ABP has recruited a troop of Irish beetles to provide a natural solution to the problem of docks at its demonstration farm in Clonegal, Co Carlow.
The beetles are bred by Mayo-based couple Louis and Siobhan Ward, who have seen them perform against docks first-hand on their own farm.
The Wards, who breed pedigree Angus cattle, set up the company Green Submarine to supply Irish farmers with gastrophysa viridula - known as the green dock beetle.
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.
We no longer need to spray for docks
"We are constantly looking for green, sustainable solutions to farming problems and we think we have found a potential solution to the problem of dock weeds in Louis and Siobhan’s dock beetles.
"The beetles are a key part of incorporating regenerative agricultural practices on the ABP demo farm, providing a natural, simple, sustainable, nature-based solution to dock weeds, eliminating the headaches, while at the same time potentially improving biodiversity on-farm through reduced herbicides applications,” he added.
Siobhan Ward, an agricultural consultant, said that they noticed something eating docks in one of their fields and, following some research, it 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 said.
Green Submarine now breeds beetles in polytunnels on an industrial scale, marketing them to farmers as a one-off cost-effective, ever-lasting alternative to chemical herbicides.
How they work
Once deployed on a farm, the dock beetle breeds to colonise the whole field, returning every year to keep the docks at bay, Louis explains.
The population of dock beetle will initially rise to decimate the dock weed naturally, then 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.
"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,” he explained.
Stephen added that nutrient- and protein-rich white clover thrives in dock-free pastures and reduces bovine methane emissions, but noted that, unfortunately, the clover is killed off by many commercial sprays.
"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 said.