Month: March 2016

How can innovative techniques and new technology help to defend crops against new varieties of disease?

How can innovative techniques and new technology help to defend crops against new varieties of disease?


Leading scientists discuss rust prediction and prevention at Agri-Tech East event

With the announcement that ‘Kranich’ yellow rust race has been detected in the UK for the first time, together with an increase in fungal infection among previously resistant varieties, a new approach to disease management and prediction, Field Pathogenomics, is to be welcomed. It is one of the promising new methods to be discussed at forthcoming Agri-Tech East Pollinator “Rusts and other Cereal Killers”, sponsored by Hutchinsons and hosted by NIAB on 12 April 2016.

Dr Diane Saunders, a research Fellow in Crop Genetics for both John Innes Centre and the Genome Analysis Centre says: “Field Pathogenomics uses the latest sequencing technology to analyse the genetic make-up of different strains of rust pathogens collected from all over the world. By comparing new samples with a genetic database of 400 strains of pathogen, it is possible to rapidly identify the race present.” 

Dr Sarah Holdgate is Manager of the UK Cereal Pathogen and Virulence Survey (UKCPVS), funded by AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds and APHA, at NIAB. This service monitors cereal rusts and mildew in the UK, detecting and warning growers of new races of disease that are emerging on resistant varieties.

Dr Holdgate says: “The underlying genetics of a sample can give a more detailed picture of the pathogen population in the UK. For example two samples of rust collected from different places may look the same in our growth room tests, however, using genetic data from Field Pathogenomics it is now possible to highlight whether the two isolates are from the same race or are genetically unrelated.”

Dr Saunders says: “If a farmer is alerted to the type of pathogen present in their area, or is warned about an imminent threat of a new strain moving into the UK, they can make smart predictions about which crop varieties to grow that will be resistant.”

This is where the AHDB Recommended Lists are invaluable. These lists provide growers with independent information on varietal resistance and provide farmers with up-to-date information to help them make informed decisions on variety choice.

Dr Jenna Watts, Research and Knowledge Transfer Manager at AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds, says: “The Recommended Lists can be used by growers as part of an integrated disease management plan. For example, fungicide spraying can be prioritised using information provided by disease ratings.”

However, it is important that all crops are monitored for disease, even those with a high disease rating, as disease populations can rapidly change to overcome varietal resistances. For this reason additional regular monitoring of disease development at some RL untreated trials will start later this month and results will be made available on the AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds website.

Dr Watts and Dr Holdgate are encouraging everyone to report outbreaks, especially on varieties with high disease ratings, and submit infected samples for testing to the UKCPVS as soon as they are detected.

Dr Holdgate says: “The best way for the UKCPVS to identify the underlying races is to sample directly from the outbreak, so it is essential that samples are taken as soon as something strange is observed on the field.”

Dr Saunders believes that researchers are getting better at disease prediction. She says: “It’s a constant challenge, but the development of field pathogenomics gives us a much better understanding of the type of pathogen we are dealing with.”

Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East, says that improved understanding of the genetics of rusts, their lifecycle and mode of distribution creates new opportunities to tackle these diseases.

“More data about the races of rust will allow the creation of better models for disease prediction and prevention; it also opens the opportunity for other methods of control beyond new fungicides.”

Dr Brande Wulff, Project Leader in Crop Genetics at the John Innes Centre, will join the other speakers at the event “Rusts and Other Cereal Killers”, which takes place at NIAB, Histon, Cambs, CB24 9NZ on 12 April 2016.

For more information see the Agri-Tech East website:



Advances in growing brings salad to London tunnels

Advances in growing brings salad to London tunnels

The Agri-Tech East ‘Undercover Agents – New Technologies for Controlled Environment Production’ Pollinator event on 22 March 2016 at the Sainsbury Laboratory will include a discussion about this venture, together with talks on other exciting alternate growing and production techniques, including the use of LEDs and soilless growing towers.

Sitting thirty-three meters underneath the busy streets of Clapham, a disused air raid shelter from the Second World War is currently producing sustainable and fresh produce, thanks to a new initiative called Growing Underground. These forgotten tunnels provide a pest-free, climate-controlled environment that is close to point of need. This and other innovative new approaches will be discussed at the upcoming Agri-Tech East Pollinator meeting “Undercover Agents – New Technologies for Controlled Environment Production” at the Sainsbury Laboratory on 22nd March 2016.

G’s Fresh has recently invested in “Growing Underground”, an urban farm that employs hydroponic systems and LED lighting, using 70 per cent less water than traditional open-field crops. This underground approach is attractive due mainly in part to its scalability. Daniel Cross, Managing Director of G’s Fresh Salads, explains: “Disused buildings above ground in London are too expensive or require too much capital to be commercially viable. Comparatively, tunnels are attractive due to their lower cost per square meter and their closeness to market and population.”

As the tunnels are in darkness, LED lighting is used to emulate natural lights. LED lights have recently become attractive for growers seeking a reduction in cost, according to Simon Pearson, Director at the Lincoln Institute of Agri Food Technology and a second speaker at the Pollinator event.

Pearson explains: “LEDs are more efficient than normal lamps and offer the advantage of being optimised to produce specific wavelengths. In addition, wavelengths can be altered during the day to give optimum day length, and a large amount of light can be created instantly.”

Pearson comments that new advances in semi-conductor technology and solid-state devices have led to an increase in use of LEDs for horticultural applications. “The falling costs of LEDs and greater uptake from industry means we are approaching the tipping point where alternative approaches to cultivation may be possible.”

Joining Cross and Pearson is Jason Hawkins-Row, CEO of Aponic Ltd, a start-up company that has developed a vertical, soilless growing system, which reduces water use by 90 per cent and is not dependent on fossil fuel for production or transportation. Hawkins-Row believes that city farms could be the future of covered crops, and that every individual can be empowered to supplement their food demand and remove strain from the food supply chain. He states: “By getting towns to produce low water, low energy food that improves health and lifestyle, we can reduce stress on the food production and the water table.”

Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East, believes that bringing together those who are developing technologies to increase the productivity and efficiencies of undercover crops is beneficial. “Growing undercover has enabled an extension of the growing season and an increase in the quality of many high value crops, but there is still a need to make the most of this controlled environment.”

Dr Clarke is also excited about the location of this Pollinator. “Attendees of this event will be given the chance for an insider’s guide to the Sainsbury Laboratory Greenhouses, with state-of-the-art glasshouses that are among the finest in the world.”

Additional speakers at the event are Ian Collison, from Collison Cut Flowers, and Julian Franklin, Head of Horticultural and Controlled Environment at Rothamsted Research.

For more information about “Undercover Agents – New Technologies for Controlled Environment Production” see the Agri-Tech East website




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