Dr Toby Bruce, Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, UK – 10th 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 effect 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 Blackgrass 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 Blackgrass is lower than other grass weeds as not much eats Blackgrass seeds; black grass’s short seed bank persistency is it’s 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.

 

 

 

 

Dr Jonathan Lundgren, USDA ARS, Brooking, South Dakota – 24th of June 2015

Luckily Dr Lundgren worked in the same building as Dr Anderson so I did not have to go far for my afternoon appointment. Dr Lundgren is an entomologist and I wanted to get an insight into how companion cropping could overcome our insect problems. We spent the first hour speaking about Bruchid beetles in beans and cereal aphids in wheat and got some really good ideas on how to combat these pests. We then had a look around their laboratory. Below is an experiment on counting the numbers of insects in different soil cores.

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The idea is the lights slowly dry out and drive out the insects in the soil and they are then caught in beakers below and are then are counted and identified. They are also looking at the effects on soil health when insects are removed from soil.

They were also looking into the insect diversity in dung. Below is the diversity of insects in dung, each is a bottle of a different species

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They are looking at diversity and the effects of wormers and antibiotics on the dung community.

Out in the field Jonathan has an experiment on different oilseed crops as buffer strips for beneficial insects for soya bean aphid. They are growing Canola, Borage and Cuphea. These are three oilseed crops which flower at different times. The idea is to test the aphid control on the untreated soya beans and also sell the produce of the pollinator buffers. The only way they are going to get farmers to plant these buffers is if they can make some money on them so they plan to harvest the buffers.

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Jonathon is also growing Phacelia, clover and borage for seed on the ground of a friend of his next door

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His friend is Brett L. Adee who came over for dinner in the evening and his company is the biggest honey producer in the world

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Mikey on the left works for Jonathan, middle is Brett and on the right is Jonathan. Not only are they growing these crops for seed but also Brett is going place hives around the field and produce honey. They have found that hives around soya bean fields increase yields by 40%.

Jonathan is doing a lot of interesting work and has courted a large amount of controversy for some of his findings on neonics. Hopefully he us going to carry on doing his pioneering work because as farmers we need independent scientists like Jonathan to paddle against the tide and think for themselves. Keep doing the good work Jonathon. We as farmers need people like you to give us the true facts.