The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, in conjunction with the Scottish Government, has awarded £3M in research funding to four projects to improve food security for some of the world's most valuable crops.
The £2.99M funding is the first round of awards from BBSRC's Horticulture and Potato Initiative (HAPI) which supports high-quality, industrially relevant research projects on potato and edible horticulture crops.
The Scottish Government has contributed £627,097 towards the research.
HAPI brings academic researchers together with industry in order to deliver bigger yields of better quality fruits and vegetables for the consumer, through more sustainable farming practices.
Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director of Innovation and Skills, said: "Potato is the world's third most important food crop after wheat and rice, with millions of people worldwide depending on it for food, feed and income.
"With a growing world population predicted to reach nine billion people by 2050, this research looking at maximising yields and minimising losses will advance knowledge and benefit UK and world-wide potato producers, thus contributing to an important UK economic sector and helping us towards achieving global food security."
The four projects focus on potato and onion, but the findings could have applications for a wide range of crops and agriculture.
HAPI will be releasing a second call for research funding later on the year.
The four projects receiving funding are:
Controlling dormancy and sprouting in potato and onion
Dr Glenn Bryan, The James Hutton Institute, Dundee, working with: PepsiCo, ALBERT BARTLETT, AHDB-Potato Council, and Mylnefield Research Services.
Long term storage of onion and potato is often necessary, but can lead to losses when these crops sprout during storage. Storage techniques to prevent sprouting are often expensive and environmentally unsustainable.
This research will use advances in biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology to identify the genetic basis of dormancy and sprouting in onion and potato and seek to understand the physiological and molecular control steps, with a view to improving storage and reducing losses.
Establishing biofumigation as a sustainable pesticide replacement for control of soil-borne pests and pathogens in potato and horticultural crops
Professor Peter Urwin, University of Leeds, working with: Agrii, Biotechnical Solutions Ltd, Hay Farming Ltd, RJ and AE Godfrey, G&D Matthews, Richard Austin Agriculture Ltd, Barworth Agriculture Ltd, Tozer Seeds Ltd, AHDB-Potato Council and Horticultural Development Company (HDC).
This project will investigate biofumigation, a technique to suppress crop pests by introducing plants which produce chemicals detrimental to the pests, such as mustards, into soil.
It will seek to understand exactly how biofumigation works and how the potential of this technique can be exploited most effectively under field conditions.
Exploiting next generation sequencing technologies to understand pathogenicity and resistance in Fusarium oxysporum
Dr John Clarkson, University of Warwick, working with: HDC and Nickerson-Zwaan.
Fusarium oxysporum is a fungus which attacks many plants including onion, the world's second most valuable vegetable crop. It is estimated to cost UK farmers £11M a year in losses.
Using previously identified onion lines with increased F. oxysporum resistance, this work will provide information, tools and resources which will lead to more effective and sustainable control.
Strategies for integrated deployment of host resistance and fungicides to sustain effective crop protection
Dr Frank Van den Bosch, Rothamsted Research, working with: AHDB-Potato Council, Syngenta, Belchim Crop Protection Ltd and BASF AG.
Fungicides and resistant cultivars are the predominant control measures against most crop diseases, but little research has been done on approaches which combine both. Integrated control, where two or more control measures are applied, is widely believed to be more sustainable than over-reliance on one control option.
The project will use experimental and modelling approaches to analyse the durability of integrated control strategies using fungicides and resistant cultivars.
An integrated control strategy for potato blight will be developed to be implemented through the AHDB-Potato Council and industry partners. Models that can be used develop reliable integrated sustainable disease control strategies for pathogen-crop systems with also be established.
This announcement follows the launch of government's strategy for agricultural technologies, which aims to make the most of agriculture's opportunities and drive growth for the UK. The strategy recognises the importance of initiatives such as HAPI and will help to develop cutting edge technologies and take innovative products from the field to the shopping aisle. Developed in partnership with industry, the strategy will ensure everyone in the UK can share the benefits that these exciting opportunities bring.