By 2050 there could be as many as 10 billion mouths to feed across the world. This is now a much-repeated fact, as is the growing demand for sustainable produce with reduced chemical inputs and environmental impact. In short, there is a need to produce more and more food, with fewer and fewer inputs to protect the environment, increase productivity and minimise costs.
This is where CHAP (Crop Health and Protection), based at Sand Hutton near York, one of the Government’s four Agri-Tech Centres, supported by Innovate UK, comes in. It has been charged with the task of finding scientific and technological solutions to the practical problems facing growers. Working with its 12 Partners, one of which is CABI working from its laboratories based in Egham in Surrey, its priority is to develop and trial solutions to transform crop production so that they can be brought to market on a large scale.
Tucked away in a laboratory in Egham is Dr Belinda Luke, who has been working in biopesticides for 22 years and already has one biopesticide on the market and another going through registration. Using CHAP equipment, Dr Luke is developing a biopesticide – a non- chemical pesticide – to help UK farmers kill off pests, such as cabbage stem flea beetle and aphids, which decimate crops up and down the country.
Dr Luke said “The first thing we did was to go through the CABI and CHAP fungi collection to see if we had a kill. And we found that we did. The fungus showed a good kill certainly on aphids and it also showed promising results on CSFB”.
Once Dr Luke had established that this fungus can kill, her next job was to ensure that she could get enough spores to make sure there could be a commercially viable product. This is where the CHAP technology came in. Using the CHAP shaking incubator (pictured above) Dr Luke produced a liquid broth (made up of nitrogen and sugars), and then poured it onto rice grains. Ten days later she was able to extract the spores from the rice and use these pure spores in a miniature trial.
Using the CHAP sprayer, Dr Luke sprayed leaves with the fungal spores and then strategically placed aphids to see if they picked up the spores, become infected and then die as they would in their natural environment in the field. So far, Dr Luke says the results are looking good and the fungus, called Isaria sp., appears to be a good producer of spores. However, to ensure that it is commercially viable, more tests would need to be carried out on both aphids and cabbage stem flea beetle when the season starts up again in the early summer.
Cabbage stem flea beetle and aphids are the curse of every farmer, particularly at the early stage of plant growth. The crop is most vulnerable at emergence, as beetles feed on, and can destroy, the growing point. New interventions are now urgently needed since the ban by the EU on the use of neonicotinoids, largely because of their link to the decline of the honey bee, which was widely used by farmers over the last two decades. This is why Dr Luke and her colleagues are so excited about their discovery and are looking forward to doing larger scale trials at one of CHAP’s other Partners, Stockbridge Technology Centre, near Cawood, in real field conditions.
Dr Luke said it’s at this point that ag-chem companies, big or small, should become really excited. CABI is doing this essential preliminary work so that commercial companies can go on to produce this much needed environmentally friendly product to sell on the market, giving farmers and growers an environmentally friendly solution to a problem which can stunt plant growth or, even worse, totally destroy a crop.
For more information contact Dr Belinda Luke firstname.lastname@example.org