Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Wheat will not be a viable crop in Ireland by 2022, warn tillage experts

Ninety per cent of cereal farmers are not breaking even on their crops.
Ninety per cent of cereal farmers are not breaking even on their crops.
Tillage advisor Pat Minnock
Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

Wheat production will be "totally uneconomical" in Ireland by 2022 unless drastic measures are taken to develop new crop varieties that are more resistant to disease, tillage experts have warned.

Despite global predictions of all-time highs in wheat and maize production by the end of the year, fungicides once capable of controlling wet weather wheat disease, are now proving to be virtually useless.

Dr Fiona Doohan, senior lecturer, UCD school of biology and environmental science, says some cereals are becoming dangerously immune to chemicals that destroy Septoria, a fungi that causes multiple yellow leaf spots, and she fears compounds used to kill the disease are running out.

"In wheat the problem with disease is becoming so momentous that the chemicals available are running out"

"If we don't find new varieties of the crop, in five or six years' time it will be totally uneconomical to grow wheat in Ireland, that is the reality of it because the disease will be so bad," she said.

Dr Doohan, says lack of diversification in Irish cereals is contributing to the problem and heaping financial pressure on growers.

"It's all about the cost to the farmer. If your product is more susceptible to diseases then you will need a lot more chemical on it and ultimately your net profit is much lower than if you went with another variety."

Tillage advisor, Pat Minnock, reiterated these concerns. He stressed that the Irish weather system is also hampering control of the disease. "Septoria is a big problem and chemicals are struggling to control strains. We suffer more than most countries so developing better resistant varieties and chemicals is crucial ," he said.

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Dr Doohan added that “finding new varieties that are resistant to disease would shine some light in the tunnel and that would reduce costs for farmers,” she said.

John Spink, head of crops at Teagasc, said more integrated control strategies are needed to beat disease resistance.

“The main issue at the moment is Septoria on winter wheat, that is the biggest single issue that we have, it is seriously damaging,” he said.

“It’s just like in humans, if you keep using antibiotics they eventually stop working properly and you get exactly the same thing with any pest or disease or weed in plants,” he pointed out, adding that poor weather intensifies the spread of Septoria.

He says the rate at which new fungicides are coming on the market have slowed down over the last decade. “We are struggling to keep up with new products to replace old ones that have become ineffective”

Teagasc is currently working on a project on maintaining disease control, particularly with Septoria. “We have projects on integrated pest, weed and disease control to reduce our exposure to fungicide resistance in terms of how we grow the crop in the first place and what variety we use,” said Mr Spink.

“We are also doing a lot of work to try to identify new sources of resistance to diseases in cereals so we can identify the genes and to then supply that information to breeders so they can provide Irish growers with varieties that require less fungicide because they get less disease,” he said.

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