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Wheat struggles with early disease pressure
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Market prices are down and production costs are up, so why will Mississippi growers feel lucky to produce average yields?
"Wet conditions from last fall through the winter contributed to thin or sparse wheat stands and stunted growth. Now growers are seeing significant amounts of stripe rust, and it's happening much earlier than normal," said Erick Larson, small grains specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. "We are looking at an average or below average crop right now."
Larson said Mississippi has the fewest wheat acres in years with about 100,000 expected for harvest early this summer. Current cash prices range between $3.05 and $3.13 per bushel. The average price last year was $3.45 per bushel.
"Acreage is usually determined by fall planting conditions, but strong soybean yields last year might have been the biggest factor in lessening interest in wheat," Larson said. "High nitrogen prices didn't help either. Wheat needs almost as much nitrogen as corn and sorghum need."
Larson said rains last fall contributed to a later planted crop that has struggled to catch up.
David Ingram, plant pathologist at the Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Raymond, said 2005 will go on record as one of the worst stripe rust years in recent history. Stripe rust typically shows up around the first of April, but growers began observing signs on dormant wheat a month earlier.
"Growers have a two-week window of opportunity for effectively and legally applying fungicides. They need to do it from the time the flag leaf emerges until flowering begins," Ingram said. "The problem is that growers should not blanket treat their wheat. Each grower must make individual judgment calls on a field-by-field basis."
With applications costing $15 to $20 per acre, Ingram said growers need to feel sure they can save at least five bushels per acre with a treatment.
"After plants pass the flower stage, it is illegal to apply any fungicide. Furthermore, research indicates that there is little or no economic benefit to treating at all after plants flower," Ingram said. "Variety selection appears to be the biggest factor in rust pressure. Leaf rust has been on radar screens a lot longer than stripe rust, so varieties incorporating resistance to leaf rust are more common."
Cold, wet weather typically triggers stripe rust, and warm, wet weather contributes to leaf rust. The disease is spreading from the southwest portion of the state toward the northeast on prevailing winds.