Farmers are being invited to sign up for trials to help take slug control research to the next level.

Now one year on from the launch of SLIMERS (Strategies Leading to Improved Management and Enhanced Resilience against Slugs), a ‘remarkable’ set of data has already been collected from 26 farms across England and Scotland.

But ambition levels are being raised for years two and three, with the goal of developing new and sustainable solutions to tackle arable farming’s biggest pest.

Following the ban on metaldehyde, the use of ferric phosphate pellets has become of paramount importance. SLIMERS, a £2.6M Defra-funded project, aims to reduce reliance on pellet usage through precision application of treatments to slug hotspots, and advance alternative biological control.

Slug sleuths

The British On-Farm Innovation Network (BOFIN) is now recruiting more so-called ‘slug sleuths’ who’ll be paid to take part in on-farm monitoring and trials to test the results from year one.

“We were delighted with the quality and quantity of data collected in year one which really proves how valuable farmer-led research is,” says BOFIN founder Tom Allen-Stevens.

“Now it’s all about taking what we’ve learnt and testing it on more farms in different locations, and we’ll be paying farmers to do that work for us.”

Professor Keith Walters from Harper Adams University says year two of the project will work with real-life farming situations to understand the commercial viability of new techniques to control the pest.

“We know slugs gather in patches and that this is related to soil factors,” he says. “Populations are higher in the middle of the patch than at the edge, so we have to understand better where the boundaries are. This could then guide where the pelleter is turned on and off for maximum effect.”

Slug behaviour

Keith explains they’re also looking at soil maps to see if this data, which is already routinely collected by farmers, can create a picture of where slugs are likely to gather.

“The slug sleuths will enable us to look at the commercial restraints and to design our own experiments. The data we have back from farms already has been remarkable – it’s high quality with hardly any missing data points, which is a real gong for on-farm trials.”

Slug Circle

BOFIN is also urging farmers to use the Slug Circle – a platform and knowledge exchange hub designed to facilitate discussion, idea sharing and tips for best practice.

“This doesn’t involve project trials but is a great place to share information and ask questions about slug control,” adds Tom.

SLIMERS is funded by Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme (FIP), delivered by Innovate UK.