Farmers nationwide have started trials to help develop new precision slug control solutions.

Strategies Leading to Improved Management and Enhanced Resilience Against Slugs (SLIMERS) is a three-year £2.6M research project involving more than 100 UK farms.

It brings together a number of research projects, including work done on the location of patches with higher slug numbers that can be forecasted in fields. This could help reduce the industry’s reliance on slug pellets, bringing significant economic benefits.

Farmer-led data capture

A notable feature of the trial is that all slug monitoring is being carried out by farmers and agronomists, rather than research staff.

According to project lead and founder of the British On-Farm Innovation Network (BOFIN), Tom Allen-Stevens, it’s the first time a slug-monitoring project has been attempted on this scale.“Our 28 farmers – or Slug Sleuths as we’ve called them – are determined to overcome their pest burden and are being paid to host trials on their own farms, which have now begun. Each will monitor a 1ha grid of 100 slug refuge traps in their crop over the autumn.”

Professor Keith Walters from Harper Adams University drew up the protocol with BOFIN for the triallist farmers, many of whom have experience carrying out their own on-farm trials.

Commercial solution

For him, SLIMERS will bring nearly a decade of research to a conclusion and with it, hopefully deliver a commercially-viable means of predicting and treating slugs with targeted treatment.

“Most farmers already know that slugs aren’t necessarily evenly distributed across a field, instead preferring certain locations,” he says. Keith says he realised that if research could get to the bottom of why these patches occur and where, farmers could benefit from spreading pellets, or even biological controls, across a much smaller area rather than entire fields, with both economic and environmental advantages.

“If we can find out something about those patches and predict where they are, can we target pellets or biologicals on just those areas and achieve sufficient suppression of the slugs?” he asks. “That was the original, basic premise. But it brought with it a lot of questions that have to be answered first.

“Each one seemed impossible when we started. But now, SLIMERS will hopefully answer the very last question – can we predict where the patches will occur so farmers can reliably target pellet application?”

Webinar knowledge transfer

The practical work of trapping and recording slug populations is already underway and two technical webinars have already been held.

The first webinar was an introduction to the project, while the second outlines how monitoring carabid beetle populations may reveal useful information about the relationship between these beetles and slugs. Both are available on BOFIN’s YouTube channel.