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Research Impact Highlights - Crops

Boom to bust

Steven Kildea

In late summer of 2020, lesions of septoria tritici blotch (STB) appeared in great abundance in plots of winter wheat under evaluation for inclusion in the Irish cereal recommended list, across a number of varieties with the cultivar Cougar in their parentage. Until this point, these varieties had shown excellent levels of STB resistance, and were expected to be recommended for the 2021 planting season. To investigate what was happening, zymoseptoria tritici isolate collections were established and intensive controlled glasshouse studies initiated. Unfortunately, these confirmed the lesions were caused by strains of Z. tritici that were extremely virulent on the Cougar and its siblings under evaluation. Based on these findings, recommendations not to grow these varieties in high disease pressure environments – such as the south of the country – were issued. As these varieties also showed a poor performance in final field trial evaluations, they were removed from the 2021 Irish winter wheat recommended list. With 20% of the winter wheat seed for planting in autumn 2021 projected to be Cougar based, these recommendations were significant but extremely warranted given the potential implications for disease control.

Contact: stephen.kildea@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: Mladen Cucak (Penn State University) and
John Joe Byrne (Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine).
Funding: Teagasc.
Impact pathway: Technology development and adoption.

Protected urea and soil microbiome

Aoife Duff

In Ireland, the agriculture sector accounts for 92% of nitrous oxide emissions and virtually all ammonia emissions. Protected urea (urea made with nitrogen stabilisers) reduces nitrous oxide emissions by 71% when compared to calcium ammonium nitrate- (CAN) based fertilisers, and reduces ammonia emissions by 79% when compared to standard urea, all while maintaining similar grass production. However, little is known about the impact of protected urea on soil biology, so Teagasc conducted a study to investigate it further. It demonstrated that there was no impact of protected urea on the structure and abundance of soil bacterial and fungal communities after five years of repeated application to an intensively managed grassland. The study further showed that the microbial communities involved in nitrogen cycling and nutrient transformation processes remained unchanged with the use of the urease inhibitor (a component found in protected urea that slows down the conversion of urea to ammonium). This work has provided reassurance for farmers in moving forward with the use of protected urea as a fertiliser at farm level, as it has no significant effect on the soil microbial community when compared to standard urea or CAN fertilisers.

Contact: aoife.duff@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: Fiona Brennan, Israel Ikoyi and Patrick Forrestal.
Funding: Teagasc.
Impact pathway: Technology development and adoption.

Integrated pest management on mushroom farms

Helen Grogan

Cobweb disease on mushroom farms is a challenging disease to control. Its dry spores spread rapidly within growing rooms, causing brown spotting symptoms on mushrooms and new patches of disease, reducing the commercial value of the crop. In the worst-case scenario, growers lose about 15% of their harvest. In 2016, Teagasc-led research funded by the EU demonstrated that the fungicide metrafenone offered excellent control of cobweb disease, which facilitated its approval for use across Europe. However, growers reported in 2019 that the product appeared to be ineffective and metrafenone-resistant isolates were soon identified. Teagasc-funded infection trials in 2021 at the Ashtown Mushroom Research Facility demonstrated just how ineffective the product is now. The impact on growers is that they have no effective chemical product to control cobweb disease, which is encouraging them to adopt integrated pest management technologies instead (IPM). As a result of this research, Teagasc is advising farmers to focus on early detection and treatment with IPM to prevent a major outbreak.

Contact: helen.grogan@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: Donal Gernon, Brian McGuinness, Joy Clarke and Kevin Kavanagh (Maynooth University). 
Funding: Teagasc.
Impact pathway: Technology development and adoption.

Assessment of multi-species swards

John Finn

Multi-species swards with six species in them – containing grasses, clovers and herbs – perform better than monocultures, including perennial ryegrass. Mixtures can deliver higher yields with less nitrogen (N) fertiliser. This advantage is underpinned by a clover content that is no less than 20% and can deliver the same or higher yields with just 150 kg/ha of nitrogen fertiliser, compared to perennial ryegrass with 300 kg/ha nitrogen fertiliser. Multi-species mixtures have a lower nitrous oxide emissions intensity, are more resilient in the face of climatic disturbances such as drought, and are effective in suppressing weeds (in the absence of post-emergence herbicide). Research at Teagasc has found that, with good wilting, they deliver high quality silage. Over the last 20 years, the majority of research has been conducted by harvesting experimental plots. Teagasc sites at Johnstown Castle, Moorepark and Grange are now investigating the performance of multi-species swards under grazed systems. Collectively, this research has been used to inform the development of a new Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Multi-Species Sward Scheme that aims to incentivise the establishment of approximately 12,000 hectares of multi-species swards nationally – in addition to the many farmers already implementing these swards.

Contact: john.finn@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin and Agroscope (Switzerland).
Funding: Teagasc; EU Framework Programme.
Impact pathway: Technology development and adoption.

Introducing WeedWatch: a mobile field app

Réamonn Fealy, David Schilder, Jimmy Staples and John Mahon

Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology, a cloud-based mobile mapping and survey app has been developed to assist the fieldwork component of the Enable Conservation Tillage (ECT) project. The ECT project focuses on conservation tillage practices across Europe, and has been investigating and offering sustainable, cultural and chemical control solutions and support tools to impact the prevalence of grass weeds on farms. The app – named WeedWatch – was built using highly customisable Survey123 technology from Esri Inc. It runs on surveyors’ phones, allowing concurrent users to efficiently and accurately collect paperless, location-based crop information throughout the season on project farms. It has also enabled highly accurate repeat visits to sample locations over two field seasons. The app, which is customisable for other applications, offers in-field recording of crop and weed status, removing paper and the need for transcription of field notes from the survey workflow. This has led to significant efficiency and time savings for field workers.

Contact: reamonn.fealy@teagasc.ie  
Other Contributors: Adam Corcoran
(Esri Ireland).
Funding: European Innovation Partnership (EIP) funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Impact pathway: Capacity building.