WANTED: FARMERS SOUGHT IN FIGHT AGAINST NEW GRASS WEED
Emergent species already having economic impact
Farmers are being asked to assist in a new study looking at the spread of rat’s tail fescue, a grass weed that is already posing problems in France, Switzerland, Spain and Denmark - and is now starting to take hold in England and Wales.
Predominantly a threat in no-till winter cereals and grasses, where it can rapidly form dense carpets and compete with the crop, it can also be found in orchards and vineyards, and if it does take hold, can cause significant economic damage.
In Australia, where it has been present in fields for more than 50 years, it has incurred million dollars of losses through crop yield reduction and contamination of forage and wool.
Project lead, Dr Lucie Büchi said rat’s tail fescue is a relatively new grass weed in cropping systems in Europe, but of increasing concern.
“In the UK, it is present in natural habitats, but its distribution in arable fields is yet unknown. For this reason, we are launching a UK-wide survey to better understand the current knowledge and distribution of this species in the UK, and its association with cropping practices.
“It’s really important we get on top of this before it becomes another blackgrass.”
As part of the survey, farmers will be asked to answer questions about their location, soil type and general agronomy that they practice to see if there is any correlation between these factors, and the distribution or abundance of rats tail fescue. This will help researchers identify areas of the country or agronomic practices that may be at higher risk of this species becoming a problem.
Dr Büchi from the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, along with Laura Crook and Richard Hull from Rothamsted, are also inviting farmers and agronomists to send them rat’s tail fescue seeds so they can start to study the weed in preparation for its likely spread across the UK.
Richard said: “We would like farmers that have rats tail fescue on their land to send us a mature seed sample and we can provide them with instructions for obtaining as good a seed sample as possible.
“We plan to run a series of experiments looking at how rats tail fescue may adapt to future climates and to study the differences in the life cycle of wild and natural populations compared to seed collected from farmers’ fields.”
To aid with identification of the plant, a freely available six-page information leaflet and a shorter three-page identification guide have been produced by the team, available from the survey webpage.
The anonymous survey will be launched on the 14th of June and remain open until the 31st of August.
Find the survey at: https://greenwich.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/vulpia-survey-uk.
Photo credit: Agroscope, Switzerland
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).
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1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)
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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.