Why is Septoria so damaging to UK wheat?

29 January 2021

Septoria poses a serious and persistent challenge to wheat growers in temperate climates throughout the world; in the UK, is known to be the biggest threat to cereal crops. Part of the challenge is, unless a rapid test such as SwiftDetect is used, by the time the disease is identified it is often too late to rectify the damage to crops. This leads to significant yield losses of up to 50% and a reduction in quality for remaining crop.

In addition to this, treatment of the disease once identified involves expensive and environmentally damaging fungicides. Of course, there are preventative measures, however this again requires the use of fungicides, which are increasingly coming under scrutiny by the EU. In fact, only last year Chlorothalonil - which was the most widely used fungicide in the UK – was banned, the loss of which was considered a “major concern” for two thirds of agronomists and 40% farmers. 

So, this leads to the question:

How does Septoria damage wheat?

Septoria affects the ability of wheat to produce energy, by reducing green leaf area for photosynthesis. Some wheat varieties are more susceptible to Septoria than others, and the risk of infection is increased by wet and windy weather which impacts the physical spread of the spores.

With a long ‘latent’ period, the infection may grow inside the leaf for over 20 days before being visible on the surface as yellow blotches and black dots. This has meant that in the past, growers may have only been aware of the infection when the visible symptoms emerge, by which time treating the infection is challenging or impossible. Of course, there is now a rapid test which can identify the disease before it is visible: SwiftDetect by Microgenetics. We will go into more detail later as to how this could help!

Why is Septoria such a threat?

In the UK, our climate contributes to the level of threat of Septoria. We already mentioned how the risk of infection is increased by wet and windy weather – something common in the UK! As a result of this, the spores are able to spread greater distances, so infections are challenging to keep localised to one field. Additionally, when infection is present, the fungus which causes Septoria thrives on the damp leaves of the crop, causing the disease to worsen.

As well as our climate, there are also challenges with the biology of the fungus itself, which makes it a threat. Septoria exhibits a degree of evolutionary mutation, which means it keeps pace with innovation in fungicides. It eventually becomes resistant to treatment, which of course means the infection could quickly get out of control. We also are not fully aware of the mechanism for infection, for example, the reasons for varying latent periods. This lack of understanding makes it all the more challenging to treat once infection is present.

Could SwiftDetect help save the UK’s cereal crops?

We have already mentioned SwiftDetect, a new rapid detection test for Septoria.  This hassle-free test has the potential to transform farming of cereal crops in the UK, preventing over-use of fungicides and reducing yield loss.

SwiftDetect can detect Septoria before it is visible on the leaf, overcoming the challenge of growers being unaware of the level of infection before it is too late and allowing them to react. The test is not only super-sensitive but also rapid, with actionable insight provided within 24 business hours. The results will help growers by supporting decision making and improving efficiency and effectiveness of spray applications. In turn, this will help overcome issues such as overuse of fungicides – which can cause resistance - yet result in the same quality of crop. 

If you would like more information on how SwiftDetect could help you, click here to get in touch today.