COMMERCE, Texas – The combination of acceptable prices, fair growing conditions and potential yield and test weight losses from disease infection made it a good year for Northeast Texas wheat farmers to make judicious use of fungicides.

Many farmers, depending on location and variety planted, faced the potential double whammy of stripe rust and leaf rust on the 2004 crop.

“Fungicide application could have meant a 15 percent to 25 percent yield increase, depending on variety,” said James Swart, Texas Extension integrated pest management specialist stationed on the Texas A&M-Commerce campus.

Swart and TAMU-Commerce agronomy professor Don Reid recently hosted an area-wide wheat tour/field day, during which they discussed crop prospects as well as variety, disease control and weed management trials at various locations. Galen Morgan and several industry agronomists were also on hand to discuss various aspects of the research plots. Collin county agent Rick Maxwell also discussed his herbicide research on controlling ryegrass in commercial wheat.

Farmers on hand reported mostly promising prospects as they prepared for harvest but most agreed that the crop required a bit more attention than usual.

“I can tell a lot of difference between the wheat fields I sprayed and the ones I didn’t,” said Kendall Wright, Merit, Texas. “I easily justified the cost of a fungicide application. In some fields, we would have had a disaster if we had not sprayed.”

Wright said he had infections of leaf rust scattered around 2,800 acres of wheat. “Overall, we sprayed about 500 acres,” he said, “but only one large field, about 300 acres, that was hit pretty bad. The rest of the acreage was spotty.”

Wright also does custom application and sprayed another 3,000 acres in the area. “We used Quilt, applied near the end of April. It worked well.”

Mike and Pat Fallon, of Tom Bean, Texas, sprayed 900 acres of wheat and treated not only the rust diseases but also powdery mildew early. They used Tilt on the mildew and Quilt for stripe rust.

“Some of our neighbors had stripe rust infections so we sprayed as a precaution,” Mike said.

Bruce Wetzel, also of Tom Bean, sprayed 2,000 acres of wheat. “I used Stratego on the hard wheat (Jagalene and Cutter) for powdery mildew.”

He used Quilt on his soft wheat varieties, Pioneer 25R78 and 25R57. “I sprayed R57 for leaf rust and R78 for stripe,” he said.

“We don’t routinely use a preventive fungicide application,” Fallon said. “We like to wait and see what we have and then spray as needed. But we’re beginning to wonder if we’re getting to a point where we need to make a routine fungicide application.”

Wayne Burns, Bailey, Texas, planted 1,500 acres of wheat and “sprayed all of it with Quilt.”

He plants only soft red winter wheat, 25R57, which has good tolerance to stripe rust but is susceptible to leaf rust.

“We had heavy leaf rust pressure,” he said. “The fungicide stopped the rust. It did not go any further after we sprayed in mid-to-late-April. I always wait to treat wheat to see what we get. Fungicide treatments pay,” he said. “Without it we’d get reduced yields and light test weights. Dockage could be significant.”

Ronnie Lumpkins, who farms near Leonard in Fannin County, says wheat growers have a lot of disease-control options available, including fungicides and varieties with some resistance. Growers in this region used Quilt, Tilt, Stratego, and Headline.

Lumpkins sprayed Quilt in late April. “A wheat grower can now wait and see what’s in the field before making an application and still do himself a lot of good,” he said.

“We used to have to apply fungicides early and a lot of farmers waited too late to treat disease infections. We don’t know yield potential and market opportunities as early as we have to make preventive treatments.”

He said new curative products allow growers to wait until leaf rust shows up. “I think I get a two or three to one return on my investment from a fungicide application.”

Lumpkins said growers face serious losses in years like this when both rusts hit. “Either can cause significant economic damage,” he said.

Lumpkins plants several varieties, 25R57, which is tolerant of stripe rust, 25R37 and Natchez, an AgriPro variety.

“I did not have to spray two of the three varieties at all,” he said. “The 25R57 has been really clean for about five years but leaf rust finally got into it.”

He said, “25R37 had no rust and Natchez picked up a little but threw it off.”

Fungicide application for wheat disease control is a relatively recent development, Swart said. But growers can only afford to utilize new fungicide technology when both commodity prices and yield potential are favorable.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com