Black-grass requires a three-pronged attack to promote and develop sustainable management solutions.

  • 28
  • FEB
  • 2017

Black-grass requires a three-pronged attack to promote and develop sustainable management solutions, according to the main findings arising from an AHDB-funded workshop.
Organised by the BBSRC/AHDB Black-Grass Resistance Initiative (BGRI), the workshop united farmers, industry and researchers to help concentrate the UK’s black-grass management efforts.
Three areas of focus were identified at the workshop: Targeted farmer-to-farmer learning, to optimise management systems in the short term; focused applied research, to provide integrated management solutions in the medium term; and fundamental research, to develop game-changing technologies in the long term.

Coordinated thinking
Dr Paul Gosling, who manages weed research at AHDB, said: “The headline grabbing topic of black-grass has fuelled multiple of avenues of research, conducted within the UK and overseas.
“But this research effort has lacked coordination, meaning progress on managing black-grass has often been too slow and too erratic.  
“The BGRI sought to address this with its multidisciplinary approach, by bringing people together with significant experience of tackling black-grass, from the field to the laboratory, to talk freely and extend the BGRI collaboration ethos right across the industry.”

Targeted farmer-to-farmer learning
In the short term, it was concluded that ‘persistent messaging’ of evidence-based recommendations is required to give growers the confidence to use current management tools.
More effective seed bank and long-term population management was seen as a particular priority, which could be achieved through the increased adoption of weed monitoring and mapping techniques, in conjunction with a greater use of resistance diagnostics and testing.  It was felt that such information could be used to target late drilling, variable seed rates and spring cropping approaches in the worst affected parts of the farm.
Farmer-to-farmer learning was considered as being particularly valuable to help promote new ways of working, especially on heavy land (where management is particularly challenging) and in strategically important areas to reduce further black-grass spread.

Focused applied research
In the medium term, with complete management of black-grass an unlikely scenario, it was recommended that ways to reduce, rather than eliminate, the weed burden should be the focus of applied research, in particular:
Diagnostics – to further develop lab- and field-based diagnostics for both target-site and non-target-site resistance
Alternative cropping – to understand the impact of spring cropping on black-grass germination, the role of cover crops, the potential of varieties to supress weeds and allelopathy
Dormancy – to account for seasonal effects and to find ways to promote synchronous germination
Seed destruction and capture – to investigate the potential of ‘weed surfing’, late-season herbicide applications and harvest weed seed control
The need to quantify the economic efficacy of approaches, when used on their own and in combination, across a range of common soil types, was also considered extremely important to help farmers judge which techniques are viable in their systems.

Develop game-changing technologies
In the long term, it was concluded that ‘game-changing’ technologies are needed to reverse the spread of resistant black-grass in the UK.
Dr Paul Neve, who is a principal investigator for BGRI at Rothamsted Research, said: “There are some really exciting, yet high-risk, high-reward, developments in the pipeline.
“Many of these capture the value in emerging areas of science, such as weed genomics, diagnostics, remote sensing, and big data and modelling applications.
“These long-term solutions may be years away, and, until then, it is all about the hard graft associated with combining multiple approaches to keep a lid on the problem.”
The workshop took place on 13 to 14 December 2016 at Rothamsted Research, which receives strategic funding from the BBSRC.
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Funded by AHDB, the workshop united farmers, agronomists, industry representatives, research funders, policy-makers and research organisations with a significant stake in the management of black-grass.

Organised by BBSRC/AHDB Black-Grass Resistance Initiative (BGRI) researchers, the event provided a secure forum for a frank, open and honest debate to shape priorities for black-grass research and management.

The AHDB project title for the BGRI is Multiple herbicide resistance in grass weeds: from genes to agroecosystems (3807). Duration 2014–2018. The project was awarded £280,000 by AHDB (total £2,800,000, remainder funded by BBSRC). The Project Partners are: University of Newcastle, University of Sheffield, Rothamsted Research, University of Reading, University of Edinburgh and University of York.

AHDB is a statutory levy board, funded by farmers, growers and others in the supply chain. Its purpose is to equip levy payers with independent, evidence-based information and tools to grow, become more competitive and sustainable. Established in 2008 and classified as a Non-Departmental Public Body, it supports the following industries: meat and livestock (cattle, sheep and pigs) in England; horticulture, milk and potatoes in Great Britain; and cereals and oilseeds in the UK. AHDB’s remit covers 75 per cent of total UK agricultural output. Further information on AHDB can be found at

About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
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About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.