Farmer Focus: Did baling straw bring about our slug woes?

These days my precision agronomy skills run to finishing drilling and pre-emergence sprays before the October half term and a much-needed holiday.

We duly managed it, but were desperate for rain (again), so I didn’t really appreciate the weather gods’ dark sense of humour as I exited a Mediterranean airport to be greeted by huge claps of thunder and lightning.

However, we have had a couple of inches of rain since I got back and, with soil temperatures still warm, crops have been happy and the redrilled oilseed rape looks fine.

See also: Tips on killing slugs with ferric phosphate pellets

Intriguingly it actually has a lot less holes in the leaves than the Niab trial which, unlike the farm crop, has had insecticide, but lacks a companion crop.

I think the first OSR disappeared so quickly that I could probably blag it that we drilled the beans first and then the OSR later in a cunning anti-flea beetle strategy.

Baling straw

To badly paraphrase the Queen, we have had an “annus slugus”. Although our slug pellet use increased when we started direct drilling, it has markedly reduced in recent years and so, with that and the weather in mind, a bad slug year was the last thing we were expecting.

I wonder whether baling more straw than usual, in response to local need, counter-intuitively made things worse in the baking dry summer by decreasing our beetle numbers, while slugs somehow hid away, ready to appear starving with the first rains.

There is no doubt that pre-emptive pelleting or cultivations help, but ideally I’d like to avoid both as much as possible, so we could do with some kind of early prediction system, possibly involving soil sampling and accurate to at least field level.

Unfortunately, Slugwatch can’t predict why we get trouble in one field and not the next and the AHDB trapping recommendations would see us putting out and monitoring a whopping 275 traps on our not huge arable acreage.