Cereals 2016: Velcourt to develop septoria early warning for wheat

Britain’s biggest farming group, Velcourt, is looking to create an early warning system for septoria using drones or satellites which could help wheat growers cut their fungicide cost.

Fungicide costs range from £45-£135/ha on wheat crops across the 55,000ha which Velcourt farms from Dorset in the south to the Moray Firth in Scotland, so it’s important for costs to match the disease threat.

Septoria is the biggest yield-sapping disease of wheat and the current warm, wet weather is likely to aid its spread, emphasising how important detection and control is of this fungal disease.

See also: Wheat growers warned over septoria disease explosion

Keith Norman, technical director of the group, says remote sensing is being developed to detect septoria since the disease can be present for up to four weeks before symptoms are seen.

“This could be a health check for septoria levels in wheat, so a grower can decide between a largely protective fungicide approach or a more expensive curative one,” he tells Farmers Weekly.

In a high-risk septoria situation at the flag leaf T2 stage, he suggests growers could opt for a SDHI-azole-multisite approach, but in a low-risk season they could cut the cost of a T2 spray in half by using an azole-multisite mixture.

Now in the second year of these remote sensing trials using handheld or drone spectrometers, Mr Norman says they are looking to develop a very effective septoria warning tool.

The spectrometer records the changes in the plant tissue while analysis of the DNA will decide whether septoria is actually present in the wheat crop.

The development comes as azoles fungicides are becoming less effective against septoria and there are signs of septoria resistance to  newer SDHI fungicides.

Mr Norman believes they will need another two seasons to test the new early warning system fully before deciding whether it can be developed successfully for on-farm use.

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