Region wheat ‘better than expected’
Wheat buyers and millers gained some cautious optimism after touring several fields on Delaware and across Maryland and Virginia last week.
After weeks of prolonged and heavy rain events, some of it during the critical growth stage in wheat development where it is most susceptible to the fungal disease, head scab, the collection of buyers had concern about heavy disease levels going into the tour.
The Delmarva tour stops did reveal some disease issues but yields were strong and disease presence varied greatly by site and what management practices were used, said Lee Sproull, Mountaire Farms’ director of grain marketing who organized the tour.
“It’s better than I expected,” Sprout said after the tour’s morning stops in Sussex County, Del. “I was expecting a lot worse.”
The Delmarva tour was part of series of six tours in the Mid-Atlantic designed to give grain handlers and end users a sense of local crop quality and quantity before harvest begins in a few weeks. Sproull said it helps grain terminal operators know if and how much storage space they’ll need in segregating high quality wheat from low quality wheat.
“They have to be prepared to do that,” said John Sutton, president of Sutton Trading Company in Ambler, Pa. “They need to know whether they’re going to have to bring in wheat from other areas with higher transportation costs.” Sutton said area end users typically source some of their wheat from New York, eastern Ohio and other areas, but getting an idea of what the wheat looks like locally will tell them how much they’ll need from farther away.
While the tour is set up to aid buyers, farmers that were visited said it’s helpful for them as well.
Milton, Del., farmer, James Carpenter, said being a stop on the tour is helpful in sharing information with what other growers are doing and “gives you a sense of security to see if your fungicide program is working and warranted.”
Sproull said the Delmarva tour results showed about 40 percent of the fields had less than one percent head scab, and 75 percent had less than 5 percent. The remaining 25 percent ranged from 5 to 13 percent scab.
“Because our weather has been ideal for scab, I actually walked away a bit more optimistic about the Shore’s quality,” Sproull said.
Nearly all of the fields the tour visited had at least one fungicide application, a practice that has increased in recent years as wheat quality parameters have tightened but was up for debate this season until the rains came.
“People had to really think about whether they were going to spray because it was so dry,” said Phillip Sylvester, Delaware Extension ag agent for Kent County who helped pull yield and disease estimates on the tour. “It’s hard to imagine that now.”
When the tour stopped at R.C. Willin’s farm in Seaford, Del., Willin said a fungicide application as part of his crop management is virtually automatic. He added his crop records show applying fungicide is justified one out of three years but the yield protection in that one year is enough reason to include it every year.
“If you’re going to grow wheat here, spray it,” he said.
Dr. Robert Kratochvil, University of Maryland Extension agronomist said the May rains made it a good year to evaluate fungicide effectiveness and also told growers at the tour stops more help may be on the horizon with Miravis, a Syngenta product expected to be available next year that claims to have a longer application window and protection period.
Participants in the Virginia portion of the 2018 Mid-Atlantic Wheat Tour on May 31 also were encouraged by what they saw on farms in the eastern part of the state.
Robert Harper, grain division manager for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, said the wheat assessed on 19 farms in Culpeper County and on the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula showed “strong yield potential and low to moderate disease pressure” despite cool spring conditions and recent heavy rains. Yield estimates averaged 80 bushels per acre with a range of 60 to 100 bushels per acre.
“These growers are as good as anyone in the world,” Harper said. I just love giving them an opportunity to showcase what they’ve done. They’re buying registered seed, they’re having it treated. They’re really dialed in.”
Growers need to be good, added Sutton, as quality specifications from food product makers has become more stringent, scrutinizing the crop for protien levels, toxins developed from disease and other quality factors. Heightened food safety protocols play a role as well as changes in packaging.
“They can’t have a cookie that’s too big, it won’t fit,” Sutton said. “It’s got to be just so. It’s gotten much more complicated than it used to be.”
While the wheat looked good in spite of the heavy rains, Harper noted, “the next two weeks are important,” as growers prepare to harvest. In the days following the Virginia tour, another band of storms passed through the region along with high winds in some areas. Harper said since the tour, some of the fields they visited had large portions of the crop lodged and the rain increased the risk of increased disease pressure, especially in the Culpeper area where wheat is farther behind than the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula.
“The jury’s still out on all of it but moreso in that northern area around Culpeper,” Harper said.
Sproull and Harper both added that having scab in the field does not necessarily mean the grain will have vomitoxin at the elevator but Sproull said Mountaire will be prepared to test loads for vomitoxin and segregate different qualities of grain.
While the tour gives them a glimpse of what will soon be coming, they won’t get a clearer picture until harvest begins.
“Until then, we need some dryer conditions but can’t shut the rain off all together because the corn and beans still need a drink,” Sproull said. “Dryer conditions and low humidity will likely help scab from progressing and maybe we can avoid a major quality issue on the Shore.”
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