Take part in survey to help identify and contain spread of new grass weed

Winter wheat_65115

Farmers are being asked to assist in a new study looking at the spread of rat’s tail fescue, a grass weed that is already posing problems in France, Switzerland, Spain and Denmark – and is now starting to take hold in England and Wales.

Predominantly a threat in no-till winter cereals and grasses, where it can rapidly form dense carpets and compete with the crop, it can also be found in orchards and vineyards, and if it does take hold, can cause significant economic damage.

Losses through crop yield reduction

In Australia, where it has been present in fields for more than 50 years, it has incurred millions of dollars of losses through crop yield reduction and contamination of forage and wool.

The National Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich is conducting a survey asking farmers to answer questions about their location, soil type and general agronomy that they practice to see if there is any correlation between these factors and the distribution or abundance of rat’s tail fescue. This will help researchers identify areas of the country or agronomic practices that may be at higher risk of this species becoming a problem.

Take part in the survey

Farmers are being encouraged to take part in the survey whether or not they have rat's tail fescue on farm in order for researchers to map any correlation in location, soil type and agronomy practices that may be linked to the presence of the weed. 

The survey is open until 31 August. Take part via the University of Greenwich web page.

The survey should take no more than 15 minutes to complete and all data collected is anonymous.

To help you identify the plant, the research team has made an information leaflet about rat’s tail fescue and a identification guide available to download.

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Pictured above: Blackgrass in a winter wheat crop

Chris Hartfield, NFU senior regulatory affairs adviser, said:

“Biosecurity and containment are vital first steps in tackling any new crop pests, weeds or diseases. Detection, surveillance and understanding pest biology are key to the success of these steps. Black-grass resistance in the UK costs an estimated £400 million and 800,000 tonnes of lost wheat yield each year. We don’t want another blackgrass, so the NFU encourages members to get involved in helping understand the spread of rat’s tail fescue on UK arable land.”

Project lead, Dr Lucie Büchi from the National Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, said:

“Rat’s tail fescue is a relatively new grass weed in cropping systems in Europe, but of increasing concern. In the UK, it is present in natural habitats, but its distribution in arable fields is yet unknown. For this reason, we are launching a UK-wide survey to better understand the current knowledge and distribution of this species in the UK, and its association with cropping practices. It’s really important we get on top of this before it becomes another blackgrass.”

Send in seeds for study

Dr Büchi and researchers Laura Cook and Richard Hull from Rothamsted are also inviting farmers and agronomists to send them rat’s tail fescue seeds so they can start to study the weed in preparation for its likely spread across the UK.

Mr Hull said:

“We would like farmers that have rat’s tail fescue on their land to send us a mature seed sample and we can provide them with instructions for obtaining as good a seed sample as possible. We plan to run a series of experiments looking at how rat’s tail fescue may adapt to future climates and to study the differences in the life cycle of wild and natural populations compared to seed collected from farmers’ fields.”

Last edited: 12:41 on 15 June 2021

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