Managed lower inputs: Strategic Cereal Farm East

Our Strategic Cereal Farm East is testing the cost-benefit of different fungicide input programmes. Here are the results so far from our Harvest 2021 trials.

Managed lower fungicide inputs trial summary

  • Start: October 2020                                                      
  • End: Harvest 2021


To test whether a managed approach to lowering inputs can be used at different application timings without compromising yield, but improving the cost of production

Why test a managed lower fungicide input programme?

Disease management in cereals is a challenge. Loss of chemistry and fungicide resistance means that we need new ways to manage cereal diseases.

Our projects help support farmers and agronomists to manage cereal diseases. AHDB's fungicide performance research provides information on the effectiveness of new products. The Recommended List can help with selecting the best varieties for your farm.

This trial is testing the cost-benefit of high and low-cost input programmes.

How is the managed lower input fungicide trial run?

The trial design includes untreated plots and seven timing treatments (T1, T2, and T3 combinations). There are two replications of each treatment and four untreated plots. Each plot is 100m x 30m. The field team from NIAB complete assessments in four locations within each plot, measuring 3m x 2m.

The replicated plot trial is in Barn Field in Gleam winter wheat. Strategic Cereal Farm East host, Brian Barker, drilled the trial on 17 October 2020 at a rate of 205 kg/ha. The main soil type is sandy loam.

Treatment applications

The different input treatments were applied at T0 on 10 March 2021:

  • Low input plots did not receive a T0 treatment

  • High input plots had a mix of biostimulant and nutrition

T1 treatments were applied on 7 May 2021:

  • Low input plots received Firefly (1.0 l/ha), 3C Chlormequat 750 (1.0 l/ha) and Headland Boron (0.125 l/ha).

  • High input plots had Bugle (1.0 l/ha), Tubosan (0.5 l/ha), 3C Chlormequat 750 (1.0 l/ha), Tempo (0.1 l/ha) & Headland Boron (0.25 l/ha)

Results from the lower fungicide input programme so far

Crop performance

The field team at NIAB have monitored the crop using Green Area Index (GAI) and normalised vegetation difference index (NDVI). In this trial, the GAI and NDVI measure the uniformity of crop establishment and the timing of senescence.

Green Area Index (GAI) is the ratio of green leaf and stem area to the area of ground on which the crop is growing. Farmers and agronomists can use GAI during the growing season to guide canopy management. Discover how to measure growth area index in cereals in our information page. 

NDVI is the relationship between visible light reflectance and near-infrared reflectance of a crop canopy. It is a quick method of measuring the greenness of a crop canopy. It allows assessment of its size, density, nutrient status, and health. The scale of NDVI runs from -1 to +1, with larger values indicating greater crop canopy or greenness.

Data analysis showed statistical differences in NDVI between the plots in November and at growth stage 30. This result is not surprising due to field variability that affects crop establishment. During the growing season, these differences reduce. The crop compensates by increased tillering in areas of lower density. After growth stage 31, there are no differences.

Graph: NDVI results across the season. The black diamonds indicate the means from each timing.


To date, there has been no significant disease detected in any of the plots, with only low levels (<5%) of Septoria tritici detected on leaves 5 and above. This is due to a combination of the late autumn drilling date and robust variety selection. The local weather conditions before the T1 application (07/05/2021) were ideal for preventing disease infection.

Rainfall between February and April was approximately 55% of the long-term average. Since sowing, temperatures have been around 5°C below the long-term average, and since November 2020 the temperatures haven’t gone above 10°C.

These conditions are not conducive to the initial infection and spread of Septoria tritici and Yellow rust.

In the days before the T1 application, it was humid with regular rainfall and higher temperatures. This is likely to drive the spread Septoria infection already detected in the crops' lower leaves.

June 2021 Assessment: 

Yellow rust

An average of 3.7% was recorded across the untreated plots, however the foci were still very distinct and patchy. The average of rust levels, where recorded in the untreated, was 10% on Leaf 1.

Yellow rust was much easier to spot in the treatments that did not have a T2 application. But in the plots that did have a T2, the research team didn't record any yellow rust.


Septoria is rather more rampant. Infection moving a whole leaf layer up since the last assessment. The research team only assess active disease and so they assess green leaf area (GLA) (%) at the same time.

The GLA assessments showed some surprising results in the untreated plots. Septoria has moved through the plant so there is less disease on Leaf 4 in the untreated compared to a treated plot. 

The graph below shows a summary of the GLA% score from the treatments that are currently the same (pre-T3). Whilst differences are not large, the GLA is lower in the "Low" input level with inconsistent differences between the fungicide treatments.

Fungicide input decisions

Disease assessments

Between GS31 and 55, NIAB will assess foliar disease if moderate infections develop. Moderate infections are 5% in untreated crops and 2% in treated crops. Once the disease level reaches this threshold, the team will assess the crop every two weeks. They will also check for stem diseases.

After GS55, the field team will assess foliar diseases that reach 5% in any of the treatments. At this point, the team will assess the trial often enough to get meaningful disease scores. This could be every two weeks but it might be more often. They will also assess stem and ear diseases.

Crop development

The research team will continue to assess the crop using growth stage, NDVI, and GAI.


At harvest, the farm will collect combine yield data for NIAB to analyse.

Cost of production

The Farm Economics team will calculate a treatment level economic cost of production. Using Farmbench, they will produce costs per hectare and per tonne. The calculations will use:

  • Seed, fertiliser, and crop protection
  • Farm labour, machinery, and equipment
  • The regional average for property, energy, and administration

Results from previous fungicide trials at Strategic Farm East

This trial adds to the work carried out at Strategic Cereal Farm East in 2018/19 and 2019/20. In both of these years, the project focused on the interactions between varieties and agronomy programmes.

Harvest 2019 and 2020 were low disease pressure seasons. Results showed that growing more resistant varieties with a low input programme produced the best net margin.

  • There was a minimal yield response to increasing fungicide spend on the resistant varieties.
  • The low input programmes resulted in the best net margins
  • The highest percentage of septoria was seen on the most susceptible variety, Santiago
  • More resistant varieties (i.e. Graham and Siskin) tended to hold onto green leaf area for longer

Useful resources

Strategic Cereal Farm East Harvest 2020 Report

Strategic Cereal Farm East Harvest 2019 Results

Information on integrated pest management of cereal diseases

Our Strategic Farms are an opportunity to see how to use our research on a commercial farm. Find out more about our Strategic Cereal Farm East Programme

Image of staff member Teresa Meadows

Teresa Meadows

Knowledge Exchange Manager - Cereals and Oilseeds