Beef Update: Tackling reoccurring ragwort infestations


Galway-based Wagyu farmer Joe Desmond discusses NUIG’s €1.4m sustainable pesticide research programme and a problem with ragwort forced him to conduct his own research.

Beef Update: Tackling reoccurring ragwort infestations

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  • 25 days ago

Galway-based Wagyu farmer Joe Desmond discusses NUIG’s €1.4m sustainable pesticide research programme and a problem with ragwort forced him to conduct his own research.

Name: Joe Desmond - West Ireland Wagyu

Enterprise: Cow and calf-to-finishing farm

Animals: 30-head mostly percentage Wagyu F1 – F3.

Location: 2 units in North Galway between Tuam and Mountbellew

Unit 1 – heifer and calving unit – dry sheds & rough grazing

Unit 2 – trials and fattening pens plus bull house; 3-bay slats and silage ground.

Earlier this week, I heard that NUIG College in Galway is going to be given €1.4 million to fund research that will examine the effect of pesticide use on non-targeted species like bees and butterflies. This is part of an overall €14.3 million going across 23 projects in the Agri sector from farm safety to animal welfare.

I find it disheartening that money and support is directed this way so that somewhere down the line someone will have some great advice for farmers. It may turn into a new Department policy or even Government legislation, but at the end of the day, it will probably result in something else the farmer will have to do.

This news was being read out as if Christmas had come early and for many in the academic world and research centres, this is very good news as it will mean some job security which of course should be welcome across the board. And I don’t doubt that there may be some good things to come out of this funding and research, but at a time when so many farmers are facing real economic difficulties, I just wish there would be some creative and promising news that will steady the ship here.

But this post is not meant to be some rant against the system... that can be left for another day. What I’m writing about in these posts are things that occur of interest during the average farming week.

Ragworth Infestation

This week, I went out to tackle a reoccurring problem with ragwort infestation in the old meadow. Nearly every year for the past five or six years grazing, I've been meaning to get in and spray around April, but between waterlogged fields; bad weather or no access to machinery when I needed it the job never gets done.

My cattle graze around the ragwort because it is bitter and I’ve never had any signs of digestive upset but once the weed is the last plant standing it kind of takes off and blooms. I cannot get machinery in there because the ground is so rough and usually wet.

What I planned to do this year is let the cattle graze in 1-acre sections then move them to the next and back fence - this way I can go pulling and remove the plants rather than kill or cut them where there is the possibility the cattle might eat the wilted weed. It is supposed to be sweeter once it wilts and that is where the problem hides because it is poisonous.

I went in yesterday and noticed that the infestation was down by perhaps 50% from last year and most of the standing plants looked thin and weak. I thought this was due to the drought but upon closer inspection, I saw a little black and yellow striped caterpillar eating the ragwort.

On average, every square metre had maybe 5 ragwort plants and at least 2 of those had these caterpillars eating them. A few Google searches later, I found that the Cinnabar moth lays her eggs solely on the ragwort and the caterpillar lives its entire life with the one focus of eating this noxious weed. I also discovered that Australia and New Zealand have done considerable research on the use of these and other insects to help farmers.

And while we’re on the subject of creepy crawlers, I had a similar event happen on my silage ground. It was badly infested with Dock, so much so that every square metre would have several growths. Once again, I had the herbicide purchased and kept waiting for the opportunity to spray which never came last spring.

When I went out to inspect a few weeks ago, I saw all these brown spots in the sward. It looked as if someone had spot sprayed the docks. On closer examination, I saw this little black inch worm cleaning every bit of green off the Dock. It also looks like he must give off some toxin because the plant was truly dead and withered. In this case, it was a 90% targeted kill out on the Docks. The field is cleared of them.

Again to the Google search and a picture of a little shiny green beetle appeared who lays her eggs on the Dock leaves and is aptly named “the Dock Beetle”. Who’d a thought it?

Now I’m not going to preach some “pie in the sky” or “mother nature balances everything” talk because as most farmers know, but few consumers understand, farming is not 100% nature’s way and if the land is left to its own it will not produce the same way as farmed land.

I have to acknowledge that in both incidences above there was a problem that normally, conventionally, would have been dealt with by chemical herbicides. And let it be well-known that in all cases chemical spaying is 100% certain to put poison on the ground but is far from 100% effective in eradicating the targeted problem, often having to be repeated until there is such a buildup of toxin that the desired effect is achieved.

It just has to be considered that finding ways to work with nature or allowing nature to do what it does is far better than trying to dominate it... especially when food production and long-term land usage is involved.

Now with that bit of research done, I’ll be expecting my share of the €1.4 million from that funding scheme. Two installments would be nice - one to me and one to my creditors!

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