end-of-season stocks for this season are expected, “at best”, to be no higher than last year.

“We were expecting a slightly higher crop this year – 623m tonnes, and I’m assuming consumption will stay about the same,” says Mr Sharkey. But given reports from the USA, Australia and the Ukraine, output could be much lower. “It could easily be only 610m tonnes.”

The UK wheat price is already £10/t up on its recent low point six weeks ago, he adds. “There are good opportunities for farmers.”

Making the most of them, however, depends on achieving the quality millers require, stresses Rank’s Jim Shine. “Our mills run 24 hours a day and we have to make sure we never run out.”

Last year only a third of Group 1 potential bread-making samples analysed by the firm had the desired combination of protein content (13%), Hagberg (250) and specific weight (76kg/hl), he notes. And only just over half of all Group 2s met requirements where protein of only 12% is acceptable.

Disease threat

Despite the prolonged dry spell, Syngenta’s Matt Pickard argues that the threat from diseases remains high, so growers should be prepared to do all they can to maximise yield and meet those quality needs to avoid rejections.

“Everyone I speak to says they haven’t seen a season like this before,” he says. “And I believe there are more threats than normal. Yellow rust and brown rust are the diseases of the moment. And if it stays dry and warm we’ll get more brown rust.”

Should rain arrive Septoria nodorum and mycotoxin-producing fusarium will become the main enemies, he explains. “Whichever way it goes growers should be ready. It’s vital to minimise disease on the upper leaves and ears. They produce over 60% of the final grain yield.”

And in years when crops start to look stressed Reading University research shows that keeping those leaves green with fungicide can boost yield and specific weight, he notes.

Many wheats are well ahead of usual in their growth stages, and brown rust will tempt growers to apply T2 treatments early, notes colleague Dave Ranner.


But overall development is linked to day length, so unless crops begin to die of drought, ear treatments are even more easily justified this season, he believes.

“We could be looking at a long time to harvest, so it could be a T3 season provided it doesn’t stay dry forever.

“If you’ve made the decision to grow a Group 1 or 2, you should do all you can to deliver spec. It’s a good opportunity to get an extra £10/t, so you should be saying let’s go for it.”

When it comes to product choice, Mr Ranner says trials show Amistar (azoxystrobin) consistently offers an extra 0.3t/ha and 1.23kg/hl over triazoles applied alone at T3.

He advocates 0.3-0.5 litres/ha plus a triazole chosen according to the target diseases and applied at early rather than late flowering.

“Amistar gives you flexibility in triazole choice. The combination protects quality and gives you broad spectrum peace of mind whatever the weather does.”