Crop Watch: Choose wheats with good disease resistance for next season

After a tough season for controlling disease in winter wheat, growers are being urged to look carefully at variety choice for next season and chose those with good disease resistance to put less strain on fungicides.

Winter barleys are now getting close to harvest especially on lighter soils, while oilseed rape crops will soon be ready for desiccation.

See also: Wheat variety choices to help reduce risk this autumn

Most maize crops have had some rain over the past few weeks, which is seeing them catch up from a slow start to the season, and with a bit of luck most should be knee high by 4 July.


Marcus Mann, Frontier (Essex)

As we near harvest and reflect on the season, it has been yet another year of weather extremes. December and January recorded some of the coldest temperatures, February was the driest on record, followed by one of the wettest springs we have seen in years.

As we moved into May, rainfall was again below average for much of the month, ending in thunderstorms for many. As we entered June temperatures were on the rise, with plenty of sunshine.

The high early spring rainfall increased disease pressure, with levels of septoria being the highest seen in the East for some time.

Susceptible varieties, particularly some of those with Cougar parentage, such as Saki, have been the most affected, particularly if drilled early.

Taking the learnings from the year when starting to make plans on next year’s cropping, varieties that have withstood the high septoria, yellow rust and more recently ascochyta pressure, appear to be Champion and Mayflower, with Dawsum also remaining relatively clean on leaf three, following a well-timed, appropriate fungicide programme.

That’s not to say that other varieties should be discounted, but it’s useful to be aware of those that have less pressure in a challenging season, particularly when fungicide intervals are stretched.

Barley yellow dwarf virus symptoms are easily found in many crops, with even some treated crops showing high levels of infection.

Certain varieties appear to have expressed more infection than others, but particularly if drilling early, it’s useful to be aware of tolerant wheat varieties moving forward in Grouse and the winter barley Buzzard.

With the hot weather, aphid numbers are on the rise, with extraordinary black bean aphid pressure seen in both winter and spring beans with most requiring treatment.

Sugar beet, as well, has seen high levels of black bean aphid and also increasing levels of Myzus persicae – the latter remains the highest risk.

However, black bean aphid can spread the virus brought into beet by the Myzus, so will need to be carefully monitored.

The latest planted potatoes are only emerging now when the Myzus persicae migration is at its height.

This puts these late crops at the highest risk from both feeding damage and infection with viruses. Monitor and protect if necessary.

With a season that has seen high volatility in fertiliser prices, and with certain fields receiving no phosphate or potash, it will be important to update soil analysis to work out requirements.

Alongside yield results it’s also very valuable to analyse the grain at harvest from individual fields.

This will indicate if the right rate of nitrogen was applied, but also give you accurate phosphate and potash removals and help identify any potential nutrient deficiencies to improve next year’s nutrition programmes.

The most recent Defra update on the Sustainable Farming Incentive sees a move away from “standards” instead to “groups of actions”, with a total of 23 actions available.

The flexibility of the new design means it is possible to “pick and mix” actions without having to follow a rigid structure such as in previous schemes.

Such actions could help soils mitigate recent weather extremes by building further organic matter to build and improve drought resilience.


Gavin Burrough, Pearce Seeds (Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire)

winter barley

Winter wheat growers are being urged to chose varieties with good disease resistance next season © Tim Scrivener

Despite having a much-needed 15-27 mm of rain two weeks ago, a lot of crops are looking drought stressed again. Late-drilled spring cereals seem to be struggling the most and some have not tillered well.

Fingers crossed, we get some more sensible rain over the next few weeks to help these crops to mature and not die off, adding insult to injury.

Crops on manganese-deficient ground would have had a second application of the nutrient once the flag leaf had fully emerged to help keep them healthy.

Winter barley harvest will be imminent and winter oats are also turning rapidly. Some wheat crops on the lightest soils are looking very drought stressed and are losing green leaf area much quicker than the same variety on more favourable ground. 

Maize crops that have got their roots into some moisture are growing well despite a lot being drilled three to four weeks later than usual. Hopefully, the majority will be knee high by 4 July.

Some have struggled in dry, cloddy seed-beds, which up until two weeks ago had not seen any rain since being drilled so weed and maize emergence have been slow. 

Maize pre-emergence herbicides where applied, especially Wing P (dimethenamid-P + pendimethalin), have done a good job at keeping the weed burden low in the growing maize crop.

Some fields that received this pre-emergence herbicide will not require a follow up post-emergence application as the weed burden has remained very low.

Some weeds such as thorn apple do push though and still pose a problem, so these fields will be treated with a post-emergence herbicide accordingly.

Peas are now flowering well and producing pods. Manganese will have been applied for marsh spot and will be followed up again with a second application 10-14 days later.

Pea aphids are also being monitored, and a fungicide will be considered near the end of flowering if the weather looks to be turning unsettled. 


Oliver Bennetts, Zantra (Kent)

Time waits for no one, and crops feel like they are fast approaching harvest, with T3s finished and most of the spring cereal spraying completed as well.

Now my mind is focusing on next year’s crop variety and rotation and mapping fields for grassweeds.

Planning will be key given the current volatility of commodity prices going up and down, and will hopefully keep my new crop of grey hairs to a minimum.

 At this stage of the season, with variety planning in mind, I would urge you to go to local open days to see their strengths and weaknesses in your area, rather than rely totally on national trials results.

Back to this season, winter barley is turning a yellowy-green colour and grains are filling.

Wheats are coming to the end of flowering and have had a robust T3 fungicide to help keep ears clean from mycotoxin-causing diseases, add to yield, aid specific weights and improve storage.

This year has not been a severe year for rust in the South East, although brown rust is now taking off in some varieties.

However, due to the heavy rain in November and December and again in March and April, septoria has been the key disease with even the more “resistant” varieties showing significant infection.

By using robust chemistry and timely applications, we have been able to keep the lid on it.

In oilseed rape, pods are just changing to a light greeny purple colour, which suggests that desiccation is no more than a couple of weeks away.

Spring wheat, barley and and oat crops are all over the place, with growth stages from flowering to leaf two visible.

Final fungicides will be completed over the next two weeks. Harvest will be a challenge jumping from field to field, as crop ripening will be very variable.

With the drier weather, potato crops are all now in and are moving quickly, with tubers swelling in some of the fields.

For the most part, potatoes are meeting in the rows and with a few starting to meet between the beds, blight control is at the forefront of my mind.

In addition, many crops are now being irrigated and with warm, sometimes stormy weather, humidity is high. Blight forecasting systems are warning of high risk.

Peas have also rocketed through their growth stages in the past two or three weeks and are now flowering, some with pods visible.

With aphids being found in all fields, an application of pirimicarb has been going on to control these and reduce the risk of virus.


Patrick Stephenson, AICC (Yorkshire)

At long last the 2022-23 cropping season is ending and if last year was a pleasure then this year can be described as an utter pain.

Last year’s quick harvest meant “idle hands do the devil’s work” and drilling was all but complete by October in the North. Slowly but surely the wheels started to come off the wagon.

The countryside is like a dog’s dinner now, with brome (multiple species), ryegrass and blackgrass happily waving for all to see.

As is often the way, soils where good rotations and a wide range of crops can be grown look the cleanest.

In the north of England rotation must be the key to managing the mix of pernicious weeds. This coming season cropping decisions will have some painful options.

All the wheats that were scheduled for a T3 have been completed, but sadly some on the lighter land have passed the point of no return and will be left to their own devices.

Considering the large fungicide input this season, the level of disease control has been disappointing.

I appreciate that some of this is aschochyta, but I fear most is septoria and I must accept that our new range of fungicides have their limitations.

Despite the level of disease and grassweeds, many crops still have good potential. The recent deluges have tested the standing ability of some crops, but overall yields look promising.

Having demonstrated AHDB Recommended List trials at several locations this year I will be keenly awaiting the outcomes.

Cheshire and Berwick had relatively low levels of disease, whereas Croft would make a pathologist weep with delight. A big year for Champion and Dawsum as we wait and see if they deliver on the big stage.

Winter barley crops are close to the first combines moving and we eagerly await the outcome as that will set the goalposts for the coming season.

The amount of brome present will certainly mean that establishment techniques will be looked at again. Inevitably for some this will mean reverting to the environmental terror weapon, namely a plough.

Spring barley crops span the whole mix of human emotions, ranging from happy to OK to “oh dear”. At least the late-drilled crops have been inexpensive to grow, and the recent rains will mean what they do produce should at least be good.

Winter oilseed rape crops are on the countdown to desiccation and where applicable, pod sealant has already been applied. I hope that the remaining crops yield well to justify the angst that the season has brought.

Winter beans are now receiving their second fungicide and despite the biblical amount of chocolate spot early in the season, the recent weather has at last helped us and stopped the disease in its tracks.

No doubt rust will be waiting in the wings to continue the pain of the year.

Black bean aphid can be found, and some crops will justify spraying, but the recent thunderstorms could also be very helpful in controlling numbers. Spring beans have somehow managed to keep going and will relish the recent rains and justify a fungicide.

Maize crops are loving this weather and for the first time look a resplendent deep green at this time of the year. Fodder beet has struggled to germinate and weed control is a challenge, with inter-row hoeing looking a go-to position.

Not sure I know what to make of Glastonbury, but I have every sympathy with the Elton John song I’m still standing after this last season.

Let’s get the combines rolling and bring on 2023-24.

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