How can varieties contribute towards integrated black-grass management?

The Leamington Spa Monitor Farm meeting  yesterday had some challenging questions about identifying varieties which may help in the management of black-grass. Coming to this subject with little experience meant I learnt more than the audience on the challenges black-grass poses, but it allows me to look at the variety data in a different light.

Choice of variety will change depending on performance at different drilling dates. The RL wheat data shows yields of Reflection are 11.4 t/ha with September sowing, 10.9 t/ha October, 10.3 t/ha November. Moving towards the spring, KWS Alderon yields 10 t/ha in November and 7.7 t/ha in March drillings. If barley is your option, the hybrid barley Volume achieves 10 t/ha in the autumn, whilst the spring barley variety RGT Planet 8 t/ha in the spring. These yields are achieved  in the luxury of black-grass free sites.

Designing a variety which will outcompete black-grass is a tall order. Do you need rapid tillering in all weathers and sow dates? Upright leaves? Large flag leaves? Tall crops? All alongside the normal requirements from a variety with quality, yield, standing ability and disease resistance. Of these characteristics, we do measure straw height in the RL but we need to look at this  alongside straw strength.

It made me think that we don’t measure tillering performance in the RL or speed of crop cover. If we can get a steer from the researchers and agronomists as to their ideal black-grass competitive cereal crop, we could start to plan to do some additional measurements, or look at aerial ways to monitor speed of crop development which may in a very small way contribute to managing this problem.




Simon Oxley spent 20 years in Scotland carrying out applied research and giving integrated pest management advice to advisers and growers on a wide range of agricultural and horticultural crops. Simon currently manages the cereals & oilseeds Recommended Lists and agronomy projects at AHDB. Simon has worked on a wide range of research projects including Scottish Government funded advisory activities in plant health focussing on the monitoring pests and disease activities, and identifying unusual pest, disease and weed outbreaks. Cross institute research projects include cereal pathology projects, in particular work on barley disease epidemiology and management. Simon has been involved with training activities to both agricultural students and BASIS training to agronomists.


  • Stuart CRee

    BELEPI winter wheat covers many of the points raised in Simon’s blog. A six month drilling window from 1st October to end of March allowing growers to time sowing relative to travelling conditions and to delay if black grass is present. A vigorous spring tillering ability coupled with fast competitive growth to out-grow and smother blackgrass. Wide leaves to overshadow. Early to harvest when drilled in October allowing cover crops to be planted to further hamper the establishment of black grass and improve soils. BELEPI is not in national list trials because it does not suit the bulk trialling / same day harvesting protocols. Likewise the adage of increasing sowing rates to compete against blackgrass does not apply to Belepi it being winter dormant – in fact the complete opposite for October-drilled crops is recommended. While AHDB are not involved in the trialling of this variety it should not be overlooked in variety choice.

    February 9, 2016 at 3:59 pm
    • SimonOxley
      Simon Oxley

      Thanks for the informaton on Belepi. I can’t see any variety being the Holy Grail to black-grass management, but an integrated approach is what is required and getting a better understanding of varietal characteristics which can compete with it can only help in integrated black-grass management. Izzy Andrew has completed an interesting PhD, identifying and evaluating competitive traits in wheat for sustainable weed management. There should be information on our website soon. If I hear of any follow on research projects on crop competition and grass weed management, I suspect Belepi has some interesting characteristics worth testing.

      February 10, 2016 at 10:01 am