15 September 1995

Sweet tooth a factor in slugs taste for wheat

SLUGS prefer sweeter wheat varieties, so growers hoping to minimise the pests impact should consider their choices carefully.

Thats the tentative conclusion from a Home-Grown Cereals Authority-funded laboratory study by the Scottish Agricultural College.

It found a direct link between the amount of sugar boiled out of crushed grain samples and the degree of slug damage in each germinating variety.

Of the 12 tested, Riband, Mercia and Hereward, with the highest sugar contents, had 40% grain hollowing after five days, reports researcher Dr Alison Spaull.

Of the three varieties with the lowest sugars Buster was least damaged with only 18% hollowing, and Hunter and Parade had no more than 21%.

The work stems from an earlier "look-see" which showed some surprising differences, says Dr Spaull. Varieties with Parade in their parentage tend to have much lower sugars, she notes.

Whether the results can be transferred to the field remains to be seen, she acknowledges.

"Were not encouraging growers to rush out and change their varieties just to avoid slugs. But it could be worth a try on fields with a known regular problem in a wet autumn."

The sugar extraction test is easily done, and eventually the information could be included in recommended lists, she suggests.