A potential break-through in blackleg research could hold the key to controlling the disease at source, according to scientists speaking at the Seed Industry Event at St Andrews.
Recent research has shown the incidence of blackleg across Scotland over several years repeatedly occurred in distinctive 15km (9.3 mile) diameter clusters, suggesting there is a definite local effect on the disease which could go beyond weather alone.
While the initial objective of the research was to discover whether there was any value in modelling blackleg incidence, the results have helped provide crucial insight into the characteristics of the disease.
Something which requires further investigation, according to Proffesor Ian Toth, of the James Hutton Institute.
He said: “We have seen definite clustering from 2010 to 2013 and each year the cluster seem to appear in different places.
“As of yet we do not know the reason for those clusters. Although seed is important, there is something else which is creating this ‘hot-spot’ effect.
“The most obvious thing is that it is related to microclimates, personally I do not believe it is.
“But if it is not due to weather, what is it due to? If we can find out why we get the clusters and why they move, then we can potentially stop the disease at source.
“For example, if it is a hybrid seed-related issue and we can deal with it, we might be able to prevent outbreaks further down the line.”
In order to identify the cause of the blackleg hotspots, research teams involved in the project plan to investigate weather data, where seed was grown and subsequently planted, commercial graders and machinery, as well as previous cropping in affected areas.
“There is a lot of information we can get, so far we have only really scratched the surface,” said Prof Toth.
He assured growers that while best practice with regards to blackleg control would help mitigate the disease, individual crop management was not thought to be the reason behind the clusters.