Integration, the key to managing pests, weeds and diseases

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Collaboration will help industry adopt a fully integrated approach to managing pests, weeds and diseases, to support sustainable farming in the long-term, according to AHDB.

To produce sufficient and safe food for a growing population, chemical usage has become an intrinsic part of farmers’ and growers’ toolkit. However, that toolkit is rapidly decreasing as substances are banned while public perception that all chemicals are bad for the environment grows.

And, while sustainable farming is increasingly challenging – in theory a future without pesticides could be possible; though this is unlikely to happen in the near future so the wider industry must adopt a fully integrated approach.

Head of Crop Protection at AHDB  Jon Knight, said: “Our farmers are more than aware that there are hundreds of species of weeds, diseases and plant-eating insects, which severely impact farmers’ ability to produce high quality food. Additionally, those pests are developing resistance to existing crop protection measures.

“There are now fewer tools to protect crops and we expect this decline to continue. An integrated approach to managing pests and diseases will no longer be an option, but a mandate to operate. We’re in a unique position to work with farmers and growers, to lead the development of a plan and enable the industry to address these challenges for the next 25 years.”

We have always worked with industry partners, UK government regulators and other relevant parties to find a means for the agricultural industry to gain approval for new, sustainable methods to protect crops and the environment.

There is a long history of crop protection, with sulphur used to control diseases for at least 2,000 years. In reality, all farmers, including organic, use some form of crop protection albeit with synthetic or naturally occurring chemicals.

The UK population is expected to reach 73 million by 2040 and food production methods must support that growth as global demand will also increase at the same time.

Jon added: “While government is developing its policy around future crop production and environmental management, we’re continuing to find real means of targeting and tailoring methods to protect crops and improve our land. For example, it’s possible to collect disease spores with spore traps then test those samples to understand firstly, whether a disease is present, secondly, what method to choose to rapidly treat it. This then reduces the need to use chemicals.

“To target pests and diseases, farmers and growers are also needing to become technical experts to process information on weather, forecasts, and control choices to deal with our changing conditions.

“Sharing information is vitally important; working with Rothamsted Research, initiatives like our Aphid News provides regional data, so farmers and growers can reduce unnecessary or poorly timed sprays. This integrated approach gives our industry information to make changes, while our knowledge exchange teams can help build confidence in techniques and new technologies.”

While population growth and environment change continues the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates indicate that up to 40 per cent of global crop yields are lost each year due to pests, weeds and diseases, losses that are neither a profitable or productive way to produce food.

AHDB’s thinking on integrated pest and disease management, environment and crop protection will be shared at Cereals 2019 on 12 & 13 June.

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