Holding his nerve and deciding not to reduce fungicide rates too much proved the right decision for Berkshire farm manager Nick Down last year.
After a very mild winter and a deceptive April, he was aware the milling wheats grown at Yattendon Estates were still holding enough moisture for the leaf-to-leaf spread of Septoria, creating higher disease pressure than expected.
“We didn’t see a great deal of rainfall in April, but experience has taught me that I have never regretted maintaining fungicide rates early in the season, but I have when we’ve cut back,” he says.
As a result, Mr Down believes fungicide programmes must take account of what is coming, as well as what has already been seen.
“That’s become even more important now we’ve lost some of the curative activity fungicides used to offer. Weather patterns are changing too.”
Looking back, sticking to his original plan was the right call, he says. “The weather changed in May and our T1 sprays were put to the test. There was a visible difference where they were compromised – either by timing or the use of lower rates.”
A four-spray fungicide programme is used on the wheat in most years, with Mr Down basing the overall strategy on triazoles and saving SDHI chemistry for the all-important flag leaf spray. Given that his 720 ha of wheat is all Group 1 varieties, a prothioconazole/tebuconazole mix is applied at T3 to target Fusarium and top-up Septoria control.
Otherwise, he delays drilling into October to reduce disease pressure and takes varietal resistance scores into account when formulating fungicide plans.
“We are growing Crusoe, which is susceptible to brown rust. So we remain vigilant for signs of the disease and include some strobilurin on that variety. The disease was a problem in 2017, so our approach paid off.”
Mr Down will base his 2018 strategy on what the season brings. “You never stop learning as no two years are the same.”