In addition to the weather, stubble clean-ups and green bridge carry-over are the two other major contributors, which means that high slug pellet usage on farms across the UK is likely this year, explains Justin Smith agronomist for Bartholomews Agri Food Ltd.
“I work with farmers in the East Sussex and Kent areas, most of whom farm in vulnerable water catchment areas and are looking for flexible methods of slug control.
“In these high-risk scenarios, we’re often having to deal with a multitude of pressures that contribute to slug numbers, such as poor soil structure. Many of these variables are also affected by the weather.
“You need to strike a balance between cultural and technical control methods.
“When it comes to the application of pesticides, responsible usage is key. We are continuously working with the local water authorities to ensure that best practice guidance is followed and exceedances minimised so the future of the products in our armoury for slug control are protected.”
Mr Smith, who provides advice for over 5,000 hectares of arable and grassland, is a strong advocate of raising awareness to farmers, so they understand the best mix of tools and approach for their individual situation.
“If the farm will support alternative cropping and rotations, this may well help to reduce the risk.
“Alongside this, there are a range of slug control products available to us, and we need to provide education about the benefits and practicalities of all of them.”
Mr Smith discusses the challenges that the industry faces in finding the right solution to increasing slug numbers.
“I recognise that these are testing times for everyone and margins are tight, but the industry continues to evolve and change, and because of this we need to be open to changing the way we do things.
“Every farmer knows that metaldehyde works for slug control, but there are strict limits of when and how it can be applied. Following another wet and warm year such as this one, a farm’s calendar year allowance for metaldehyde usage may have already been exceeded on other crops.”
In addition to the annual limits for products containing metaldehyde, there are further controls imposed during the restricted period of 1 August to 31 December, and a six metre no-spread zone adjacent to watercourses which is compulsory throughout.
“Education is a key part of my role, and I continue to highlight that different slug control products work in different ways. More recently, I have been recommending ferric phosphate pellets as a favoured method of slug control.
“The farmers I work with have historically enjoyed seeing the visual effects of metaldehyde and dead slugs all over the surface of the soil.
“Ferric phosphate utilises different chemistry, which means it relies on a different mode of action compared to metaldehyde. You won’t see dead slugs on the surface but you will notice the slug levels declining and reduced crop grazing, which is most important in allowing the crop to flourish.”
Mr Smith believes ferric phosphate pellets such as the commercial market leader - Sluxx HP - provide a level of flexibility for farmers who will be battling with increased slug populations in times of high-risk, particularly for those who are in a vulnerable water catchment.
“The farms I walk grow a range of cereals, brassicas, maize and fodder beet, as well as potatoes. For every farm, the responsible application of slug pellets is all about practicality, and ferric phosphate pellets offer this because it has no restriction on the treatment of buffer-zones.
“I recommend Sluxx HP to my customers and will keep promoting the message that it offers maximum flexibility and confidence to protect the crops you’re growing.”
Planning ahead is fundamental in controlling slug levels successfully, he concludes. “Making sure crops are well established and investing time and resources in crop protection, is vital in ensuring a sound crop.”