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Research impact highlights - Crops

Tackling grass weeds

Vijaya Bhaskar AV, Dermot Forristal, Susanne Barth and Michael Hennessy

The Enable Conservation Tillage (ECT) project has delivered a comprehensive knowledge transfer programme – supported by research – to enable farmers to successfully manage grass weeds, whether practising non-plough or plough-based crop establishment.

Grass weeds, such as wild oats, sterile brome, Italian ryegrass and black-grass, can cause yield losses of >80%. Herbicide resistance and a declining armoury of herbicides are challenging our ability to control these problem species, and a lack of knowledge about the agro-ecology of grass weeds has increased spread and resistance issues.

In the last three years the ECT project team has done the following:

5,000 Held over 40 knowledge transfer events addressing 5,000 growers.

12 Released 12 technical videos

4,000 Delivered three webinars with a combined viewership of over 4,000

40 Published over 40 popular press articles

The ECT project has dramatically increased awareness of grass weeds across the entire tillage industry using a broad range of dissemination activities, supported by research, a nationwide survey and validation of integrated grass-weed control strategies on 10 commercial or ‘Focus’ farms.

Overall, there has been a huge increase in awareness of the grass weed challenge across the whole tillage sector, with farmers now prioritising cultural/non-chemical weed control measures in their farming systems. A specific campaign to highlight the extremely concerning black-grass threat was put in place for 2021.

Correspondence: michael.hennessy@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: Jimmy Staples, David Schilder, Sarah Cook (ADAS, UK) and growers and industry.
Funding: The ECT project is a European Innovation Partnership (EIP) funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.

Heritage and organic cereals

Áine Macken-Walsh and John Hyland

Teagasc coordinated a ‘multi-actor approach’ for the CERERE Horizon 2020 project (a network designed to foster cross-border knowledge exchange around cereal production and food systems) by providing training to the network’s consortium of partners.

To do this, Teagasc undertook a social network analysis of all the actors required to support the commercial use of heritage and organic cereals. It then held innovative social networking events across Ireland, bringing together different disciplinary and professional actors (including growers, bakers, brewers, chefs, restauranteurs and crop scientists, etc.,) to share knowledge and establish collaborations.

1,000+ Over 1,000 people participated in the events Teagasc coordinated.

Initiatives resulted in heritage grains entering commercial use by chefs, artists and restauranteurs in three Irish provinces, and this was featured in a number of films. Through collaboration with a public artist, installations were developed to engage and inspire actors across the social network, and an art exhibition showing heritage grains was exhibited in six locations.

Three new varieties of heritage grains were cultivated in three rural regions. These were used as ingredients in four restaurants, and in a cookery school with over 150 trainees who are entering careers in the catering industry.

Correspondence: aine.mackenwalsh@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: Deirdre O’Mahony, Brídín McIntyre and Maeve Henchion.
Funding: European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme. Grant number 727848.

Perfecting potato disease predictions

Steven Kildea and Mladen Čučak

Following a critical evaluation of the late blight risk prediction model used to forecast potato late blight in Ireland, Met Éireann has incorporated suggested revisions into its late blight forecasting model. The project was undertaken as part of a collaborative effort between Teagasc, Maynooth University and Met Éireann.

As part of the Teagasc potato breeding programme, from 2006-2016 outbreaks of the late blight disease were recorded together with weather conditions preceding each outbreak, making it possible to improve disease prediction. This included reducing the threshold of relative humidity and the definition of leaf wetness to include both rainfall and/or relative humidity >90%. Using these changes, it was hypothesised that significant reductions in fungicide usage could be achieved.

Field trials undertaken during 2017-2019 validated the improved predictably of these revisions, with significantly lower levels of disease observed in the revised model compared to the model operated by Met Éireann. This increased predictability ensured fungicide applications could be better targeted, allowing for reduced fungicide usage across the season. Following these findings, from 2021 onwards Met Éireann has issued late blight forecasts based on this revised model.

Correspondence: stephen.kildea@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: Rowan Fealy (Maynooth University) and Keith Lambkin (Met Éireann).
Funding: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Research Stimulus Fund (EPIC project).