By David Cairns,

agrochemical/grass seed director

at McCreath Simpson and Prentice

As we embark on the 2019 season, it’s worth revisiting your farm approach to managing the threat of blackgrass.

In Scotland and the North of England, it can be easy to become complacent. However, this can lead to an unexpected and aggressive attack on healthy crops which could cost you dearly.

This weed commands our attention. We can learn a lot from growers further south, many who have experienced devastating consequences on crops.

It needs a zero-tolerance approach. Blackgrass spreads quickly and can reduce yields by up to as much as 50%.

Factors that increase the risk of blackgrass include autumn cropping, warmer winters and a rise in the popularity of minimal tillage practices.

However, with some simple steps, our regions can remain relatively blackgrass free:

Walk your fields regularly

No one knows your farm better than you. It’s important to collate your farm data as this will help you keep on top of your crops and manage any threat of blackgrass.

If you suspect blackgrass on your farm, take it very seriously. If it is a small population, roguing can effectively eliminate it. Spraying it off is another option.

Seek an advisory service

Professional agronomists are specifically trained to recognise this weed and, very importantly, identify it early.

Get them along to inspect your crops, if you suspect blackgrass or not.

Clean your machinery

Most importantly for relatively ‘clean’ areas, ensure any purchased machinery is properly cleaned.

In our experience, this is the most likely reason that blackgrass is introduced to farms in the North of England and Scotland.

Buy from a trusted source

It’s important to make sure you buy your seed and straw from a reputable source. That way you will know more about its origins and avoid the risk of blackgrass more easily.

Rotate crops

In the northern regions, crop rotations are generally wider and this can help in the prevention of blackgrass.

This, by default, incorporates different cultivation techniques which all go a long way to reducing the risk. However, despite many factors in our favour, it’s important to remain vigilant – I can’t emphasise enough how quickly this weed spreads.

To control blackgrass, consider your rotations, crop choices and cultivations. Ploughing as a form of control is extremely effective if managed correctly.

As an industry, we must look at cultural controls to deal with this problem. Consider seed rates, as a higher seed rate can present competition and reduce the dominance this weed can have on a crop.

Herbicides are not the only answer and should be used with professional advice to ensure maximum efficacy and are stewarded correctly.

The innovation of hybrid barley varieties is also an exciting development, which will provide natural competition for blackgrass.

Many lessons have been learnt over recent years, and as advancements are made, both at crop management level and technological, I am optimistic our industry will overcome the difficulties we have experienced with this incredibly destructive weed.

However, we all need to play a role in that process to prevent its spread.