As featured in Arable Farming Magazine
Seeking solutions to CSFB threat
by Arable Farming Magazine February issue
The urgent need to find ways to avoid cabbage stem flea beetle damage to oilseed rape crops without using pesticides has prompted plenty of industry research. Andrew Blake outlines one such project.
Since the withdrawal of neonicotinoid seed treatments in 2013, cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB), as many farmers know to their cost, can wipe out entire crops, and widespread resistance to pyrethroid insecticides has not helped in controlling the pest.
Although CSFB damage in crops across the country in 2020 and 2021 was less than in previous years, adult CSFB numbers in both seasons were much the same as before in some areas, says ADAS’ Dr Sacha White, who is leading the project looking at reducing the impact of the pest.
“The lower damage levels were probably due to better conditions at establishment and to the industry adopting better pest management, for example adjusting their sowing dates,” says Dr White.
The three-year project, which began in July 2020, has two key areas of work.
The first is to study the pest’s biology and how its life cycle is affected by seasonal variations in climate and habitat.
“It focuses on work that will help improve monitoring the pest, predicting the risk of damage and targeting management strategies,” adds Dr White.
The second area is investigating control methods which can be used on farms.
Several non-chemical control strategies have shown potential, says Dr White.
These include adjusting sowing dates, changing sowing rate, managing stubbles and using trap crops.
“Reliable data on the value of these methods is limited,” he says.
“Our work is exploring a range of controls to identify the effectiveness and reliability of each of them and trying to see where strategies could be combined to improve overall control.”
Getting to grips with the first area involves using traps from Yorkshire to Devon to monitor the migration of adult flea beetles and pinpoint factors driving it.
“The data is being analysed alongside variables such as weather data.
We hope this will allow us to predict the start, size and length of adult migration more accurately.
“We’re monitoring adult feeding damage at sites across the country and comparing this with trapping data to see whether that data can be used to predict damage.”
Laboratory experiments are being conducted to find crop stages which may be preferred by migrating adults.
“This should help optimise the use of volunteer rape as a trap crop by pinpointing the growth stage most attractive to the beetle,” says Dr White.
Assessment of the impact of temperature on egg and larval development in controlled environment experiments is also underway.
“This should allow larval risk to be better predicted and treatments to be better timed.”
Pot experiments are also being used to assess the effect of larvae numbers, the date larvae invade and the condition of the crop at the time of invasion.
This should allow the impact of larvae on crop yield to be determined and mitigation strategies be better deployed.
On-farm, a range of non-pesticide control strategies are being investigated in plot-scale to field-scale trials.
These include sowing date, companion crops, stubble and establishment methods, the use of organic amendments and growth regulators, variety, seed rate and crop nutrition.
To date there have been few surprises, says Dr White.
One particular trial highlighted the importance of sowing date.
“It showed crops emerging during peak beetle migration are at high risk.
That usually peaks in early to mid-September.
Sowing between the third week of August and mid-September risks high damage.
Sowing earlier will likely result in less adult damage.
Sowing later probably reduces larval pressure and possibly leads to lower adult damage as well.”
The trials have also found that companion crops such as buckwheat, berseem clover and fenugreek, using organic amendments such as manure, and leaving stubbles untouched all have potential to reduce CSFB damage.
Piecing together helpful options
The UK oilseed area has dropped drastically since neonicotinoid seed dressings, a key protection against CSFB, were withdrawn, says Frontier Agriculture’s break crop production and sustainability specialist Robert Nightingale.
He says: “As an industry we used them alongside pyrethroids, which were already on the way to being resistant.
“Oilseed rape is an important option for sustainable rotations both agronomically and financially, and we cannot go back to using just one chemical as a line of defence against a pest that has hampered the crop.
That’s why this research is essential in the UK.
Prospect “There seems little prospect of chemical replacements emerging to get us back to where we were, so understanding the beetle’s phenology [seasonal changes in plants and animals] so we can predict as well as possible how we should react in a particular season using the best integrated pest management [IPM] techniques is important.”
Mr Nightingale likens the current picture to the difficulty in controlling black-grass once the herbicide Atlantis (iodosulfuron + mesosulfuron) began to struggle to provide control in cereals “We need to know what strategies are best for improving the OSR crop’s chances in any given season.
Establishment “The past couple of years have seen much better establishment, but it’s interesting to see we’ve had the same level of CSFB adults caught across the country as before, showing that we can grow the crop with that level [of CSFB] out there.
Given we’ve seen that same level in trials, it has been encouraging to find lower numbers in traps where there have been companion crops in fields.
“The IPM approaches developing across UK farms do seem to provide success in some situations and it is understanding where they work and in what combinations that this project is helping to piece together,” he adds.