Disease management starts long before growers seed their barley, says Jack Payne, Farmers Edge operations coordinator based in Olds, Alberta. He notes that growers are actually making disease management decisions multiple times throughout the year.
“When you maintain strong crop rotations, choose disease-resistant varieties, and select fields to seed malt barley, you’re making decisions that will impact the crop’s disease defence,” explains Payne.
When growers select malt varieties they need to consider disease resistance along with yield, maturity, lodging and a host of other attributes. “We tend to focus on yield and agronomics, but disease resistance can make or break a crop if major diseases like net blotch and scald or spot blotch gain a foothold in the field,” says Payne.
Management choices contribute to disease protection
Selecting the best fields for malt is also a key disease defence decision growers make before the seeder rolls, adds Payne. It’s important to pick clean fields and beware of previous crops. Seeding barley into canola stubble, for example, is a good idea. From a disease perspective, seeding a cereal after a broadleaf is always a smart choice.
Payne notes that growers who start with certified seed and finish with an in-crop foliar fungicide can really help their chances of making malt. “You know that certified seed is going to be disease-free and a seed treatment is going to help it fend off seed and soil-borne diseases that it could encounter,” he says.
Once the crop is out of the ground, Payne encourages growers to scout their field and strongly consider using foliar fungicides. “Regardless of the disease level, growers always get better results when they use foliar fungicides – we always see higher kernel plumpness and higher yield.”
Protect flag leaf from cereal leaf disease
It really comes down to protecting the flag leaf from cereal leaf disease, says Payne. “That’s the most important leaf on the plant because most of the photosynthate produced in that leaf goes to the head and the kernels. It's really the solar panel that feeds the kernels in the head.” If the flag leaf is not protected, foliar leaf disease can have a significant impact on the crop. “You just end up with much smaller kernels. You lose yield and kernel plumpness, which will take you out of the malt game.”
Payne says foliar fungicide application is standard practice for growers who are serious about making malt. “It's just so important and if you've come this far, let's go the whole nine yards and ensure that the crop is protected.”