Climate change and crop diseases

How will climate change impinge on fungal crop diseases?

  • Fungal crop diseases have complex life cycles. Spores from infected crops are dispersed by wind or rain. They often overwinter on crop debris. Seasonal temperature and rainfall are key variables.
  • Climate change is also expected to change the times of crop germination and flowering, and the harvest productivity of the crop plant itself.

Our work investigates the interactions between these factors. The answers can help government and industry in developing strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change, against the background of the food security debate.

Using data for winter wheat, winter oilseed rape, winter and spring barley, it is estimated (Hughes et al. 2011) that use of fungicides to control disease on UK crops saves 1.6Mt CO2 eq. per season (Fig 1).

climate change chart

Fig 1: Use of fungicides decreases GHG emissions from UK arable crops each year.

Models that combine future climate simulation, crop growth and disease incidence have been developed for phoma stem canker of oilseed rape (Evans et al. 2008, 2010; Butterworth et al. 2010) and for fusarium head blight of wheat (Madgwick et al. 2011). They suggest that epidemics of certain diseases will increase in severity and spread geographically (Fig 2).

arable crop diseases slide 2

Fig 2: Impacts of climate change on incidence of fusarium ear blight(FEB): predicted percentage of plants with FEB for 1980 baseline and 2050 High CO2 climate scenario.

Current work is testing and calibrating the model of fusarium head blight to China, which has one of the largest wheat-growing areas in the world (24M ha); and extending the model to include the production of Deoxynivalenol (DON) - a common mycotoxin produced by fusarium, which is harmful if consumed by animals or humans.

Selected publications

Read or download the attached PDF document for a list of selected publications (PDF - 0.06 Mb).