Early weed growth in exceptionally mild weather and rising problems with resistance to chemicals have triggered a call for the return of stubble burning.

Soil temperatures have already climbed above 10C in some areas while the battle against blackgrass continues to be hampered by growing resistance to herbicides, such as Atlantis.

Growers took to the internet last weekend to discuss alternative control methods. Lincolnshire arable farmer Mark Pettitt said limited return to post-harvest stubble burning would help weed control and prepare fields for the following crop.

“We used to burn everything, and never had any problems with lack of microbes, but not suggesting burning 100%,” he wrote on Twitter. “I have come to the conclusion if I could burn just 10% of wheat acres each year, that would clean up my bad blackgrass patches.”

Farmer and agricultural contractor Malc Parr agreed. Straw burning could even be more environmentally friendly, he suggested. “It has to come back in a limited way for the sake of the planet.”

Stubble burning was effectively banned in 1993 following environmental concerns. Agronomy lecturer Mark Sheridan, of Reaseheath College, told Farmers Weekly he doubted any government would allow a partial return to burning.

“Recently we have had other chemistry available to help the control of blackgrass. But there are wider and wider areas of herbicide resistance. With the ever-increasing list of herbicides being banned by the EU and no new chemicals on the horizon – what is the future going to bring?”

Chris Cooksley, herbicide campaign manager for Bayer CropScience, said environmental constraints meant the product pipeline contained no successor to Atlantis.
Meanwhile, growers who could travel on fields should start combating blackgrass immediately.

“Conditions are more like March than January and we’ve not had the help from mother nature we had last year. It might be a pipe dream to see stubble burning return but it would certainly be interesting to compare the environmental impact of burning compared to herbicides.”

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