Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

Crop health status and protection practice in major UK combinable crops - AR0503

Within Defra, accurate information on the current incidence of diseases and their effects on crop production, and on longer term changes in their status in response to farming practice, is needed to formulate and support strategies to promote sustainable crop management. This project can contribute to the Defra’s Science and Innovation Strategy through provision of data to develop and promote optimisation of disease control through appropriate use of chemical and cultural control methods whilst maintaining food chain sustainability, reducing the chemical pollution from farming and supporting rural industry. The changing status and importance of diseases has major impacts not only on the UK industry but also on consumers, particularly with concerns over pesticide residues and impacts on the environment. Diseases are a continuing, and in some cases, an increasing threat to crop production despite improvements in the range and effectiveness of the fungicides available for their control. Overall disease levels vary from year to year with outbreaks of particular diseases closely linked to crop characteristics and weather conditions. Despite these fluctuations in disease risk, fungicides have been used at a consistently high frequency with around 1,270 tonnes of active ingredient applied to winter wheat annually. Losses due to diseases in England and Wales, even after the application of fungicides, are estimated to range between £32M and £85M per year for oilseed rape and £13M and £37M for winter wheat. This indicates that fungicides are still not being used cost effectively or at optimum timing with up to £9M spent on fungicides for control of diseases of oilseed rape and £88M for diseases of winter wheat. These data illustrate that control strategies need to be reassessed to encompass a more targeted and integrated approach using cultural practice and forecasting alongside chemical control. This would result in additional economic and environmental benefits and aid the move towards sustainable crop production.

There is a need for reliable data to determine current practice that, together with statistically robust in-season data on disease incidence at the national and regional level in both treated and untreated crops, can be used to improve disease forecasts and in-season identification of disease risk. Through integration of the results of monitoring activity with the latest research on disease forecasting and control, and incorporation into decision support tools and rapid technology transfer outlets such as the WWW, this will lead to identification of more appropriate control strategies and support promotion of economically viable improvement in disease control.

This project proposal outlines a strategy for monitoring of crop health status and crop protection practice in major combinable crops. In addition to monitoring crop health and agronomic practice in commercial crops (to ensure continuity of data with previous national surveys of winter wheat, winter barley and winter oilseed rape), this project will also collate in-season information on the major and any newly-emerging diseases of cereals and oilseed rape in untreated crops. Data sourced from a disease intelligence network of information from untreated crops (the bulk of which will be supplied ‘in kind’ from operators of the HGCA Recommended List (Crop Evaluation Ltd) will be analysed in conjunction with the data collected from the survey network to identify disease risk, seasonal variation in disease development and the effectiveness of control strategies implemented on-farm.

Furthermore, a monitoring network of 15 winter wheat and 5 oilseed rape experiments will be set up across the country to provide weekly data on incidence and severity of diseases and effectiveness of control treatments applied. A supplementary scheme for yellow rust will monitor the activity of individual races during the season and investigate emerging risks. Data generated from this network will further enable the project team to alert stakeholders and the industry to emerging threats during the growing season and issue advice on appropriate courses of action. Data from treated plots within the trials will serve to demonstrate the performance of the selected programme and provide a comparison with data from treated farm crops. Data from the network will be processed using the wheat disease manager within DESSAC to derive risk predictions and will also serve as additional validation for the DESSAC system.

Data accumulated from the proposed project, together with data collected from the previous surveys, will be used to identify changes in disease risk, monitor the performance of new cultivars, monitor the effects of husbandry factors on disease, assist with disease forecasting and monitor control strategies used by farmers. The collection of disease incidence/severity data from untreated crops will provide vital information to assess the critical timings and economic value of chemical control measures, which may then be placed in national perspective by comparison with data from the Pesticide Usage Survey. Outputs from this project will be communicated at regular intervals during the crop year through a dedicated project website, farmer meetings, industry presentations and press articles. Data from live monitoring will be reported weekly and will be supported by information and advice from key experts. The knowledge transfer from this project will highlight national and regional significance of the main diseases, policy implications and annual and longer-term trends and will be made available to other researchers, and the industry (including HGCA) as well as Defra. Annual results will be publicised at every opportunity using a range of media options including press articles, presentation at agricultural shows and conferences and in refereed publications. Knowledge transfer in support of innovation within the project will be aimed at bringing about a demonstrable change in disease control practice in the UK so that disease levels are reduced to acceptable levels using an appropriate level of pesticide input.

The data gathered will indicate which diseases dominate crop management in terms of crop profitability and effectiveness of control and so assist in ascertaining new research priorities for Defra and industry. Monitoring of industry performance will aid decision making on implementation of new policies. The project will have considerable policy relevance providing data to improve risk management, to assist in reduction of pesticide use through publicity on good management practice, and therefore aid the move towards a more sustainable approach to crop production. Assessment of the seasonal differences in disease incidence also directly supports ongoing disease epidemiology programmes by helping to devise and test disease forecasts and advice on spray timing. In the longer term, shifts in frequency of disease outbreaks and severity may reflect persistent changes in crop husbandry or climate. Viewed over a period, survey results can illustrate to what extent research findings and decision support systems are being adopted by farmers and are leading to improvements in control strategies and reductions in unnecessary pesticide use.

1. To monitor annual incidence and severity of diseases and crop protection practice in conventionally grown winter wheat, winter barley and winter oilseed rape during the growing season
- quantification of seasonal disease pressure
- measurement of trends in pesticide use in relation to risk

2. To collate data on disease activity in untreated crops through operation of a co-operative disease intelligence network to assess disease risk
- Data on disease pressure and comparison with levels under commercial practice
- cultivar resistance

3. To implement a live monitoring network of winter wheat and winter oilseed rape trials to generate weekly information on disease incidence and severity during key periods in the growing season
- identification of in-season disease risk

4. To identify disease risk and opportunities for sustainable improvement in crop management from the data, the results disseminated in appropriate formats to stakeholders and the industry
- improved technology transfer

Project Documents
• Final Report : Crop Health and Crop Protection Practice in UK Combinable Crops   (448k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2003

To: 2006

Cost: £1,152,672
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Central Science Laboratory
Arable Farming              
Climate and Weather              
Climate Change              
Natural Resource Use              
Sustainable Farming and Food              
Sustainable Production              
Fields of Study
Arable Crops