Neil Galbraith takes an integrated approach to managing fusarium head blight on his farm at Minnedosa.
He shared his techniques at the 7th Canadian Workshop on Fusarium Head Blight in Winnipeg recently.
Most of the conference speakers were scientists often delivering highly technical information. Galbraith provided a view from the field.
Wheat variety selection, seeding date, field topography, rotation and fungicides are key, he said later in an interview. So are experience and attitude. And one affects the other.
“Practice makes perfect,” Galbraith said. “If you do this enough times you get better at it.”
Galbraith admits he used to be hung up on the timing of a fungicide application aimed at protecting his wheat from fusarium head blight, a fungal disease that can cut wheat quality and yield. So much so that if the wheat was a day or two past early flowering, the optimum stage for application, which lasts only a day to three days depending on the weather, he wouldn’t spray.
“It doesn’t bother me if I’m a day or two late now… (Because) I still feel I’m getting a benefit.”
It’s a lesson he learned in 2010 — a year when head blight was epidemic in his area.
“I did some fungicides that year but it was a mistake that I didn’t do all the fields,” he said. The fields that were sprayed graded No. 1 or 2, while the ones that weren’t, graded No. 3 and feed due the level of fusarium-damaged kernels (FDK).
In 2011, it turned out hot and dry after a wet spring and head blight infections were down. All Galbraith’s wheat graded No. 1 with low FDK, he said. However, Galbraith also applied a fungicide to all his wheat.
“I still feel, even though it was hot, I had an economic response,” he said.
“The fields all yielded 10 to 15 bushels better than I thought they would. And bushel weight was tremendous — as high as 70 pounds.”
What he estimated to be an average of 44 bushels an acre turned out to 49 because of the higher bushel weight, he said.
“I’ll still use scouting and risk maps and my own experience,” Galbraith said. “I’m not going to spray just for the sake of spraying, but I’ve got another year of experience to help me make that decision.”
Galbraith seeds only newer wheat varieties offering some tolerance to head blight.
He only seeds on ground that had been in oilseeds or pulse crops the year previous. That reduces the threat from leaf diseases, allowing Galbraith to focus his fungicide application on preventing head blight.
Drainage is important and that’s affected by topography. Galbraith’s fields are rolling. The low areas can be wet. Excess moisture both weakens the crop and delays maturity relative to the rest of the field, making it more difficult when deciding the best time to spray.
Galbraith tries to seed his wheat early and does all he can to encourage fast, even emergence. Quick emergence generally means a more robust crop. To that end he treats his seed and sows it just a half-inch to one inch deep. He credits his air seeder with assisting in achieving proper seed placement.
Even emergence leads to more even maturity, which again is critical for timing a fungicide application.
Galbraith also boosts his seeding rate, which results in less tillering and more even maturity.
Galbraith applies all his fertilizer — nitrogen and granular phosphate — at seeding time. It ensures the nutrients are immediately available, which allows the crop to make the best use of them.
Galbraith also has his own high-clearance sprayer.
“That’s pretty much a given if you’re going to do this,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to rely on a custom applicator with that narrow of a window (for applying fungicides).”