Forging new weapons in fight against grass weeds
Halting and reversing the spread of significant grass weed populations is at the heart of an initiative recently launched by Teagasc.
The European Innovation Partnership project is titled 'Enable Conservation Tillage' (ECT) and aims to promote the wider adoption of sustainable conservation tillage production systems by looking at grass weed control within these systems.
It is worth noting that the grass weed issue is not confined to conservation tillage systems - it is a problem in plough-based systems as well.
It is how you manage an individual system rather than the system itself that will determine the prevalence and level of weed pressure.
This project is very important to the Irish tillage sector.
Compounding the grass weed issue is the rise of herbicide resistance. Research done by Ronan Byrne, a PhD student in Oakpark, has confirmed herbicide resistance in black-grass, wild oats or sterile brome in all the main tillage counties in Ireland.
Work in the UK has established that there are black-grass populations which exhibit ALS, ACCase or enhanced metabolic resistance to herbicides - and in some cases populations demonstrated all three forms of resistance.
As has been well publicised, more stringent pesticide regulations are reducing the number of Active Ingredients (AIs) available to farmers.
The need to protect the AIs that we currently have available has never been so important, so the need to adopt cultural weed control options, reduce the reliance on herbicides and prevent herbicide resistance has increased.
At the core of the ECT project will be an emphasis on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as the days of all our solutions coming from a pesticide can are behind us.
That is not to say that we can no longer rely on pesticides, but instead they should be looked at as a component of a comprehensive IPM strategy.
The foundation of any solid IPM strategy is prevention.
There are two areas to consider here: preventing grass weed seeds entering your farm (where practically possible) and the prevention of seed return.
Preventing grass weeds from entering your farm may sound like an impossible task but if you arm yourself with the knowledge of where potential sources of contamination may come from, then you can make informed decisions and potentially reduce the risk.
Prevention of seed return can be planned for throughout the season, but early and accurate identification is probably the most important step in controlling any weed.
For example, the miss-identification of black-grass for just one year can result in a serious challenge in subsequent crops.
One black-grass plant per metre squared in one hectare can return six million seeds in one season, with a viability of between three and five years depending on conditions.
Combine this with identified herbicide resistance in many black-grass populations and you have major problem that will take time and money to resolve.
Accurate identification of grass weeds, especially at the early growth stages in the autumn and early spring, has been highlighted as an area where there is a considerable knowledge gap among farmers, advisors and the wider tillage industry.
The importance of identifying grass weeds and understanding their biology and lifecycle can't be overstated - prevention is better than cure.
IPM is something that all of us in the tillage industry should be placing an emphasis on, and although it can sound challenging, the simplest of actions can make a big difference.
Monitoring, recording and evaluating in order to inform future decisions could make the difference between solving or preventing a problem and it becoming a major issue.
For instance if you are spraying, spreading fertiliser or walking crops and you spot a grass weed - or any weed for that matter - that you are unfamiliar with, stop and either take a sample or a picture and send it to your local advisor and have it identified.
Once you have identified the weed you can make informed decisions based on the exploitable weaknesses within the weed's biology and lifecycle.
This knowledge will influence your IPM strategy and allow you to adopt a course of cultural controls that will give effective control of the target weed.
An IPM strategy should be tailored to target specific weeds or pests within a planned rotation and establishment system, and actions should be planned across the whole rotation and not just for one year.
Jimmy Staples is an ECT Project Advisor with Teagasc, based at Oak Park. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
New way of problem-solving by engaging with farmers
The Enable Conservation Tillage (ECT) project is a European Innovation Partnership project led by Teagasc focused on developing grass weed solutions for farmers across an array of establishment systems.
The overall aim of this project is to enable the adoption of conservation agricultural practices on Irish tillage farms, by providing growers with the knowledge, skills and capacity to achieve affective grass weed control.
The ECT project could be described as a new way of problem solving on farms by co-designing solutions with farmers based on their own experiences and situation.
One of the biggest challenges facing tillage farmers is the rise and spread of grass weeds, many of which have confirmed herbicide resistance.
The ECT project is concentrating on four of the main grass weeds here in Ireland : black-grass, the bromes, wild oats and canary grass. At the core of the project are 10 'Focus Farms' across the country in the main tillage regions - each farm has a problem with at least one of the four weeds the project is focusing on and uses one of the following establishment systems: plough, min-till, strip-till or no-till/direct drill.
Throughout the five-year lifetime of this project, there will be a numerous discussion group meetings, demonstrations and workshops on each of the 'Focus Farms' to disseminate the results of the project. This will enable farmers to see first-hand in their own areas how effective grass weed control can be achieved in different establishment systems.
Another aspect of the project will be a grass weed survey, to determine the extent and nature of the grass weed challenge facing tillage farmers and the factors which may impact on them.
Teagasc will be looking for farmers to take part in the survey over the coming months. Anybody interested in being involved with the survey, has a query regarding the project or has a grass weed issue they would like to discuss should contact ECT project advisor Jimmy Staples at Jimmy.email@example.com
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