No more wiggle room for pesky invader


07 July 2023
Latest wireworm studies bring new insights into pest.

SOME good news is coming out of latest UK studies into wireworm.


Since key pesticide Mocap (ethoprophos) was withdrawn from the market in 2019, growers’ ability to control the pest has taken a severe hit.


Since then, scientists, agronomists and growers have been pooling their resources to find the best ways to keep the pest from destroying potato crops – with the UK having previously lagged behind other countries in terms of research.


Martyn Cox, a Norfolk-based potato specialist who runs Blackthorn Arable has spent many years trying to understand the pest and predict its actions, and his experience and knowledge have led to him being a partner on two UK collaborations.


The Cambridge University Potato Growers Research Association (CUPGRA) requested a thorough review into the problem in 2020 as problems were seen to be increasing. Martyn, along with Niab CUF Senior Research Associate, Dr Marc Allison, began looking at how to improve risk assessment, identify knowledge gaps and carry out work to validate the findings. Marc retired last year.


Cupgra carried out further work into varieties and damage in 2022, the findings from which were rolled into work this year aiming to identify if the current thinking on glycoalkaloids and sugars is correct or misleading. Martyn has produced guidance for members on bait trapping and monitoring using pheromones.


Martyn is also a partner on the Enigma project, an industry-wide collaboration launched last year which is working together to understand wireworm and its changing patterns of damage in greater detail. Those collaborating on Enigma include representatives from Syngenta, Frontier, G’s Fresh, Elveden Estate, Pearce Seeds, Inov3PT and Blackthorn Arable.

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He has trawled through scientific archives and white papers dating right back to 1920. He has studied the pest and its effects in many countries, in an effort to get to know its habits and the approach taken outside the UK.


“It became apparent that it was becoming a real problem across Europe,” he said, adding: “It could be that the climate has changed, our practices, or that species have changed.”


Understanding of their diet is improving, as well as information about the lifespan of larvae and adults, and that knowledge could help with future control, Martyn said. Studies in Europe suggest the length of their lifecycle in the UK is decreasing, although their ability to survive for long periods without a food source, and withstand colder temperatures, is more of a challenge.



Martyn has shared his findings and insights with Potato Review, and this is detailed in full in the July issue of Potato Review. For more details, subscribe here.


Photo: Blackthorn Arable


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