Future weed management at risk from short-term research approach

CURRENT spending on weed research in the UK is ‘papering over the cracks’ with short-term projects.

While this approach is better than doing nothing, there is a real need for longer-term studies in the area of weed control.

That was the message from Rothamsted Research weed scientist Dr Peter Lutman following a review, undertaken on behalf of BCPC, of current research projects in UK universities, colleges and research centres.

Outlining the results of the survey at the 2012 BCPC Weed Review, Dr Lutman said he had identified 34 projects in total, across research areas including herbicide performance, alternative methods of weed control, herbicide application, environment and regulation.

Most of these projects - 20 in all - were attracting funding of £30,000 a year or less.

Funding

A further nine projects were receiving funding of between £30,000 and £100,000 a year and just five were large projects with funding of more than £100,000 a year.

Commenting on his findings, Dr Lutman said: “It is not as bad as I thought it would be, but there are very few substantial projects.

“The levy boards are funding for the resolution of short-term problems - more than 30 per cent of the work is being done by PhD students. Defra is funding very little, except to support legislation, through CRD and indirectly through TSB.

“There is not much strategic work going on. We are papering over the cracks with low-cost PhD projects; it’s better than doing nothing, but some of these projects need long-term study.”

The impacts of rotation or farming systems on weeds were examples of areas requiring longer-term work. There was little government and levy board support for alternative (non-herbicide) methods of weed management, he added.

Professor Lutman’s review did not take into account research funded by agrochemical manufacturers or distributors.

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