Tests under way this year use wooden sticks stuck in the middle of a dock plant to infect it with the larvae of clearwing moths, Patrick Hahn, managing director of the Austrian biological engineering firm MELES, told the Irish Farmers Journal.

The insects then burrow into the root and feed on it. “The roots are the strength of the dock plant. If you take them there, they are weakened or they will vanish,” Hahn said.

His project was among those showcased at the Cork 2.0 European conference on rural development this week.

Listen to an interview with Hahn in our podcast below:

Clearwing larvae have been proven to destroy docks or weaken them enough to let grass overtake them. Once the insects have contaminated the root, normal pasture management such as mowing or topping can take place without affecting the process.

Hahn and partner farmers are now conducting tests to determine whether the method works in practice. This includes trials to check whether the wooden sticks used to infect the plants could harm livestock if they are harvested with grass.

The method would be particularly beneficial to organic farmers, as the only known ways of controlling docks are spraying or costly and time-consuming physical removal.

Unfortunately, Hahn said that the Austrian clearwing moth is not native to Ireland. Similar methods here would require the identification of an Irish equivalent, as importing foreign species could pose environmental risks.

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