Dr Toby Bruce, Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, UK – 10 December 2015

Today fellow scholars Gordon Whiteford, David Walston and I spent the day at Rothamsted Research with Dr Toby Bruce.

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Toby and I follow each other on Twitter and have spoken before and I was interested to see the work that he and others are doing at Rothamsted. Toby is a chemical ecologist and looks at ways to use chemical alarms and sex pheromones to affect insect behaviour and to improve IPM. Probably his best know work is the development of pheromone traps for monitoring Orange Blossom Midge in wheat. Currently he is working on “lure and kill” technology (http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/projects/S5370) which is used for beetle pests of field beans and will hopefully be commercially available in the next few years. Toby is also passionate about connecting with farmers and people out in the field. This has led to the release of his app Croprotect (www.Croprotect.com). Croprotect is a platform for growers to access and share IPM information and ideas.

Next, Toby took us to see Dr Paul Neve. Paul in involved in a project covering 70 farms in the UK and looking at their management information to see the effect of management strategies on black-grass infestations and herbicide resistance. He is also involved in developing an in-field diagnostic tool for testing plant herbicide resistance. Also he is looking methods of reducing herbicide resistance with methods similar to RNAi.

Then we met  Dr Jonathan Storkey. Jonathan is working in a project to develop customised cover crop management models to manage grass weeds http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/projects/S5238

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Out in the field he is comparing cultivation, cover cropping and rotational strategies for grass weeds control

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In the afternoon we visited his trials with various replicates of different strategies. Some interesting facts Jonathan said were: that he believes shading of weeds is more important than alleopathy; seed predation of black-grass is lower than other grass weeds as not much eats black-grass seeds; black-grass’s short seed bank persistency is its Achilles heel.

Next we saw Dr Sam Cook. She specialises in IPM in OSR. One of her projects is using turnip rape as a trap crop for pollen beetle in OSR

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We saw her trials in the afternoon where she plants a border of turnip rape around the edge of OSR. The idea is that the turnip rape flowers earlier than the OSR and attracts the pollen beetles into the trap crop as they prefer the trap crop. This then means that the pollen beetles are below spray threshold in the crop. It works well but not in every year. There is also promise to use the same strategy for cabbage stem flea beetles as they prefer to lay eggs in the turnip rape. Some of the plots had been decimated by flea beetles. The interesting thing for me is how much more vigorous turnip rape is at establishing and coping with pest pressure. It has survived when OSR has not. It seems that in breeding for yield OSR has lost some traits we now need.

In the afternoon we had a look around outside at Rothamsted. We saw the Rothamsted Insect Suction Trap

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This tower constantly traps insects to monitor migration. Along with other towers across the country it gives researchers and growers information on insect migration throughout the season and the effects of climate change.

Next we saw a new project at Rothamsted

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This is the Digital Field Phenotyping Gantry. It moves up and down the crop plots and can take very accurate photographic information which can be used for many different applications such as nutrient effects on crops and calibrating of drones.

Then we saw the Broadbalk Experiment

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This experiment has been running since 1843 and has been continuous wheat. It is looking at the effects of different fertiliser strategies on soil and crops and many other factors. http://www.era.rothamsted.ac.uk/index.php?area=home&page=index&dataset=4 

We had a packed day at and many thanks to Toby for organising the day and showing us around.

AndrewHoward

AndrewHoward

Andrew Howard farms 345ha in a family partnership near Ashford, Kent, growing winter and spring wheat, winter and spring oilseed rape, spring oats, spring barley, winter barley, and field beans. His soils range from heavy weald clay to light sand. Andrew is a committee member of BASE UK, and member of LEAF and the Institute of Agricultural Management. As a Nuffield Scholar, Andrew will study companion cropping around the world.

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