A group of four Fermanagh farmers have teamed up with AgriSearch and Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) to investigate different strategies to control leatherjacket populations in grassland.

The project is one of seven taking place under the new Northern Ireland European Innovation Partnership (EIP) scheme, which has been co-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Department of Agriculture, Environmental and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

Leatherjackets are the larvae of crane fly (commonly known as daddy-long-legs). They reach maturity in the spring, and feed on the roots and stems of grass or cereal plants and can cause significant loss of yield, seen in large bare patches.

Grass reseeds and new leys are particularly vulnerable and can be devastated if leatherjackets are not controlled.

Leatherjackets are a known problem in grassland systems, particularly in the west of the province. With grass being the principal feed for the ruminant livestock sector in Northern Ireland, the destruction of grass by leatherjackets can therefore have a significant effect on the profitability of dairy, beef and sheep farms.

Limiting leatherjacket damage

Previously, chemical solutions were used to control infestations; however, chlorpyrifos products were withdrawn from sale in 2016, leaving farmers with no control options.

The project hopes to contribute towards preventing avoidable losses to grass while reducing dependence on agrochemicals in production systems.

It's hoped the research will help develop simple strategies to help prevent infestations of leatherjackets on farms across Northern Ireland and minimise their effect.

The first step in the project will be to determine the current prevalence of leatherjackets on each of the participant farms through field sampling.

The results from this survey will allow links to be made with management techniques on-farm and will also be used to validate a weather-based model that predicts likely leatherjacket numbers.

leatherjacket research at AgriSearch

This will, alongside effective mitigation strategies, enable farmers to make the appropriate decisions on-farm to prevent infestations in the spring.

AFBI entomologist Dr. Archie Murchie said: “This project, by determining the factors that influence leatherjacket prevalence on-farm, aims to propose a range of alternative Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies that can be undertaken on-farm to reduce the risk of a leatherjacket infestation.

"Such strategies could include alternative grazing regimes to minimise the preferred habitat for egg-laying and larval survival. By tackling the problem before it arises, yield losses could potentially be avoided.

"There is currently very little known about these pre-emptive mitigation strategies or their effectiveness, a problem this project hopes to address.”