Report Synopsis

Blackgrass: System BEN offers alternative solutions to resistance management

Ben Taylor-Davies

Blackgrass has become the greatest problem in British arable farming. Whatever method is used to control it the blackgrass remains one step ahead. Blackgrass is gaining resistance to almost all herbicides in the United Kingdom, and herbicides it is not already resistant to are likely to succumb soon. Blackgrass thrives better in heavier and wetter soils than most UK combinable crops, so it is able to produce a large amount of seed which is shed before harvest. It is highly competitive within arable crops and reduces yields by as much as 80% where heavy infestations occur. In many ways, blackgrass can be described as the ‘perfect weed’.

The classification of soils as ‘heavy’ or ‘light’ needs changing immediately. The classification of ‘medium’ has been omitted on purpose as most growers like to describe themselves as either ‘heavy’ soil farms or ‘light’. Countries other than the UK quantity soil texture percentage and this gives a far clearer image of what the soil actually is. Aerenchyma is the reason blackgrass is able to survive in wetter soils. A simple definition of that term is: air pockets in the roots that allow diffusion of oxygen from the stem to the root tip.

“Martian” is the name given to a plant which is an invader from another continent or country (e.g. Japanese knotweed) which, if all its ecological requirements are favourably met, will reproduce so strongly as to become a serious issue. Darwin’s Origin of Species theory and the process of natural selection are crucial when trying to understand blackgrass (in fact any weed, or indeed any living organism). The simplest example is herbicide resistance, where plant mutations resistant to the herbicide are able to reproduce and the progeny will continue to be resistant to the herbicide. “Mutations” can relate to drilling dates, soil disturbance, cropping and anything to do with blackgrass.

Little herbicide research has been conducted in 20 years because of the release of Roundup-Ready seeds in countries that permit GMO crops to be grown. The international research industry slashed budgets by 90% overnight and didn't predict glyphosate resistance would occur. GMO seed for total herbicide resistance must be avoided in the UK! More glyphosate applications in-crop in a conservation agriculture scenario will place the UK firmly in the fast lane for glyphosate resistance.

Cover crops and soil health are extremely fashionable topics, which generally means someone is making a profit! There are as many pitfalls to growing cover crops as there are advantages. Cultivations are absolutely crucial for blackgrass control, as they are the only thing that can effectively control blackgrass apart from herbicide. They are especially important in stale seedbed scenarios where they remove any glyphosate-surviving plants.

The BEN system of farming is the first system developed that uses an understanding of the blackgrass plant and works with nature - rather than constantly fighting against it - to effectively manage the blackgrass problem

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