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Clean seeds, pest management and more


Our 7th online seminar took place on Thursday 19th May, with two fascinating talks. Here are a few highlights from what we learned.

Cassava seed systems and control of CMD and CBSD

Dr Julian Smith, Science Director, Protecting Crops and Environment
Rothamsted Research.

Julian talked about how diseases can be spread by the movement of seeds from one nation to another – for instance a country may buy maize seed only to find they are unintentionally importing Maize Lethal Necrosis. He talked of the unseen risk of virus tolerance and seed systems. This is a major concern where there are large NGOs moving seed aid across countries and continents bypassing regulatory norms – a whole new set up for spreading disease.

He stressed that prevention is better than cure, early intervention being the way to stop these diseases taking hold. The cure is a lot more difficult, since it can take ten years to come up with a new virus-resistant variety of a crop.

But how can we intervene? The key is to do a Pest Risk Analysis, and make sure we gather all the evidence to present to decision-makers, so they can ensure only clean seeds and plant materials are imported, and that there are appropriate management plans in place.

Take Morocco as an example. They are hugely vulnerable to the effects of Xylella Fastidiosa (XF), which is an olive tree disease that can also spread to citrus trees, yet they still import plant materials from countries such as Spain and Italy where XF exists.

To avoid bringing in new diseases, countries should make sure they have enough diagnostic capability – outsourcing to other institutions if necessary. For instance, Fera does analysis on potatoes for Norway. It is also important to form partnerships for biosurveillance – with farmers and the commercial sector – as they are our eyes and ears, and to empower National Reference Laboratories for plant health to provide a proper biosecurity function.

There were some interesting questions, including a comparison between detecting plant diseases and the way covid-19 was first identified – random surveillance is never enough!

Measuring and supporting the adoption of IPM practices in the UK

Henry Creissen

Dr Henry Creissen, Research Fellow/Lecturer in Crop Protection
Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC)

Our second talk was about assessing uptake of IPM practices in arable and grassland, and it was interesting to see how this varies across the UK.

The methods of soil cultivation, for instance are very different across the regions, and this has a knock-on effect for IPM. Minimal soil disturbance strategies have an implication for crop rotation, and for the sort of pests that need to be controlled. In England, the biggest concern is black grass, whereas in Scotland there are far more problems with slugs.

Henry talked about the difference between the top 25% of farmers and the bottom 25% in terms of their use of IPM practices, and the audience observed that prevention is the main difference between the top and bottom 25%.

Those who are doing well with Integrated Pest Management tend to be farmers who focus on prevention and take a holistic approach – being aware of weeds, varietal resistance, how fungicides interlink – and who have upskilled themselves. They take part in peer-to-peer discussion networks, and have good connections to advisory bodies, making use of advice and crop-specific IPM plans. Greater knowledge seems to improve IPM uptake. Poorer-performing farms often cite technological and economic barriers, have a lack of IPM knowledge and understanding, and find it more difficult to change mindsets and habits. It is interesting to see that in a similar way to CONNECTED, there are crop discussion groups for IPM, and structures for bringing people together to learn – for instance on crop walks.

There were some interesting questions about pesticides and about how agricultural diseases can be prevented. In the UK for instance, most are endemic, but it is still good to think about transmission when planning IPM, being aware of trash-borne and airborne diseases, and the geographical separation of suceptible varieties.

Watch the online seminar

When the recording of this seminar is available we will let you know and will post it on the website here.