Black-grass (Alopecurus myosuroides Huds) has become the major grass-weed and herbicide resistance problem on arable farms throughout the UK. To control this weed long term there has to be a strategy of cultural, rotational and herbicidal methods. With limited scope for further gains in chemical techniques more and more farmers are getting back-to-basics with cultural control methods to attempt to manage this widespread and difficult weed.
Over the years there have been many cultural ways used to combat blackgrass. Some have worked better than others, and of course each method has different results depending on weather conditions and land types. Below we review some of the more common control methods and where they fit into the management program.
This is a tried and tested method, and still and option for some farmers, but pressure to get the seed planted in favourable conditions it’s often difficult to hold off. Along with this some years see protracted blackgrass germination which limits pre-drilling destruction and the benefit becomes slight.
Another well used method and always dependable, providing maximum glyphosate effect on the autumn seedlings. However there are limited opportunities for some land types and spring cereal yields can be notoriously variable.
Ploughing has always been seen to have a benefit. It can massively help following a year of heavy seed returns, and it is often the older, weaker seeds that are ploughed back up again, giving better control next time round.
Ploughing is one of the oldest methods that can help control blackgrass
This is a more recent option, removal of the green crop and all weeds from the field can rid the field of up to 80-90% of potential seed. With the growth of Anaerobic Digestion this is becoming and increasing viable option.
It is very important when using this method to time the cutting to prevent seeding but impact on black-grass population can be dramatic, especially if the ley extends to three years.
This could be a very beneficial option for growers but it is still in the early stages of research. Some encouraging result show black-grass suppression and easier spring drilling conditions.
An important part of the organic farmer’s armoury which many are looking to move to into conventional operations. Another emerging control method which we may see more of in the future.
As we know too well there is no magical solution and the problem only appears to be on the increase. A rigorous management programme is necessary and cultural techniques are an important part of this, but it’s a combination of methods that will have the best effect.