Rapid diagnostic testing for septoria and resistant black-grass, a new forecasting system to determine risks from pests and diseases in real time and novel ideas for propagating sugar beet using LEDs were among the demonstrations at Crop Health and Protection’s (CHAP’s) Farmers Day.
Speaking at the event, held at the National Agrifood Innovation Campus near York, CHAP chairman and Herefordshire farmer John Chinn said since 1980 there had been a one per cent per year decline in UK self-sufficiency in food and that this was due to inadequate translation of science and technology to improve farming practice.
“We have excellent basic science, but mostly are not addressing real industry needs and lacking investment in translation,” said Mr Chinn.
CHAP aims to address this, but will need investment from farmers and companies in the supply chain. He added. “If Government matches 70 per cent of the funding, we need to match 30 per cent.
“The CHAP vision is to increase the economic performance of UK farming through the development and uptake of technology, products and services.”
Centres conducting crop-related research around the UK are involved in CHAP and gave demonstrations at the Farmers Day. CHAP has invested in four mobile laboratories and in one of these, Steve Hall of Newcastle University demonstrated how a 20-minute DNA test could detect whether septoria was present on wheat.
He said: “It works even if there is no visible sign of it, helping to answer the question – do I need to spray or not?”
With laboratory consumables and reagents for the test costing £1.50 and the processing machine, £5,000, a farmer commented that spending on fungicides could soon reach this amount.
Mr Hall said there was also potential to develop such technology to detect other diseases. He added: “If it has DNA, you can test for anything you want.”
An antibody test to detect non-target site herbicide resistance in black-grass, taking a matter of minutes, was also demonstrated.
Development of real-time forecasting of crop disease and pest threats is the aim of the CHAP SMART Decision Support Unit.
Judith Turner, senior plant pathologist at CHAP/Fera, said the final nine of 30 research quality weather stations were about to be dispatched to sites across England where field trials, including untreated plots of four to five varieties of oilseed rape, barley and wheat, have been set up.
“We will be monitoring plots every week, assessing them for different pests and diseases. We’ve selected 33 in terms of their importance for spraying decisions,” said Dr Turner.
The weather stations will communicate data every 15 minutes to a data hub managed by Weather Innovations Consulting.
Spore traps will also be used, not only when crops are at risk of being infected, but daily to get a picture of what spores are around at other times, she said.
CHAP is also collaborating with the Met Office (UKMO) to develop an agriculturally relevant national UKMO monitoring network to support real-time risk forecasting services for agriculture.
The ultimate aim is for CHAP to offer bespoke local forecasts including predictions of spore release, prediction of infection risk and identification of spray windows available in real-time via a subscription service to support decision-makers on whether to spray, optimal spray timing, product choice and appropriate dose.
Risk forecasts will be based on current and forecast weather conditions, crop varietal susceptibility, agronomic factors and inoculum availability. From previous cereal disease-forecasting work she has carried out, Dr Turner says there is evidence to suggest that a spray can be saved and yield increased.
Propagation of sugar beet indoors, using LED lighting to maximise plant vigour, could be of benefit if weather conditions delayed drilling, suggested Dr Phillip Davies, researcher at CHAP/Stockbridge Technology Centre.
He said: “If we were able to plant a propagated plant at one-month old it would be perfect to grow as fast as possible and could increase yield. We may also be able to enable it to grow faster, be harvested earlier, with scope to alter the rotation and save the crop if you can’t get on the land.”