Creating a more sustainable future for UK crop protection

Climate change is the single largest threat to food security globally.

It’s increasing the presence of pests and diseases that can destroy our crops and overuse of pesticides is intensifying the evolution of insensitivity to the pesticides that are used to control these threats.

Herts has a strong heritage in crop protection research. Our researchers work closely with the agriculture industry to develop more sustainable ways of improving crop resistance to the pests and diseases that threaten our food production. Many of our agriculture experts have backgrounds in epidemiology and use their expertise to further understand how crop disease epidemics develop.

Our researchers have contributed breakthrough research to help growers prevent losses of up to £100m from diseases infecting oilseed rape, the UK’s third most important arable crop. The team have developed forecasts to predict risks of severe disease epidemics affecting oilseed rape, both now and in the future as predicted climate change affects growing conditions.

We’re also helping protect our iconic British strawberry crops with the development of the Decision Support System that enables an intelligent use of fungicides. Without effective control, strawberry powdery mildew alone can cause losses of up to 70% of a strawberry crop. Growers are alerted when there is a higher risk of the disease developing, resulting in their use of fungicides being reduced by half, financial savings for growers of at least £200 per hectare and a more sustainable strawberry production process.

Most recently, our researchers are engaged in cutting-edge research to investigate how fungal viruses could be used as environmentally friendly biological control agents against insects that transmit diseases to crops. Tests in the lab have found this to be an effective method of controlling pests such as flea beetles, which have blighted oilseed rape crops in 2021. This innovative approach could be used by UK crop producers in the next 5-10 years.

Find out more about the Crop Protection and Climate Change Research Group.