Utilising slug distribution to develop precision application

Project number
Lead partner
Keith Walters, Harper Adams University; Emily Forbes, PhD student
Start Date
01 October 2015
End date
30 September 2018
AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds funding

The challenge

Changeable weather, lack of control options, environmental considerations and legislative changes all add to the slug control challenge. If slugs were left totally uncontrolled they would cause losses per year of around £25 million in wheat, £18 million in oilseed rape, and £53 million across all potato sectors (ware, processing, and seed).

Metaldehyde is often detected in raw water above the drinking water standard, with peaks following rainfall. While levels detected pose no danger to health or the environment, the UK’s environment agencies and Defra are responsible for the implementation of the Water Framework Directive. Unless action is taken, regulatory restrictions, or even withdrawal, may be enforced. With the recent ban of methiocarb, the understanding of slug patterns will aid in a more targeted approach to integrated pest management.

The project

The work commences by establishing the extent of the discontinuous distribution of slugs in commercial fields defining frequency and size range of patches. The relationship between environmental factors (e.g. soil moisture, organic matter, pH, soil type) and patch location/size will be established to improve understanding of drivers of patch formation/stability and to develop patch identification/definition approaches for precision treatment. Stability of patches (within and between years/crops) will be tested in commercial fields and the theory that population density declines towards the patch edge from a central peak will be investigated to refine patch definition. The relationship between slug population density and patch size will also be defined. A monitoring system for patch definition will be developed and linked to current commercial precision farming methods, and they will be subjected to a cost benefit analysis.

The benefits

Focussing on patch rather than field scale management of slugs will contribute to the strategic objective of precision inputs, which has two potential consequences:
• Reduced risk of diffuse pollution and non-target effects from existing chemistry, arguably allowing use to be retained.
• Improved cost effectiveness of alternatives such as biocontrol agents which would also facilitate the development of options for organic growers.


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