What is the issue?

Black-grass is the costliest weed that UK arable famers must deal with. With a unique lifecycle that enables it to thrive in arable systems, it can drive down yields by up to 70%. Up to one fifth of wheat in the UK is under threat due to farmers’ inability to control populations of weeds such as black-grass.

In 2014 the weed reached epidemic levels. Whilst the problem had been emerging for a number of years, it became clear that it had become resistant to most of the herbicides being used to treat it. To compound the problem, regulators were putting pressure on the agricultural industry to limit the use of herbicides. As a result, black-grass grew out of control in many areas. Urgent action is needed if the crisis is not to be repeated.

‘When it’s up and running, this crop protection platform will help famers to manage black-grass, reduce their herbicide expenditure and, hopefully, increase wheat yield. By ensuring farmers don’t unnecessarily use a herbicide if the black-grass is resistant to it, we should see environmental benefits too. Policy makers, NGO’s interested in sustainable agriculture, consumers, agri-businesses and agronomists can all make use of the data we collect through the farm network.’ Dr Paul Neve, AHDB. Formerly project lead at Rothamsted Research

What did we do?

Rothamsted Research collaborated with the Universities of Newcastle, Sheffield, York, Edinburgh, and the Zoological Society of London to set up the Black-Grass Resistance Initiative (BGRI). This aimed to gain a comprehensive understanding of the black-grass problem from gene to field level.

Rothamsted Research was responsible for establishing a network of 70 farms throughout the UK. At each farm, the presence and abundance of herbicide resistant black-grass populations was mapped over multiple fields, as well as collecting information on the farm’s management practices. This meant researchers could develop an understanding of where resistance had emerged, and which specific management practices could be linked to it.

The data collected from the farm network will be used to generate predictive models and produce decision tools that will help farmers reduce the presence of black-grass.

Impacts/expected outcomes

The project led to the creation of aiScope: a unique collaboration between high tech companies and researchers to provide remote surveillance of the black-grass problem.


Funded by BBSRC and AHDB