£2.6M Defra-funded project launched to revolutionise slug control
A new £2.6M project has been launched which seeks to provide arable farmers with precision slug control solutions. Strategies Leading to Improved Management and Enhanced Resilience Against Slugs (SLIMERS) is a three-year £2.6M research project involving over 100 UK farms and six industry partners, funded by Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme and delivered by Innovate UK.
The consortium of UK companies, research institutes and farmer networks, led by the British On-Farm Innovation Network (BOFIN), intends to provide two specific services to control slugs more sustainably.
“Since the ban on metaldehyde, there is now only one form of chemical control for slugs – ferric phosphate pellets – so protecting the longevity of this will require both a strategic and precision approach to slug management,” says project lead and BOFIN founder, Tom Allen-Stevens.
“Slugs are arable farming’s biggest pest issue which is estimated to cost the UK industry about £43.5M per year. Developing solutions to tackle these pests sustainably could be a game-changer for the entire industry and wider supply chain.”
The aims are to reduce reliance on slug pellet usage through precision application of treatments to slug hotspots and advance alternative biological control, both via an economically viable approach.
Dr Jenna Ross OBE from UK Agri-Tech Innovation Centre, Crop Health and Protection (CHAP) is the project’s technical lead. “I travelled the world in 2018 as a Nuffield Farming scholar and noticed a gap in the market for improved slug control.
“Farmers urgently need alternative control measures that are effective, sustainable, environmentally and societally acceptable, and economically viable. This industrial focused research project utilises the consortium’s unique expertise and capabilities to develop cost-effective digital autonomous slug monitoring, forecasting and precision treatment tools, thus delivering on-farm game-changing solutions to benefit farmers.”
The first stage of the project will be the recruitment of 30 ‘Slug Sleuths’ – a group of farmers determined to overcome their slug burdens – who will be selected and paid to host trials on their own farm. These farmers will test the developing technology and novel patch location forecasting to help researchers learn more about slug behaviour in a bid to create a long-term solution.
Next, the robots will move in, bringing infield cutting-edge slug identification and spot-treatment technology, building on the SlugBot project which was carried out by Small Robot Company and Crop Health & Protection (CHAP), funded by Innovate UK. The Slug Sleuths will work side-by-side with the autonomous bots to improve the AI models and advance pellet-free biological solutions.
While this technology will be tested infield by farmers, it will be supported and refined in laboratories, guided by leading scientists, and will include slug patch location forecasting and autonomous solutions for precision control.
How to get involved
Keen to expand the knowledge exchange beyond the core group of farmers, the project is also launching the Slug Circle – a platform and knowledge exchange hub designed to facilitate discussion, idea sharing and tips for best practice when it comes to slug burdens and controlling them.
The project team are urging farmers interested in being involved – or those who simply interested in alternative, precision techniques for control – to sign up now.
The project was officially launched to the industry on Wednesday 28 June at 1:00pm on the Small Robot Company stand (DF E27) at this year’s Groundswell event, with a follow up webinar to explain more about it and what’s on offer for farmers who wish to take part on 15 August at 8:30am. To register your interest in the Slug Circle Community, with no obligation click here.
More information about the project, including links to project partners and research initiatives that underpin the project can be found at slimers.co.uk
Notes to editors:
– Strategies Leading to Improved Management and Enhanced Resilience Against Slugs (SLIMERS) is a three-year £2.6M research programme involving more than 100 UK farms and six partners.
– The project aims are to develop two commercial services from current proof-of-concept technologies: patch prediction and precision mapping, and autonomous slug treatment using nematodes.
– The project is steered by science, guided by robots and proven by real farm enterprises, with the potential to make a significant difference to slug control strategies, with slug damage currently estimated to cost £43.5M a year.
– BOFIN (British On-Farm Innovation Network) leads the consortium – alongside technical lead, CHAP – that includes Harper Adams University, John Innes Centre, Agrivation and Small Robot Company.
– SLIMERS is funded by the Small R&D Partnership Projects, part of Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme. Defra are working in partnership with Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, who are delivering the programme. Project number: 10053286
– Innovate UK is the UK’s national innovation agency. Innovate UK drives productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses to develop and realise the potential of new ideas. It connects businesses to the partners, customers and investors that can help them turn ideas into commercially successful products and services and business growth. More information about Innovate UK can be found at: ukri.org
– Farmers are encouraged to join the Slug Circle community, a platform and knowledge exchange hub. For more, visit bofin.org.uk/slimers
– A selection of high-resolution pictures, including photos of key project representatives, general shots of slugs and logos can be found here.