Stripe rust on wheat.
Stripe rust on wheat.

As temperatures rise and winter wheat breaks dormancy, Syngenta recommends growers keep a close eye on their crops to identify early signs of disease that may reduce grain quality and yield potential. Being proactive and timely with scouting and product applications will help keep pests at bay and profit potential high.

It is important to scout fields early and often for potential disease outbreaks to maximize crop quality. Wheat plants determine maximum yield potential early in the developmental process, so it is especially important to eliminate potential disease and pest threats and ensure a healthy start.

Some early-season diseases to watch for this spring include stripe rust, Septoria blotch and tan spot. These diseases can devastate wheat fields and reduce yield potential.

Track diseases

Good indicators that wheat may need extra protection are 1) the level of disease presence in states located to the south and/or 2) the level of disease the previous year. Many rust diseases can spread through windblown spores, so being aware of conditions further south can inform growers if and when to take preventive action.  Many leaf spots like Septoria blotch and tan spot overwinter in residues and infect early in the fall, but do not actually show symptoms until the spring.

“Now is the time that we begin paying attention to what is happening in states to the south,” said Jon Rich, Syngenta wheat breeder and product manager in Kansas. “For us, the first indication that we may experience stripe rust or leaf rust pressure is if we hear reports from Texas or Oklahoma. When they start having problems, we take that as a warning.”

Scout early and often

Scouting fields early enables growers to take action at the first sign of disease. “I recommend growers start scouting their fields early and continue throughout the entire season,” said Nathan Popiel, Syngenta agronomic service representative in North Dakota. “It is much easier to prevent diseases than try to control them once they are already present in the field.”

What to look for:

When scouting for disease, pay close attention to the top and bottom of the leaves of the wheat plant.

  • Signs of stripe rust include small, yellow or orange blister-like lesions, also known as pustules.
  • Leaf rust infections will take the shape of small, round or oval raised orange-red pustules on leaf surfaces.
  • Septoria blotch is characterized by brown lesions on the leaves/stems.
  • Tan spot produces oval or diamond-shaped elongated irregular spots that enlarge and turn tan with a yellow border and a small dark brown spot near the center.

To view images of these diseases, as well as learn about best management practices, visit our Tools to Grow More Wheat agronomic resource center.

Areas that are experiencing a cool, wet spring are especially at risk for disease infection. As always, if you are suspicious of an infection, send a tissue sample to a plant disease diagnostic clinic or your local Extension office. To combat yield-robbing diseases in wheat, Syngenta recommends Quilt Xcel fungicide, which provides broad-spectrum disease control to safeguard plants against diseases, including rusts, powdery mildew, tan spot and Septoria blotch.

Syngenta is awaiting registration for the first fungicide to deliver three modes of actions for preventive and curative disease control and crop enhancement benefits in wheat—Trivapro fungicide. When registered, Trivapro will provide additional control of leaf rust, stripe rust and stem rust in wheat for excellent yield potential.

After initial product applications, wheat growers must remember to scout two to three weeks later to ensure good pest control. They must maintain consistent scouting practices throughout the season and increase frequency as needed during times of high pest pressure. Being proactive is key to protecting the crop. Make sure to scout early and often throughout the season to monitor for signs of pest and disease damage. It’s also helpful to speak with local seed agents and agronomists who can provide recommendations about timely crop management. In doing so, a grower helps ensure their crop gets off to a healthy start and remains competitive throughout the season.