Rust Watch: Track the spread of key wheat diseases this spring

Growing Oakley, Solstice or Viscount? How about Alchemy, Cordiale or JB Diego?

The chances are whatever variety of wheat is on your farm this season it will be susceptible to either yellow or brown rust.

It is why the Farmers Weekly website, supported by BASF, NIAB and Nickerson, is launching a major online initiative, Rust Watch, to monitor the spread of the disease this spring.

Yellow rust, in particular, has been widely tipped to be a major threat to wheat crops. The discovery of a new “Solstice” race in 2008 and its subsequent domination of the yellow rust population last season, combined with the high proportion of susceptible varieties in the ground, has most experts predicting an epidemic this season.

Brown rust, too, could be a problem, with lots of susceptible varieties planted.

While the cold winter should have slowed down both rusts, there are already reports of yellow rust being seen in crops emerging unscathed from the snow. The snow cover may have protected not just the crop from the worst extremes of weather, but also the rust spores.

And, as BASF’s Rosie Bryson points out, it only takes a small number of spores to start the disease moving, and once temperatures rise in reasonably lush crops then the disease will start to take off.

The good news is that there are fungicide options to control rust, but epidemics can develop explosively with little warning, leaving a limited time frame to react, NIAB’s Rosemary Bayles notes.

“It is crucial to get on top of rust epidemics early and with robust chemistry,” Dr Bryson warns. “The mixture of highly susceptible varieties and aggressive brown and yellow rust strains is a potent mixture. With crops having high yield potential this season there is no room for complacency.”

It is why Rust Watch is so important, she stresses. “Growers and advisers for the first time will be able to monitor the spread and progress of rust epidemics as they occur in real time.”

And that should help make sure no one is taken by surprise if and when rust strikes.


How it works

Each week BASF, Nickerson and NIAB staff monitor about 18 sites across the UK, including two each in Scotland and Ireland, and sending the latest rust picture across a range of varieties to

The data will be shown graphically on a Google map (left, top) and in more detail on a blog. There will be maps for both yellow and brown rust, with the pins changing colour from blue to red to show where rust has been found, and the level of infection.

And we want you to get involved, too, by letting us know what’s happening on your farms. Just fill in a simple form (left, below) with your postcode, wheat variety and disease severity, and it will be added to our yellow and brown rust maps at the end of each day.

The more growers who submit data, the better the picture will be of how big a threat each rust is turning out to be this season; where the hot spots are; and what varieties are most at risk.

And to encourage you to participate, every time you submit new data, you will be entered into a prize draw to win a weather station worth £150, which will be drawn at the end of each month.

Will a brown rust epidemic strike this season? Follow to find out