Industry reps offer advice for Delaware wheat growers

Managing Editor

HARRINGTON, Del. (Feb. 2, 2016) — Weather hasn’t been kind to Mid-Atlantic winter wheat crops in recent years as long cool and wet periods gave diseases like Fusarium head blight and glume blotch a good environment to proliferate and decrease grain quality.
During Delaware Agriculture Week, organizers assembled speakers with different perspectives on the issue with the goal of improving quality.
On top of the challenging weather, John Ade, senior vice president of North American grain for Perdue Agribusiness said there is more competition in the world market and foreign buyers have tightened specifications for purchasing wheat.
“In the last five years, the quality issue has become a bigger and bigger deal,” Ade said. “We like wheat because we’ve got a lot of double crop beans in this part of the world. But if we can’t use it for a milling wheat, we have to take it to a feed value and that’s a pretty drastic drop.”
On the domestic use side, Lee Sproull, director of grain marketing at Mountaire Farms, said flour mills’ limit for pest-damaged kernels is five per 100 grams of wheat, which has often forces in recent years had him import wheat from other regions to blend with Delaware and Maryland wheat to make acceptable loads. He said concerns and regulations for food safety have domestic users also tightening specifications and expects buyers to start discounting for low protein levels, “as if we didn’t have enough problems to contend with.”
After quality issues in wheat arose in 2003, Sproull said he helped start a regional wheat tour with buyers and agronomists to look at the crop developing in the field.
“It really puts us in a position to understand what we’re about to handle,” Sproull said.
When shipping wheat to millers, Sproull said he gets constant feedback from them on quality issues, good and bad.
“The things that we’re concerned about are exactly what everybody talked about,” he said.
During the Ag Week’s event’s question and answer portion, Seaford, Del., farmer R.C. Willin, said the current price structure in the wheat market makes it hard to justify intensive management for better quality.
He said factoring in fungicide applications and fertilizer recommendations, cost of production, excluding land and irrigation costs, is about a dollar per bushel over current prices.
At that rate, Willin said he’s better off to save on the inputs and take the chance on disease coming to the region.
Jennifer Vonderwell, cereal grains breeder for Syngenta, said forecasting tools like the prediction center at can be helpful make decisions on fungicide applications during the growing season.
To encourage more attention to wheat quality, Ade said Perdue plans to relax its moisture discounts as it did last year to make harvesting earlier more attractive.
“We’re going to try that again so guys go after it earlier,” he said.
Ade added the company is also considering paying a premium for wheat above the standard test weight.
Sproull said it would be difficult to pay a premium for the wheat going to millers.
“The flour mills aren’t extending premiums to us so our hands are tied to a certain extent,” he said.
For next year’s crop, Vonderwell told growers to focus on varieties with moderate resistance to Fusarium head blight and plant early, medium and late maturing varieties to spread out disease risk, apply phosphorus in starter fertilizer.
On the storage side, Dr. Carlos Campabadal, Kansas State University grain storage specialist said keeping the area around grain bins clean is the “best pest control” to preserve quality from harvest.
“That’s free food for insects, rodents and birds,” he said. “If you take that away, you reduce the feed source for them to come in.” He also urged growers to check tank openings periodically for insects, cover air vents with a sieve or cloth to keep insects from entering and seal off vents when they are not in use.
In the tank, loading cleaned grain will help limit mold growth where broken grain and dust cause less air movement. Another option is what Campabadal called “coring” — removing the center core of the bin after it is loaded because fines and broken grain gravitates toward the center as the bin is filled. That grain can either be segregated or cleaned and put back in the bin.