This weeks BSPP conference was followed by the first ever BSPP study group. Attended mainly by PhD students, the three-day workshop intended to address challenging plant pathology issues the world must act on in order to make the most of current and future technologies to optimise agronomic outputs and feed an ever-growing population with sufficient nutrients.
We were joined by various experts from industry, academia, and education. Each aimed to enlighten us further through their own experiences.
The students were set five ‘Grand Challenges’ and given 48 hours to research and deliver solutions to these. The challenges were:
- Integration of information and samples for growers and Syngenta’s benefit. (Set by Syngenta) This aimed to speed up the process of feeding back information after receiving data from farmers to boost efficiency of application of fungicides with different modes of action at appropriate times.
Management practices for many of the key crop pests (sensu lato) are known but farmers/producers do not use these approaches. How can this be addressed in the future? (Set by CABI) This was a case of education; employing local communicators to help local farmers break out of their tried and tested techniques in order to take on new techniques. Local trial plots to show off good practices and new resistant cultivars were necessary in order to boost productivity where it is needed most.
- Assessing the risk posed by novel pathogens. (Set by FERA Science Ltd.) How do we know which new pathogens now identified regularly through deep sequencing methods will cause our plants problems?
- Indoor vs. outdoor disease development. (Set by Syngenta) Trials of new cultivars and growing methods are regularly carried out in greenhouse conditions and not the true field environment due to cost. However results seen in greenhouses are often not mirrored in the field. The issue was therefore of how to replicate field conditions best. Use of meteorological information to directly alter the greenhouse climate was a strong idea.
How do we stem the tide of plant diseases entering and establishing in the UK? (Set by APHA) I choose to work on this issue. Lucy Carson-Taylor of APHA shared with us her wealth of knowledge surrounding the issue and we came up with a whole host of solutions. Focusing these ideas was the real challenge as we discounted changes in governmental policy and instead went for more acheivelble aims. Once again, education was key; the current laws on movement of natural products between countries are complicated and often overlooked. Therefore making people aware of disease they could be spreading in plants brought back from abroad was key. On top of this we proposed a plant barcoding scheme to track those traded across borders in order to be able to trace discovered pathogens to their source; allowing a more complete picture of how to deal with the problem and potentially sanctioning the source. Finally, promoting British growers would reduce the need for such trade. Therefore a promotion of all things British would also be a positive step.
The workshop was punctuated with evening meals in Balliol College and Cherwell Boathouse and a keynote lecture from Oxitec. All in all this was a great experience and great opportunity to meet and work with like-minded people; both students and those practicing our science in industry and government.