A LEADING plant breeder has warned there is a Yellow Rust epidemic waiting to happen.

“There is more yellow rust in crops now than I can remember for a very long time,” said Nickerson senior wheat breeder Bill Angus.

“What is particularly worrying is how vulnerable many of the popular varieties are to this disease.”

The disease is cyclical, he explained, with raised levels expected every five to ten years, which would make 2005 ripe for a disease explosion.

In 2001/2, 20% of the wheat crop was down to yellow rust susceptible varieties, but this year the figure has jumped to 50%, noted Mr Angus.

“Yellow rust susceptible varieties will have to be managed very carefully to achieve their full potential, and to avoid spreading the disease to neighbouring fields and beyond.”

Yellow rust epidemics, which can cut yields by up to 50% in untreated, highly susceptible varieties, usually begin in early May.

To insure against the disease, growers could choose a variety for planting in autumn 2004 with a high Yellow Rust rating, suggested Mr Angus, such as the new Group 3 Nijinsky.