Integrated pest management (IPM) will play an increasing role in UK crop production post-Brexit and independent agronomists are leading the way in its implementation on farm.
Speaking at the recent Association of Independent Crop Consultants (AICC) near Towcester, NFU president Minette Batters warned delegates that 42% of farm businesses will be loss making if direct payments are lost after the UK leaves the EU.
Farm output will need to be raised by 10% or more to counter this effect, but Defra secretary Michael Gove’s focus to deliver a “Green Brexit”, with less emphasis on food production, could restrict the arable sector’s ability to do so.
Whatever the final details future agricultural policy hold, increasing output will have to be done in an environmentally sensitive way, with IPM an integral part, according to Ms Batters.
IPM is a practice based on prevention, monitoring and control of damaging organisms using a range of cultural and biological methods, using of plant protection products only when absolutely necessary.
She added that influencing outside views on the use of these vital tools will be important, putting safe and responsible use at the forefront of public perception.
“I have been very keen that the cropping sector looks at what the livestock sector has done with RUMA, which has been about responsible use of medicines and antibiotics.
“This isn’t about using less [inputs], this is about us as an industry being transparent and having an evidence base [for use] and I think that will become more and more important,” said Ms Batters.
AICC chairman and Lincolnshire agronomist Sean Sparling echoed these sentiments, but warned against a shift towards relying too heavily on non-chemical approaches, with the current “hybrid” system allowing the production of safe, plentiful and affordable food.
He added that modern plant protection products have passed a decade of regulatory scrutiny before being approved for use on a farm level and are recommended by highly qualified advisers, such as AICC members, so are safe to use.
“We use them because the natural and cultural answers need more help today than ever before, as the problems we face in the field are evolving more rapidly than ever before, not helped by climate change,” explained Mr Sparling.
“Neither systems are stand-alone solutions, but putting together those cultural methods, IPM practices and pesticides produces the key to our food security.”
AICC members are proactive in the practice of IPM, with regular contact between groups and individual members across the UK discussing approaches to controlling current pest, weed and disease problems on a daily basis.
The organisation also has the power to turn around nationwide surveys covering huge areas of the national cropped area in hours to help inform its strategy, demonstrated by its annual Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle survey.
“We are all about using every tool at our disposal and IPM will play a bigger and bigger part in the future of plant protection.
“To our members, IPM isn’t just the latest fad, it’s a crucial area of expertise in our armoury and is firmly behind every single decision we make,” said Mr Sparling.
Accelerating the uptake of IPM – what’s being done?
In addition to the importance of IPM going forward, delegates at the AICC conference heard from a range of experts on current IPM tools and latest areas of research aimed at improving its implementation, which are summarised below:
- AHDB’s Charlotte Rowley showcased a growing range of pest monitoring aids, including risk forecasts, bulletins and online tools for UK growers, such as the recently launched BYDV Management Tool. This is be particularly useful after neonicotinoids were withdrawn for use in cereals.
- Mark Ramsden at agricultural research consultancy ADAS said work is ongoing to improve confidence in pest thresholds and the group is also involved in a pan-European project aiming to produce a web platform that puts all IPM decision support systems in one place.
- Sam Cook and her team at Rothamsted Research are investigating how natural enemies might be harnessed for biocontrol of oilseed rape pests such as pollen and cabbage stem flea beetles. Early indications show min- or no-till establishment help preserve parasitoid numbers, while field margins help boost numbers of generalist beneficial insects. Spring insecticides in cereal crops following oilseed rape may knock out parasitoids of OSR pests and, like insecticides in oilseed rape, should only be when absolutely necessary.
- Research at Stockbridge Technology Centre, led by entomologist David George, is looking at how field margins can be optimised to encourage the correct mix natural pest enemies for a farm’s IPM needs and how the increased predation seen around margins can be projected across whole fields in broadacre systems.
- Rachel Wells and researchers at the John Innes Centre are identifying pest resistance traits in brassica crops. Aliphatic glucosinolates which make oilseed rape less palatable to slugs have been bred out of modern varieties, but genetic markers may enable breeders to reverse that trend without sacrificing oil quality. Similar work may also help reduce the impact of flea beetles.
The AICC holds its three-day technical conference annually at Whittlebury Hall, near Towcester, Northants.
The 2019 conference was attended by 130 AICC members, which comprises of established agronomists from across the UK, trainees and respected researchers, according to CEO Sarah Cowlrick.
“The third day broke all event records with 230 delegates in attendance, including non member invitees, demonstrating the increasing strength of AICC as the leading professional body for truly independent agronomists,” she added.