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Alumni Awards 2024

Tackling crop disease to protect food security in the UK and beyond

Globally oilseed rape is an important arable crop. The oil is popular for cooking and demand is increasing worldwide. In the UK it is an increasingly common sight in our fields and can be profitable for farmers, but crops can be decimated by either of two diseases; phoma stem canker and light leaf spot which are caused by a variety of specific funguses. Loss of the crop to these diseases impacts the availability of rapeseed oil in the shops and leaves farmers out of pocket.

Here at the University of Hertfordshire, Professor Bruce Fitt and Dr Yongju Huang worked with farmers, charities and other industry partners to gain new insights into how weather patterns affect the spread of the funguses. This makes it possible to know with much more certainty when to spray the crop with fungicide. Another strand of the research looked at which varieties of oilseed rape have higher natural resistance to the funguses; choosing a resistant variety stacks the odds in favour of the crop surviving.

Using this information, farmers choose the variety of oilseed rape which suits their soil type and has good natural resistance while targeting fungicidal spraying to protect the crop when the fungus is most likely to infect it. By taking the guesswork out of spraying, less fungicide is used saving the farmer time and money, increasing the likelihood of a full crop and reducing the pesticide residue.

The findings from this research have also benefitted farming in continental Europe, Canada, China and Australia.

In our REF2021 case study you can read about this and our research to protect other crops from disease.


Further reading