Development and implementation of tools, strategies, and stakeholder engagement to understand threats and improve disease management in practice
New, emerging, and endemic pests and pathogens are threatening Scotland’s key crops and industries. Cereals represent 65% of arable production in Scotland, with 800,000 tonnes of malting barley a year being used for whisky distillation. The challenge is to meet the expected 20% increase in demand over the next five years. Scotland produces 1.3 million tonnes of potatoes every year (valued at £250 million), 42% of which are grown for seed, with a £55 million export value. Soft fruit growers produce 30,000 tonnes of berries, which are undergoing an exponential increase in sales, contributing approximately £150 million to the economy. A wide range of pests and diseases negatively affect quality and yield in these key Scottish crops and therefore carry a significant economic and environmental burden.
Prevention and mitigation of pest and disease outbreaks are affected by drivers including travel, globalisation of trade, and the effects of climate change. The exploitation of new markets will bring new export trade rules and an increased risk of importing new pests and diseases into Scotland, with associated implications for plant health resilience. The challenge is to tailor strategies to individual pest, pathogen and crop systems and the local environment, whilst delivering at the field and farm scale. We need robust scientific evidence, tools, and strategies to underpin plant health resilience, policy decisions and the uptake of effective integrated pest management (IPM) strategies.
- What IPM tools and technologies can be developed and improved to safeguard key Scottish crops against priority pests and diseases going forward?
- What plans and opportunities are there to develop innovative surveillance and diagnostic technologies to protect rural industries going forward?
- How can we best keep non-indigenous pest and disease threats out of Scotland, mitigate those which do enter, and predict future plant disease challenges?
The project is mitigating threats posed to key crops by new, emerging, and endemic pests and pathogens, to protect Scotland’s industries and to deliver integrated and sustainable crop protection strategies for Scottish growers.
Developing new diagnostic tools
We are developing diagnostic tools and technologies to underpin plant health resilience and IPM strategies. Effective diagnostics and markers are essential to identify and track emerging plant pests and pathogens, to protect against the import of threats, and as the basis for plant health certification.
- Metabarcoding: Identifying key targets and investigating Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN), Pectobacterium atrosepticum and Phytophthora spp.
- Next Generation Sequencing: Establishing proof of concept protocols for rapid detection of pathogens. This technology has huge potential for rapid in-field surveillance.
- Potato Late Blight Diagnostics: Improved diagnostics for virulence and fungicide resistance and combined diagnostic tests for the early detection and genotyping of Phytophthora infestans.
- Virus detection in soft fruit: Developing a robust diagnostic test for blueberry shoestring virus.
Developing and testing disease control measures
We are delivering IPM strategies to control pests and diseases of major concern to Scottish agriculture and reduce the reliance on artificial inputs.
- Potato Late Blight host and fungicide resistance: screening commercial cultivars for resistance to P. infestans genotypes and identifying naturally occurring resistance-breaking strains and informing effective resistance and agrochemicals for use in IPM strategies.
- Alternatives to conventional pesticides: Providing evidence on the impact of biostimulants, elicitors and biologicals on barley and potatoes pests.
- Virus health in seed potatoes: Linking models of aphid prevalence and virus spread in the environment to quantify effects of alternative aphid control measures and test performance of alternative aphid control measures.
- Tools for soft fruit IPM: Gathering and summarising existing surveillance tools and identifying technology gaps for tackling soft fruit pest and disease threats.
Informing practice and policy on Integrated Pest Management
We are working closely with stakeholders identifying the key threats to Scottish sectors and prioritising scenarios and knowledge gaps. This includes analysing future scenarios and co-constructing solutions for safeguarding the cereal, fruit and potato sectors against future pest and disease risks. We are transferring knowledge and insights from our project to plant health experts and developing practical guidance for growers.
Develop diagnostics and markers to identify and track plant pests and pathogens
Metabarcoding approach for several pests and pathogens: Primers to amplify regions of the PCN genomes associated with virulence has been developed and a genetically distinct group of Globodera pallida has been identified. Methods to improve Pectobacterium strain differentiation has been explored with a whole genome sequence approach to allow separation of strains if a mixed sample is being investigated. Mitochondrial primers designed for improved taxonomic resolution successfully amplified Phytophthora DNA from environmental samples.
Next Generation Sequencing approach: This methodology has been used to establish proof of concept protocols intended for the rapid detection of pathogens.
Potato Late Blight diagnostics: To improve diagnostics for virulence and fungicide resistance, target genes have been catalogued, and selected isolates are undergoing PenSeq analysis.
Detection of viruses in soft fruit: Blueberry shoestring virus (BSSV) has been detected in breeding material by ELISA. We have however screened the plants by means of RNA-seq and could not detect either viruses or fungi - allowing us to have confidence in the health status of the material for future use.
Developing and testing disease control measures for the delivery of IPM
Potato Late Blight host and fungicide resistance: Commercial varieties and fungicides have been tested for efficacy with contemporary P. infestans populations, differences in host resistance relating to genotype have been reported to stakeholders.
Alternatives to conventional pesticides: Commercial and experimental products have been tested in barley and potato trails. A biostimulant affected marketable potato tuber numbers and had a compensatory effect on reduced nitrogen fertiliser inputs, no effect on foliar blight was recorded but lower environmental impact programmes were effective. In barley there was a varietal effect, some treatments reduced Rhynchosporium, particularly when used in combination with reduced fungicide rates.
Virus health in seed potatoes: This research will commence in Year 3.
Tools for soft fruit IPM: Knowledge gaps have been identified through discussion with stakeholders and proposed updates will be reviewed. Aphid samples have been collected from blueberry plantations and barcoded for species identity before screening with microsatellite markers.
Informing practice and policy on IPM
Scenario planning and knowledge exchange: The main threats to arable and horticultural production have been identified and prioritised through extensive stakeholder consultation. An extensive knowledge exchange programme had been undertaken with 87 engagement activities being reported across the project.
Trialling and demonstrating IPM strategies: This work is at an early stage, IPM strategies for fruit, potato and cereals will be tested in Years 3 to 5. Sampling to understand the impact of cover crops on FLN is on track.
IPM into practice: IPM metrics that consider effectiveness, potential for uptake and biodiversity impacts have been developed. A hybrid stakeholder workshop explored sector views on IPM threats, challenges and solutions, and identified barriers and incentives for uptake.