Rothamsted Research’s Professor Toby Bruce has launched an innovative new network, comprising a website and phone apps, which “provides easy access to information about pest, weed and disease management for farmers and agronomists, especially in situations where effective pesticides are not available and alternative approaches are required.”
Called CROPROTECT, the network uses crowdsourcing to provide a two-way flow of information between those in the field and researchers at Rothamsted, ENDURE’s English partner. Some 1,000 farmers and agronomists are already involved and have ranked pest, weed and disease targets in arable crops.
Those ranked highest by CROPROTECT users are “the ones for which management is most challenging and many have evolved resistance to the pesticides currently available. This means we need to rethink how we protect harvests and deliver new solutions.” These include blackgrass, grey field slugs, cereal aphids, cabbage stem flea beetles and yellow rust in wheat.
Introducing CROPROTECT, and setting out the need to rethink crop protection in the UK, Toby writes: “UK farmers are currently facing a huge problem which undermines the viability of their businesses and their economic competitiveness: the pests, weeds and diseases that attack their crops are becoming pesticide-resistant. Our farmers don’t have enough tools in the toolkit to stop their harvests from being destroyed. Gone are the days when there was a readily available pesticide for each pest, weed or disease they have to contend with.”
He provides two specific examples. “Wheat can no longer be grown as a winter crop in large regions of the UK due to herbicide-resistant blackgrass,” he writes. “The crop now has to be grown in the spring which means about two tonnes per hectare less yield. In 2015, problems with cabbage stem flea beetle damage meant that 3% (16,000ha) of the UK oilseed rape crop failed to establish [2015 Farm Business Survey Interim report]. These are not minor niche markets but two of the most important crops for British arable farming. The need for innovation is felt by mainstream growers.”
And citing the example of orange wheat blossom midge, he also provides a telling example of how research can make a genuine impact. “Resistant wheat cultivars were developed in a collaborative project that provided near total control of the pest,” he writes. “This is perhaps an unusual example of a pest for which an alternative approach was developed before the pesticide was restricted. Chlorpyriphos (Dursban) was the main product used against the midge and was restricted at the end of March 2016.”
He adds: “Innovation is needed to make an impact on how agriculture works. We need R&D investment to deliver a second green revolution that gives high yields with lower inputs. The first green revolution that was based on using more inputs was relatively easy to achieve. What is needed now will require more knowledge. Longer term investment and strategic planning is needed to avoid being left with a policy of crisis management. Clearly there are opportunities to promote sustainable growth via knowledge-intensive agriculture.”
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