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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘We no longer need to spray for docks’ – Mayo couple breeding beetles

Mayo-bred beetles are set to become what has been described as an “environmentally friendly, cost-effective weapon in the never-ending war on weeds”.

ABP has recruited battalions of Irish beetles to tackle the war on dock leaves at its Carlow demonstration farm.

Mayo-based couple, Louis, and Siobhan Ward, who are agricultural consultants, have bred the beetles for the ABP-led initiative.

It is aimed at promoting on-farm environmentally sustainable and regenerative farming practices.

The Wards, who run their own farm stocked with pedigree Angus cattle, this year established their company, Green Submarine.

Green Submarine now breeds beetles in polytunnels on an industrial scale.

They market them to farmers as a one-off cost-effective, ever-lasting alternative to chemical herbicides.

Once deployed on a farm, the dock beetle breeds to colonise the whole field, returning every year to “keep the docks at bay”.

They supply Irish farmers with their “secret weapon” in the war on docks –   Gastrophysa viridula – known as the green dock beetle.

Beetles 

Siobhan Ward explained how the west of Ireland-based business came to fruition:

“We noticed something eating docks in one of our fields, and some research showed it was dock beetles.”

“We gradually introduced the beetles to the rest of the farm, and we no longer need to spray for docks.”

She explained that the population of dock beetle will initially rise to decimate the dock weed naturally.

Then, she added, will fall back as its success diminishes its natural food supply in a sustainable way on an annual basis, all for a one-off outlay which is “far cheaper” than administering just one application of weed killer.

According to Louis, dock beetles are native and natural predators of docks. They skeletonise dock leaves and keep them at an acceptable level in grassland.

Crucially, the beetle hibernates for the winter and reappears each spring, giving very low long-term cost.

Impacts of dock weeds

According to ABP agri sustainability manager, Stephen Connolly, said dock weeds can reduce yields from beef and dairy pastures, and silage meadows by up to 40% in extreme cases.

Docks, he added, are a “considerable” problem for Irish farmers, forcing many farmers to utilise “expensive” specialised commercial weed killers to destroy the docks.

“We think we have found a potential solution to the problem of dock weeds in Louis and Siobhan’s dock beetles.”

He said the beetles are a “key” part of incorporating regenerative agricultural practices on the ABP demo farm.

He said they:

  • Provide a natural, simple, sustainable, nature-based solution to dock weeds;
  • Eliminate the headaches while at the same time;
  • Potentially improve biodiversity on-farm through reduced herbicides applications
White Clover

Connolly said nutrient and protein-rich white clover thrives in dock-free pastures.

He added that it reduces bovine methane emissions but noted that, unfortunately, the many commercial sprays kills off clover.

“White clover can, through a process known as nitrogen-fixing, aided by bacteria living on it, store extra nitrogen from the atmosphere, releasing loads of natural soil-enriching nitrogen once it expires.”

“The use of nitrogen fertiliser can be significantly reduced where clover is present while maintaining production and reducing farm costs.”

“The less commercial fertiliser used, the more work clover does, helping the ecosystem, fitting into our regenerative farming practices on the ABP demo farm,” he concluded.

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