Results revealed of farmer-led slug trial

Farmers have successfully delivered an on-farm trial to explore the properties of a wheat believed to be resistant to slugs. The first trial of its type to be conducted by UK farmers, results will be revealed at a webinar on Thursday 16 March at 8:30am.

The trial is part of a study, co-ordinated by BOFIN (British On-Farm Innovation Network), to help farmers move away from a reliance on chemical control measures and the potential environmental impact of those chemicals.

Ten “Slug Sleuths” – farmer members of the network – were contracted to establish a trial plot of Watkins 788, a Landrace wheat variety never grown before on commercial farms in the UK.

The trial compared Watkins 788 (left) with the farm standard wheat.

This was compared with their farm standard wheat variety and the farmers monitored the plots closely for slug activity.

The ten farmers followed a protocol developed by BOFIN with Keith Walters, Professor of invertebrate and pest management at Harper Adams University.

“The way the trials were established and data captured was a huge success,” comments Keith, who also analysed the results.

“This shows that farmers can set up and deliver valid results of field trials from a scientific study. These on-farm trials are an essential element when testing new techniques and technologies.

Keith Walters

“The implications are huge – If we can get scientifically sound results from a range of sites without sending research assistants all over the UK, that offers significant savings for field research.”

Keith will deliver the first-year results of this ground-breaking trial at the webinar on Thursday 16 March.

Anyone can attend and join the Slug Circle, a group of farmers and scientists who are helping to shape how the project develops.

Simon Griffiths

Also presenting at the webinar will be Dr Simon Griffiths, Group Leader of Designing Future Wheats at the John Innes Centre, who will bring attendees up to date on the genetics of Watkins 788 and the quest for a slug-resistant trait.

He will also highlight lab-based feeding trials, currently underway to explore further this wheat’s fascinating properties, along with other wheats undergoing tests.

The Slug Sleuths will then come together to discuss the trial and its implications for improving crop returns and reducing reliance on chemical control.

Slug Sleuth Jamie Melrose inspects a trap.

Chaired by BOFIN Founder and Oxfordshire farmer Tom Allen-Stevens, webinar attendees will be invited in to give their views and ask questions directly to the panel.

“We started this quest for a slug-resistant trait over three years ago, and it would never have got underway had it not been for the enthusiasm of the farmers who got involved,” notes Tom.

“We’ve not only proven the case for farmer-led research and directed cutting-edge R&D towards a much-needed in-field use, we’ve shown farmers can do the fieldwork to prove the concept.

“It means farmers can play their rightful role in delivering the Fourth Agricultural Revolution and accelerate adoption of some of the jaw-dropping genetic innovations currently being developed in labs and glasshouses across the UK.

“It will also help Defra direct some of the £168M of funding recently announced to encourage the take up of new technologies and advance productivity for UK farmers.”

The first year of the Slug-Resistant Wheat project, which started in April 2022 and is led by BOFIN, is supported through a contribution by the Environment Agency as part of its Environment Programme.

This supports partner-led projects as part of a Catchment Based Approach to improve the chemical and ecological quality of waterbodies.

Anyone can join the project for free and get involved in the Slug Circle – a group of around 60 farmers and scientists who have come together to explore alternative forms of slug control and who have helped shape the project as it progresses.

Driven and steered by the farmers themselves, at the centre of the project are the 10 Slug Sleuths, who carry out the on-farm trials with genetics expertise provided by Simon, and seed multiplied up by JIC at its Dorothea de Winton Field Station, Norwich.

The feeding trials are the final, new element of the project and involve “Slug Scouts”, volunteers who are gathering slugs from the field and then sending them in for the lab-based feeding studies. These are conducted by Dr Victor Soria-Carrasco and the Entomology and Insectary Platform team at the John Innes Centre.

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