Brome grass, in all its manifestations, is becoming a major grassland weed problem on tillage farms throughout the island of Ireland, according to CAFRE agronomist Leigh McClean.

Speaking at this week’s Ulster Arable Conference he said that heavy infestations of brome can lead to major reductions in both crop yields and quality.

“There is also growing evidence that brome is becoming resistant to the herbicides now available to cereal growers.

“As is the case with black grass we have imported the problem on imported straw and machinery.”

McClean advocated an Integrated Pest Management approach when it comes to dealing with the brome challenge.

“For those farmers who do not have the problem, the overarching priority must be to ensure that the current state of affairs is maintained.”

So, for example, all machinery brought on to the farm must be cleaned thoroughly prior to its use in fields.

“Growers must be vigilant. A key requirement in this regard is the regular inspection of crops and the early identification of any brome-related problems, should they arise.”

McClean confirmed that brome problems will get an initial foothold adjacent to hedgerows and then work their way towards the centre of fields.

“Field margins should also be inspected regularly for any signs of infestations”

In cases where problems have been identified, the CAFRE advisor stressed the need to ensure that the infestation is not allowed to spread within the confines of a farm.

“In this context, it is crucially important for cultivation equipment to be cleaned thoroughly between fields.”

McClean said that light infestations of brome can be hand rogued.

Plants must be removed before viable seed are produced. Mechanical weed control options are an option.

“Again, they must be used before the brome plants produce viable seed. I have seen farmers using an adopted hedge cutter, which can deliver the level of mechanical weed control that is required in this regard.

“Another alternative is to make silage from the crop sown out. But, again, this must take place before the brome produces viable seed.”

From a cultivation point of view, McClean proposed a number of management options.

“Producing a stale seed bed and then spraying off the emerging weeds with glyphosate pre-drilling works, provided that full recognition is taken of the fact that there are a number of brome species to be controlled.

“Putting land into grass for 18 months will allow farmers reduce brome seed counts down to zero, provided the swards are managed accordingly.”

McClean pointed out that there are a limited number of herbicides now available to directly tackle infestations.

“This is particularly the case, where winter barley is concerned,” he said.