The IPM planning tool for Scottish growers is starting to give useful insights about what high scoring farms do and where they get their information. Filing in an Integrated Pest Management plan is now standard practice on most arable farms and is a useful tool to explore what can be done on individual farms to increase IPM practices. IPM plans are also being picked up across mixed and grassland farms too. Almost 5000 arable plans have been completed to date for arable farms and nearly 300 for grassland plans – just launched at the end for 2021. Average scores for arable farms are 64.8% and for grassland farms 56.9%. This provides really positive evidence about what the farming industry is already doing to produce crops in integrated and sustainable ways.
The point of the plan is to provide a tool which allows each farm to baseline its practices and explore what to improve. It is not a competition, and no one marks your homework so there is no point in working out what the ‘right’ answers are and awarding yourself top marks! In fact this will just make it harder to improve against your baseline score.
The plans, which people can complete on the Plant Health Centre website, https://www.planthealthcentre.scot/scottish-ipm-assessment-plan highlight some practical messages about what we can learn from the high scoring farms. These farms tend to work more with preventative measures and they tend to get their information from more specialist sources.
The data from the plans is only ever used at a collective level, and never at an individual level and the high level data shows that Scotland’s average score is slightly behind average scores in England, Ireland and Wales but this reinforces the point that there is no ‘right’ score and that improving against individual baseline scores is the way to go. There are very practical reasons why a score may be lower in Scotland, as for example in England they worry about different pests weeds and diseases and a key characteristic from the data is more ploughing in Scotland and less reduced or no-till compared to south of the border. Scottish farms may also have fewer options with regard to cover crops. Time and systems change are required to transition towards a reduced tillage approach. Land may be less suitable for reduced tillage i.e. not flat or have heavier, wetter soils etc.
This illustrates that it is really key to improve individual farms against their own scores and within the very practical considerations of soil type and climate. If changed tillage is not possible perhaps other preventative measures can be taken such as adjusting spray programmes in response to risk. The data shows that the main reasons people adjusted their spray programmes were weather, observed levels of pest, growth stage and advisor recommendations.
Completing a plan is now part of quality assurance schemes such as Scottish Quality Crops and Red Tractor. And the plan makes a useful tool to facilitate discussions between growers and agronomists when thinking about the overall IPM strategy for the farm. We can learn a lot from the top 25% of scorers who take more and preventative measures and consider more factors when developing and evaluating IPM plans. Crucially they tend to actively seek IPM knowledge and advice.
Fiona Burnett and Henry Criessen, SRUC for the Farm Advisory Service
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