Interdisciplinary assessment of the potential for improving Integrated Pest Management practice in Scottish spring barley
Stetkiewicz, Stacia Serreze
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Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has long been promoted as a means of reducing reliance on pesticide inputs as compared to conventional farming systems. Reduced pesticide application could be beneficial due to the links between intensive pesticide use and negative impacts upon biodiversity and human health as well as the development of pesticide resistance. Work assessing the potential of IPM in cereal production is currently limited, however, and previous findings have generally covered the subject from the perspective of either field trial data or social science studies of farmer behaviour. This thesis attempts to help to address this knowledge gap by providing a more holistic assessment of IPM in Scottish spring barley production (selected because of its dominance in Scotland’s arable production systems), in relation to three of its most damaging fungal pathogens: Rhynchosporium commune, Blumeria graminis f.sp. hordei, and Ramularia collo-cygni. Several IPM techniques of potential relevance to the sector were identified, and the prospects of three in particular – crop rotation, varietal disease resistance, and forecasting disease pressure – were assessed in several ways. Preliminary analysis of experimental field trial data collected from 2011 – 2014 across Scotland found that the majority of spring barley trials in this period (65%) did not show a statistically significant impact of fungicide treatment on yield, with the average yield increase due to fungicide application being 0.62 t/ha. This initial analysis was expanded upon using stepwise regressions of long-term (1996 – 2014) field trial data from the same dataset. Here, the difference between treated and untreated yields could be explained by disease resistance, average seasonal rainfall (whereby wetter seasons saw an increased impact of fungicide use on yield), and high combined disease severity. Stakeholder surveying provided information about current practice and attitudes towards the selected IPM techniques amongst a group of 43 Scottish spring barley farmers and 36 agronomists. Stakeholders were broadly open to taking up IPM measures on farm; sowing of disease resistant varieties was most frequently selected as the best technique in terms of both practicality and cost, though individual preference varied. However, a disparity was seen between farmer perception of their uptake of IPM and actual, self-reported uptake for both varietal disease resistance and rotation. Farmers and agronomists also overestimated the impact of fungicide use as compared with the field trials results – the majority of stakeholders believed fungicide treatment to increase yields by 1 - 2 t/ha, while the majority of 2011 – 2014 field trials had a yield difference of under 1 t/ha. The reasons behind these differences between perception and practice are not currently known. Finally, an annual survey of commercial crops, gathered from 552 farms across Scotland (from 2009 – 2015), highlighted two gaps where IPM practice could be improved upon. Firstly, relatively few of the varieties listed in the commercial crops database were highly resistant to the three diseases – 26.1% were highly resistant to Ramularia, 14.2% to Rhynchosporium, and 58.1% to mildew. Secondly, 71% of the farms included in the database had planted barley in at least two consecutive seasons, indicating that crop rotation practices could be improved. The overarching finding of this project is that there is scope for IPM uptake to be improved upon and fungicide use to be reduced while maintaining high levels of yield in Scottish spring barley production. Incorporating experimental field data, stakeholder surveying, and commercial practice data offered a unique view into the potential for IPM in this sector, and provided insights which could not have been gained through the lens of a single discipline.