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Overuse of herbicides costing UK economy £400 million every year

Christian Fernsby |
ZSL scientists have for the first time put an economic figure on the herbicidal resistance of a major agricultural weed that is decimating winter-wheat farms across the UK.

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Topics: HERBICIDES    UK   

Black-grass (Alopecurus myosuroides) is a native annual weed which although natural, large infestations in farmers' fields can force them to abandon their winter wheat the UK's main cereal crop. Farmers have been using herbicides to try and tackle the black-grass problem but in many areas of England the agricultural weed is now resistant to these herbicides.

The cost of black-grass heralded as 'Western Europe's most economically significant weed', is setting back the UK economy £400 million and 800,000 tonnes of lost wheat yield each year, with potential implications for national food security.

Published in Nature Sustainability, researchers from ZSL's Institute of Zoology, Rothamsted Researcg and Sheffield University have devised a new model which helps quantify the economic costs of the resistant weed and its impact on yield under various farming scenarios.

An estimated four million tonnes of pesticide are applied to crops worldwide each year. There are 253 known herbicide-resistant weeds already, and unlike the known-costs to the economy of human antibiotic resistance which runs into trillions of dollars estimates of the costs of resistance to agricultural xenobiotics (e.g. antimycotics, pesticides) are severely lacking.

The ZSL research found the UK is losing 0.82 million tonnes in wheat yield each year (equivalent to roughly 5% of the UK's domestic wheat consumption) due to herbicide resistant black-grass. The worst-case scenario where all fields contained large amounts of resistant black-grass is estimated to result in an annual cost of £1 billion, with a wheat yield loss of 3.4 million tonnes per year.

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