How two wheat growers cut their fungicide bills below £70/ha

Two Herefordshire wheat growers spent less than £70/ha on fungicides last year and still yielded over 11t/ha even in the disease-prone wetter west of England.

Both took part in a fungicide challenge run by crop consultants Adas to find the best profit margin – after product and application costs –  and growing the feed winter wheat variety Graham.

Martin Williams and Jack Hopkins were two of seven growers competing against the experts at Adas, and they focused on cutting back on fungicide costs while still producing a good margin.

Both growers concentrated on their T1 and T2 fungicide sprays and cut out T0 and T3 applications in what was a generally low-disease year.

Mr Hopkins had the lowest fungicide spend and came third in terms of margins behind the Adas experts and fellow local grower Mark Wood, while Mr Williams’ margin was nearly £1,600/ha. We spoke to both growers.

See also: How a grower achieved best margin with £105/ha fungicide spend

Martin Williams

Mr Williams’ approach to the trial was to cut back as much as possible and use older, less expensive, products to see how they would stack up against newer chemistry.

“I don’t want to spend the money, so I used old school products out of the shed,” he says.

In a dry spring, he skipped a T0 spray and then used an SDHI-azole-chlorothalonil mix at T1 at  Tump Farm, Fownhope, on the banks of the Rive Wye, some five miles downstream of Hereford.

At T2, he opted for an SDHI with two azoles and then left out a T3, bringing his total fungicide spend to £67.39/ha and a margin over fungicides of £1,591.10/ha compared with the winning Adas margin of £1,649.21/ha.

His programme gave a yield of 11.23t/ha, but he added that it did not give enough disease control as the crop was harvested later than he expected at the end of September.

“The overall lesson I took from it, is to be flexible and willing to change your policy,” he says.

Jack Hopkins

Mr Hopkins’ aim was to test how low he could go with fungicide costs and also look at life without the multisite product chlorothalonil, which is being banned in May.

Again due to the dry spring, he omitted a T0 and went with a budget azole-chlorothalonil mix at T1 at Lower Hope Farms at Ullingswick, just north of Hereford, where he is assistant farm manager.

Jack with his sprayer

© Richard Stanton

As disease levels were fairly low, he used a low-cost approach at T2 using an older SDHI-azole combination plus the multisite mancozeb, and did not apply a T3.

“There was septoria about, but not at the levels we have had historically, or will potentially have this season,” he says.

The programme gave a yield of 11.49t/ha, while he spent the lowest amount in the competition at £59.40/ha, giving him the third-highest margin.

Mr Hopkins says the challenge shows that the days are long gone when growers can just roll out a standard programme across all of their crops.

“It’s about judging the potential of the crop and not just throwing things at it,” he says.

Adas fungicide challenge 2019 (in £/ha unless stated)

Entrant        Yield Fungicide spend Application cost Margin over fungicides
Adas expert     11.88t/ha       95.50       37.89        1,649.21
Mark Wood   11.95t/ha    105.60    37.89       1,648.86
Jack Hopkins  11.49t/ha        59.40       25.26          1,638.09
Martin Williams 11.23t/ha       67.39      25.26           1,591.10

Adas fungicide challenge 2019 (fungicide programmes)

Entrant       T0 – 13/04/19 T1 – 30/04/19 T2 – 31/05/19 T3 – 17/06/19
Adas expert     Untreated 

Bravo (chlorothalonil) + Dithane NT (mancozeb) + Rubric (epoxiconazole)

Ascra (bixafen + fluopyram + prothioconazole) + Bravo (chlorothalonil) + Phoenix (folpet) Prosaro (prothioconazole + tebuconazole) + Unizeb Gold (mancozeb)
Mark Wood   Untreated Aviator (bixafen + prothioconazole) + Bravo (chlorothalonil) Ascra (bixafen + fluopyram + prothioconazole) + Bravo (chlorothalonil) Prosaro (prothioconazole + tebuconazole)
Jack Hopkins  Untreated   Rubric (epoxiconazole) + Bravo (chlorothalonil) Aviator (bixafen + prothioconazole) + Manzate (mancozeb) Untreated
Martin Williams Untreated Aviator (bixafen + prothioconazole) + Bravo (chlorothalonil) Bugle (fluxapyroxad) + Osiris P (epoxiconazole + metconazole) Untreated