Ergot brings quality fears
By Andrew Blake
ERGOT is the latest quality worry to surface in this years wheats, but the extent of the problem remains unclear with one leading trader urging that the issue be kept in perspective.
But several sources say more cereal samples than usual are contaminated by the hard, blue-black fungal bodies of the disease which replace grains in the ear.
"Ergot is a much bigger issue than in previous years," says Masstocks David Neale who believes growers failure to control alternative host grass weeds may be partly to blame.
Cool, wet weather during flowering, as well as secondary tiller infection during the soaking after the April drought are also believed to be factors.
Although ergot cuts yield, its main impact is on the quality of crops, which can lead to rejections by millers and maltsters. This seasons problems are prompting many growers thinking of sowing breadmaking wheats and even malting barleys this autumn to reconsider their plans, claims Mr Neale. "The cost of cleaning out ergot soon takes the gloss off any premiums."
But Banks Cargills Richard Whitlock says the firm had experienced no rejections due to ergot in this years crops up to Tuesday this week. He is keen that any problems be kept in context.
"We have seen no more ergot than in normal seasons."
But contrary to Banks Cargills experience, Dalgetys Newmarket-based trader Stewart Johnson says crops from Essex and Beds have been quite hard hit.
"We havent seen many rejections because growers know they have a problem."
Soft wheat varieties so far seem to have escaped, but ergots have been found in Malacca, Hereward and Option.
The ergot reports are adding to the picture of 2002 being one the dirtiest years for seed crops for some time, says Grainfarmers Tim Hirst. "Its worrying because very few seed plants can cope with ergot."
However, for grain trader colleague Gary Sharkey Hagbergs as low as 70, especially in the midlands, remain a much bigger concern. "I dont think ergot is a big problem."
Sussex-based Richard Wright of Bartholomews agrees. "We havent seen any ergot yet." *
• Reports localised.
• Rejections few so far.
• Wet weather and blackgrass link?
• Hagbergs greater concern.
Hagberg falling numbers as low as 60 have been recorded by Allied Grain. But of 1200 samples of Malacca seen by Tuesday the average remains a healthy 290kg/hl, says the firms Diss-based Paul Brown. "Theres a lot of safety still there. Hereward, which is averaging only 210, is giving most concern." While he acknowledges that there is rather more ergot about the firms mills are having no trouble finding ergot-free wheat supplies. "Its no worse than last year, although we were worried because wed seen it earlier in barley, which is unusual."