Fungicides are an effective way to reduce the risk of yield loss caused by leaf diseases on wheat. Research continues to demonstrate that it is often possible to achieve high levels of disease control with a single fungicide applied between flag leaf emergence and heading growth stages. The yield response to this fungicide application is influenced by the level of disease risk (amount of disease and predicted weather conditions), variety resistance to the most threatening fungal diseases, yield potential of the crop, foliar fungicide efficacy, and other factors.
Fungicides can also be applied in a split application, with an early application made during “spring green-up” followed by a later application at flag leaf to early heading stage. That approach adds a little extra expense, and may or may not pay off compared to the single application approach, as the majority of the yield response is normally associated with the flag leaf application. It is also important to remember that fungicides will only protect the leaves present at time of application; thus, an application during jointing does not substitute for a flag leaf application, as any leaf that emerged after the application will not be protected.
When making split applications, the early application often uses a lower rate than the flag leaf/heading applications. While this lower rate helps to keep the product cost down, it also reduces residual life of the fungicide relative to applications made at the full-rate. With the prevalence of low-cost generic fungicides on the market now, some producers are using a full rate of fungicide for the early application.
The full-rate of most fungicides provides about two weeks of good protection, followed by a third week of partial protection to the leaves present at the time of application. Using a full rate early, however, could have implications for the second, later application. Growers will need to select a product and rate that stays within the labeled limits on the amount of each active ingredient used in a single season. You don’t want an early fungicide application to remove the ability to apply your preferred product at flag leaf.
Advantages and limitations of split applications
There are some advantages to making an early application. The advantages of early-season fungicide application include:
- Low cost. There is no additional cost for application if the fungicide is tank mixed with other products, such as liquid nitrogen fertilizer or herbicide. Often, however, the optimal timing for an early fungicide application is not until after the wheat has jointed – with one or two joints present. This is usually sometime in mid- to late-March. Topdressed nitrogen and many postemergence herbicides should be applied before this stage to be most effective, so the optimal timing of both applications may not match. If a separate trip is made for an early fungicide application, that adds to the cost.
Since the payoff for an early application is less certain than with later applications, it is perhaps best to consider using a low-cost generic fungicide for the early application and saving more expensive products, if desired, for the later application.
- Provides suppression of early-season disease caused by tan spot, powdery mildew, and septoria leaf blotch. For diseases like leaf rust and stripe rust, which are less likely to survive the winter, the benefit of fungicides applied at green-up is more sporadic. The rust diseases typically blow in from Texas and Oklahoma during the spring, and often become established as the crop transitions from jointing to flag leaf emergence. If a field has hot spots of stripe rust at jointing or earlier, a fungicide application made at jointing could help suppress the developing epidemic. However, a second application will be needed to protect the flag leaves during the early stages of grain development.
The limitations of early-season fungicide application include:
- Leaves not present at the time of application will not be protected. Therefore, these applications will not control leaf rust or stripe rust epidemics that come in from the south at later stages of growth. The early applications are most effective when combined with a second, later application of a fungicide.
- Additional product cost may not pay off under some conditions, especially this growing season when the wheat prices are low. Remember, the second application does the heavy lifting in the dual-application approach. If capital resources are limited because of low prices, it may be best to invest your money where you are likely to see the largest yield response.
Kansas State University research
Kansas State University test results of early, low-rate fungicide applications indicate this practice is most likely to be effective in continuous wheat grown in high-residue conditions that favor the local survival of many disease-causing fungi. The value of the early applications is diminished in other rotations, conventional tillage systems, or with varieties that are moderately resistant or resistant to the targeted diseases – usually tan spot or septoria leaf blotch, and powdery mildew. Kansas State University has not tested the practice of making split applications using a full-rate of product at both times.
Product rates and restrictions
Producers considering the use of split applications must pay close attention to label restrictions. Every active ingredient in a fungicide has a maximum total amount that can be applied during the season.
For example, if an early application of a generic form of tebuconazole is applied at 4 oz/acre, a subsequent application of any fungicide containing tebuconazole alone or in combination with other ingredients (e.g. premix) around heading could put you over the limit (4.0 oz/acre) for the crop season.
Thus, be sure to read the label to determine the maximum amount of a chemical that can be applied in a single season and the exact amount of a chemical(s) that is in a fungicide.
For information on the efficacy of different foliar fungicide products, refer to Kansas State University Research and Extension publication: Foliar Fungicide Efficacy Ratings for Wheat Disease Management 2017, EP130.
The main conclusions we can draw from recent studies in Kansas and Oklahoma are:
- In Kansas State University studies, the greatest average profit has come from the flag leaf application of fungicides. Fungicides applied prior to jointing are less likely to result in a positive profit.
- The likelihood of profit for an early-season fungicide application is greatest for susceptible varieties in continuous wheat systems with a high level of surface wheat residue,
- Fields with hot-spots of tan spot, septoria leaf blotch, and stripe rust prior to flag leaf emergence are candidates for an early fungicide application, provided environmental conditions are conductive for further disease development and yield potential of the crop. These applications are often most effective when made around the jointing stages of growth.