York scientists to test plants as natural pest controls

8th Aug 2013

Scientists at the University of York are part of a £3 million research initiative announced by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Scottish Government to fund four projects aimed at improving food security for some of the world’s most important crops.

The £3.12m funding is the first round of awards from BBSRC’s Horticulture and Potato Initiative (HAPI) which supports high-quality, industrially relevant research projects on potato and edible horticulture crops. The Scottish Government will contribute up to £0.76M towards the research.

HAPI brings academic researchers together with industry to deliver improved yields of better quality fruits and vegetables for the consumer, through more sustainable farming practices.

Scientists from the York Environment Sustainability Institute will be working with colleagues at the University of Leeds and the James Hutton Institute (JHI) in Scotland to investigate biofumigation, a technique to suppress crop pests by introducing plants such as mustards, which produce chemicals detrimental to the pests into the soil.

The Director of YESI, Professor Sue Hartley and Dr Kelly Redeker of the Department of Biology, are leading the research in York in partnership with Professor Peter Urwin at the University of Leeds and Dr Stuart McFarlane and Dr Roy Neilson at the JHI.

They will work with a range of partners from the agricultural industry: Agrii, Biotechnical Solutions Ltd, Hay Farming Ltd, RJ and AE Godfrey, G&D Matthews, Richard Austin Agriculture Ltd, Barworth Agriculture Ltd, Tozer Seeds Ltd, AHDB-Potato Council and Horticultural Development Company (HDC).

The project will seek to establish if biofumigation is an effective sustainable pesticide replacement for the control of soil-borne pests and pathogens in potato and horticultural crops.

Professor Hartley said: “Our research aims to understand exactly how biofumigation works and how the potential of this technique can be exploited most effectively under field conditions.”

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director of Innovation and Skills, said: “Potato is the world’s third most important food crop after wheat and rice, with millions of people worldwide depending on it for food, feed and income.

“With a growing world population predicted to reach nine billion people by 2050, this research looking at maximising yields and minimising losses will advance knowledge and benefit UK and world-wide potato producers, thus contributing to an important UK economic sector and helping us towards achieving global food security.”

The four projects focus on potato and onion, but the findings could have applications for a wide range of crops and agriculture.

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