Southern Spotlight: Protecting the Flag Leaf

James Banahan

James Banahan

Some of our wheat fields are looking pretty gloomy right now.  It’s been a rough winter for the wheat plant, but don’t be discouraged.  Currently, wheat is at a high in the market, trading at or near $8 at your UFC elevators.  So even if your stand leaves something to be desired, there is value in working for every bushel yet possible.

The flag leaf on a wheat plant emerges (in most years) sometime between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day.  With Mother’s Day this upcoming Sunday (happy day to all you mothers in advance!) we are entering the season of the flag leaf and the imperative to protect our wheat becomes ever more important.

Like other leaves on a wheat plant, the flag leaf fills the head with grain via photosynthesis.  Because of its top billing location-wise on a wheat plant though, the flag leaf carries the most responsibility for absorbing sunlight and thus is responsible for the most carbohydrate production—by itself, it does 75% of the work toward grain fill.  Saying that protecting the flag leaf is of vital importance to your operation is an understatement.  The importance of the flag leaf can hardly be overstated.Flag Leaf

So, as we enter mid-May, keep a keen eye out for diseases that affect your flag leaves and your yield this season.  Striped rust in particular can cost you up to 40% of your potential yield if the flag leaf is affected.  Volunteer wheat, hot and dry summers, and windy conditions increase the threat of striped rust in our fields, and I probably don’t need to remind you exactly how hot and dry last summer was, not to mention how windy it has been over the last few months.  Our recent weather conditions could very well be setting us up for some striped rust problems this year, and perhaps a lot of wheat diseases in general.

Fortunately, there are many excellent fungicides on the market that provide excellent control of these diseases.  Though they are detrimental, they are also treatable.  For the price of a few bushels now, you can protect perhaps 30 bushels per acre in the end.  That’s $240 per acre—a huge return on your investment in an effective fungicide.

Our job now is to keep an eye out for signs of infection—be attentive to your fields as flag leaves emerge and address any issues that you see as soon as possible.  Your management during this season is crucial to your bottom line.  If you do see indications of an infection and are unsure of what to do, of course, contact your local FSA for guidance.  Your attention and responsiveness now will earn you more than bragging rights at the coffee house, café, or church—it will earn you more profit and, more importantly, it will ensure that you can keep doing what you love to do for a living.