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Wheat: Amber Waves of Grain or Poverty Grass?

Apr 2, 2020

Agronomy, Crop Management, Grain, Market Update, Soybean, Technology

Regardless of your current feelings towards the crop, wheat has a large presence in North Dakota. Our state has been consistently ranked number one in the country for production of spring wheat. And though many have a negative outlook on wheat following our poor harvest season of 2019, it is very likely that many growers will continue to raise wheat. So, feelings aside, let’s look at raising a quality crop on the acres that wheat will be inevitably produced on in North Dakota.

A seed’s yield potential is highest before it even goes in the ground. Once planted, Mother Nature and pests whittle away at that potential all season long. So, it is crucial to protect that yield potential by starting with a sound weed control plan and seed treatment to protect from early season diseases – being proactive all season long. Neglecting a crop by poor timing or lack of control measures can significantly lower that yield potential.

At ACI, we do many trials every year in small plots or whole field situations.

This year, one plot was a field scale wheat fungicide trial testing: two different products at two application timings.

The goal of the plot was to determine what type of response the wheat and its quality had to different timings of application and to each product.

The late season head scab fungicide application is not “making bushels” as some may claim, but it is preserving the yield potential that is there by protecting the spikelets (future kernels) from Fusarium Head Blight (FHB) and other leaf diseases. Presence of FHB does not necessarily cause vomitoxin (DON), but it does invite DON into the infection, increasing the chances of having levels over 2.0 ppm which can be discounted at the elevator. By reducing disease infection, the kernels are given the greatest opportunity to fill to their potential and maintain grain quality.

The two products that were compared in this trial were the new Miravis Ace and a competing product. There have been claims made by Syngenta that their product can be sprayed at 50% heading, which can be several days before “optimal timing” (Feekes 10.5.1 early flowering) and still be as effective as other, optimally timed, options. Optimal timing shown below.

Flowering Wheat Table

We wanted to test this theory with both products, across our plot, perpendicular to the nine varieties to see what response each variety had to the treatment.

As always, we want to provide our customers treatment decisions that are sound agronomically and economically.

In 2019, all three requirements of the disease triangle were met (host, presence of pathogen, conducive environment) meaning our crops had a very high chance of contracting a disease.

Based on this, we found a fungicide application to be agronomically sound especially if your wheat variety was highly susceptible to disease.

Here are the economics behind a fungicide application (estimates):

Cost: $15 fungicide (varies depending on product) + $7 application cost = $22 average/acre

Breakeven: $22/acre input cost / $5.50/bu = 4 bushel increase over untreated to pay for application

Keep Discounts in Mind

The breakeven is for 4 bushels of pure yield increase to breakeven, but applying the fungicide should reduce FHB infection and DON levels along with it. So, we need to factor that value in as well using our DON discount schedule: -$0.10/ 0.5ppm over 2.0ppm DON.

Comparing two varieties from this plot that are susceptible and resistant:

Susceptible, no treatment                                         Resistant

3.4ppm DON = $0.30/bu discount                              0.2ppm DON = No discount

x 68 bu avg                                         

$20.70/acre discount


This discount alone would nearly pay for the fungicide application, especially on susceptible varieties.

So why would someone plant a susceptible variety in the first place when you know you will have to, or should, spend $22/acre on fungicide. Why wouldn’t you plant a resistant variety and save that money?

The answer is below. Using the same two varieties, the susceptible variety made $18.50/acre more than the resistant variety, even after the $22/bushel fungicide application was factored in.

  • Resistant variety, no fungicide: 61 bu avg x $5.50 = $335.50 gross. 0.2 DON, no discounts.
  • Susceptible variety, with fungicide: 68 bu avg x $5.50 = $374 gross, less fungicide application $22 = $354 gross.


Note that these two varieties are on the opposite ends of the spectrum, so taking an average across the plot, either fungicide at any time essentially cut DON levels in half. We also found that the optimal timing did have slightly better reduction of DON levels, but the early timing was somewhat effective in keeping ppm below 2.0.

These results will vary from field to field and across different varieties, so we would recommend always shooting for that optimal timing.

Conclusion: On average, we found that the early application yielded 5 bushels over untreated ($5.50 profit) and optimal application averaged 7 bushels over untreated ($16.50 profit); both bringing home a profit.

This is a NDVI image of the plot taken with a drone two weeks after the optimal timing fungicide application. The dark green represents the most healthy and green plants in the field; the red represents the least healthy and green plants in the image. Early maturing varieties are just beginning to turn and ripen but the later maturing varieties show up the darkest green. The black squares (right to left) are the treatment areas, the individual varieties are marked on the bottom of the image. You can make out each individual variety (up and down) and its health after the treatment.

NDVI Plot Image

We know that every year and every field is different. We are always happy to help you navigate your options to make a decision that works best for you and your operation.

Your goal is to be profitable; that’s why we pair sound, expert agronomic advice with the economic sense you need to make dollars and cents.

Remember, our team is always just a phone call away to answer any agronomic or marketing questions you may have. We appreciate the opportunity to be your service provider and look forward to hearing from you in 2020.