Agriculture

With plentiful rain and long summer day lengths, Scotland producing some of the highest yielding and best quality crops in the world. But conditions that promote good crop growth are often good for pests and pathogens too and in Scotland 15-20% of our crops are lost to pests and diseases annually. 

These losses to pests and diseases   amount  to almost a million lost tonnes per year with a value close to £200 million. Dealing with the endemic disease burden  inevitably means higher prices in supermarkets, hard times for growers  and a knock to the economy but, in addition to this current burden  many more pests and pathogens are arriving or threatening our borders.  Priority concerns for the sector are sustainable methods of reducing and managing pest and disease risks that lessen reliance on pesticides. Current acute issues which have been highlighted by stakeholders  are pesticide resistance developments in some of our endemic pests and diseases, and also concerns over product withdrawals through the regulatory processes. Concerns over resistance development in endemic diseases are a major plant health concern in many crops in the agriculture sector. Potato blight and ramularia in barley being two current example where new issues emerged in 2017.

 

Projects

Project Lead: Emma Brierley
Lauriston Community Farm in Edinburgh have provision for 50 community allotment spaces, open to local community groups and organisations (rather than individuals) to fosters a sense of community, support growing and working together, build confidence, encourage knowledge sharing between people with different levels of growing experience, promote shared resources, tackle social isolation and enhance wellbeing. Lauriston is an agroecology farm which emphasises protecting the soil, enhancing biodiversity and creating sustainable farming without the need for synthetic chemical inputs. Plant health is a top priority for the farm and ensuring their community allotments are being managed in a biosecure manner is key to this aspiration.

With funding from the PHC, they will run workshops over the growing season focussing on biosecurity and composting and develop protocols, based on the PHC Key Principles, for use by farm staff and allotment holders. The whole project will be celebrated toward the end of the growing season with the unveiling of a mural on one of our farm buildings. Through these efforts, Lauriston Farm aims to become a model farm of best practice for other community allotments and gardens and all protocols/guidance created would be shared across these networks.
Project Lead: Kairsty Topp
Upcoming major changes to agricultural policies in Scotland could have significant impacts on crop health (and by extension, crop yields). There is an urgent need, before the agricultural policy reforms are finalised, to review options and identify those that maximise plant health benefits, and those where risks to plant health might be enhanced, in order to consider any mitigations or best practice recommendations that could be put in place.

This project will: (i) Review the evidence (including the scientific and grey literature and existing data) to identify the plant health impacts of the proposed measures within agricultural reform, with reference to Scotland’s key crops and the likely uptake of measures; (ii) Identify potential regulatory options (statutory, basic or enhanced) that could pose an emerging risk for plant health and biosecurity in the context of likely uptake of measures; (iii) Hold a stakeholder workshop to co-design best practices guidance to mitigate plant health risk whilst delivering biodiversity, climate and wider environmental goals and (iv) raise awareness of plant health risks associated with the proposed measures and disseminate best practice guidance to mitigate risk.

Image by Freddy from Pixabay
Project Lead: Matt Elliot
The plant related biosecurity risks posed by bulk aggregates (e.g., sand, stone, decorative wood chips, and soil) to Scotland is currently unclear. It is theoretically possible for plant pests and pathogens to travel within such products but the evidence for this is patchy. The UK Plant Health Risk Register does not mention a specific pathway in relation to bulk aggregates which suggests that these materials are not routinely considered during pest risk analyses (beyond soil/growing media).

This scoping exercise will provide clarity on the biosecurity risks posed by bulk aggregates by a) engaging with the sector to understand where materials originate from, b) quantify how much bulk aggregate material is coming into GB, and c) investigate international approaches to managing the plant health risks regarding bulk aggregates.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Project Lead: Peter Skelsey
Scottish seed potatoes are a premium global product, and the industry underpins UK potato production that is worth an estimated £4-5bn across all upstream and downstream sectors. The sustainability of this industry is under threat, however, due to increasing levels of potato virus Y and potato leaf roll virus.

These viral diseases are transmitted by aphids, and they cause growth disorders, leaf symptoms, and yield losses. The recent increase in the occurrence of these diseases is likely due to multiple factors, such as climate change, the loss of important aphicides, and a general lack of coordinated management strategies, including accurate predictive models to support decision-making. Current methods used to forecast these diseases at a national scale do not offer sufficient resolution to tackle localised virus health issues.

This project will employ state-of-the-art machine learning techniques to develop improved models for forecasting these diseases and contribute to a better understanding of virus epidemiology, which will support management strategies to reduce disease impacts.
Project Lead: David Cooke
Species of the genus Phytophthora are of particular concern to the health of Scotland’s plants due to their destructive potential and ability to spread via cryptic infection on traded plants. The genus Phytophthora currently comprises over 200 species and there is a current gap in the evidence in estimating and acting on these threats in a proportional and measured manner to both prevent further imports of Phytophthora and to objectively assess the risk of any new findings.

This project will (i) review and collate the contemporary data and evidence on Phytophthora discovery, species description and traits; (ii) use the collated data to horizon-scan and predict disease threats in Scotland and (iii) model and map the greatest threats to plants in specific key habitats. The findings will be compiled into a report on the updated risks with recommendations for enhancing preparedness through risk-based prioritisation of hosts and habitats for targeted surveillance to promote earlier detection of Phytophthora species. Although the project will consider plants in agriculture, forestry, horticulture and natural ecosystems across Scotland, the principal focus will be on the risks to relatively under-studied plant hosts in the natural environment.

This project was selected for funding from the Project Call: “Enhancing preparedness against pests and diseases: plugging evidence gaps for Scotland”.

Image credit: Glensaugh ©The James Hutton Institute
Project Lead: James Price
Root-knot nematodes (RKN, Meloidogyne spp.) are the most economically damaging plant-parasitic nematodes worldwide and consume up to 10% of all global agricultural outputs. Fortunately, RKN has not yet been identified in Scottish soils and soil temperatures are currently too cool to support some RKN species. Although species such as M. fallax are already a recognised problem in other parts of the UK, no detailed assessment of the presence of RKN in the UK, has been made. Scotland provides 77% of the UKs seed potatoes and with increased soil temperatures likely due to climate change, there is an increased risk posed by RKN to the Scottish potato industry.

The aim of this project is to assess the risk posed by RKN to the potato industry in Scotland and to identify new sources of resistance in the Commonwealth Potato Collection (germplasm collection containing 1500 accessions of about 80 wild and cultivated potato species) that will help mitigate this risk.

This project was selected for funding from the Project Call: “Enhancing preparedness against pests and diseases: plugging evidence gaps for Scotland”.
Project Lead: Daniel Bebber
PHC2022/05 will take a unique cross-disciplinary approach using biophysical risk modelling combined with social science methods to analyse the threat from emerging plant health threats to both arable and horticultural crops in Scotland.

This project was selected for funding from the Project Call: “Enhancing preparedness against pests and diseases: plugging evidence gaps for Scotland”.
From this project there will be an improved understanding of potential risks from plant pathogens under future climate scenarios to inform future priorities for pathogen detection and surveillance efforts. The biophysical modelling will be added to with qualitative data from existing Scottish Government funded stakeholder consultation research.

The project will also identify knowledge gaps for further research, such as in biology, host distributions, and other biophysical factors influencing pathogen spread as required by the model, as well as a shared understanding with stakeholders of priority concerns regarding future plant health risks.
Project Lead: Helen Rees
Previous PHC projects found that biocontrol is one of the elements of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) with a role to play in mitigating pesticide withdrawals. However, it is currently unclear how practical biocontrol is as a suitable alternative to pesticides in Scotland, what the opportunities are for deployment across different sectors and what barriers exist to uptake (include regulatory).

Research on biocontrol agents is required to understand a) what relevant previous work has taken place, b) the potential benefits for agricultural, horticultural and forestry applications in Scotland, and c) is the current risk assessment framework and regulatory system fit for purpose?

This project will improve our understanding of the potential of biocontrol agents in Scottish production systems and gardens; synthesising findings from workshops with stakeholders and literature review.
Project Lead: Henry Creissen
Previous research shows that better informed farmers and agronomists can make better IPM decisions and score higher in IPM metrics (PHC2020/05). Research has also identified that decision making on farm is often shared between the farm agronomist and the farmer. However, there is a knowledge gap on how factors influencing IPM scores link to available impact metrics such as pesticide usage.

This project will look to improve the flow of IPM knowledge and its uptake to increase the resilience of Scotland’s crops to pests and diseases, whilst reducing reliance on pesticides.

The drivers and barriers to further adoption of IPM practices for different decision makers and for different farm types will be identified, improving the ability to tailor IPM research and knowledge transfer and exchange activities to consider, if not overcome, those barriers and improve uptake.
Project Lead: Sarah Wynn
Insecticides are commonly used in Scottish agricultural, horticultural, forestry production, and for amenity and natural environment management purposes. Over the last 10 years, approximately 50% of UK insecticide active substances have been withdrawn due to increasing concern over human health and environmental impacts. Some of these losses will be mitigated by using alternatives but their practicality and cost under Scottish conditions is unknown. Given the likelihood that regulatory restrictions on pesticide usage will not be reduced, widespread adoption of IPM might offer a way to reduce reliance upon at risk pesticides.

This project will deliver an expert review of available literature to identify the insecticides of concern to Scotland and their association with current practices. This targeted review will identify available alternatives and their efficacy, and any interdependencies and evidence gaps will be identified. A key outcome of this call will be case studies of the alternative methods adopted by stakeholders to mitigate the impact of insecticide withdrawal, combined with desk-based and expert opinion and analysis on their efficacy, practicality and cost.

Publications

Forestry, Horticulture, Agriculture, Environment | Final Report and Policy Document

Biosecurity for plant health: better justification of precautionary measures

May 2024

This project engaged experts and practitioners with knowledge of existing sectoral practices in Scotland, UK and internationally, summarised existing literature and undertook a gap analysis, to generate a better understanding of the rationale for taking precautions and to improve the evidence base with which to justify taking actions.

Forestry, Horticulture, Agriculture | Final Report and Policy Document

Potential of biocontrol for the sustainable management of plant diseases in Scotland: opportunities and barriers

March 2024

Previous PHC projects identified biocontrol as a major element of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) with a role to play in mitigating pesticide withdrawals. However, it is currently unclear how practical biocontrol is as a suitable alternative to pesticides in Scotland, what the opportunities are for deployment across different sectors and what barriers exist to uptake (including regulatory).

Forestry, Horticulture, Agriculture, Environment | Final Report and Policy Document

A targeted analysis of the impact of insecticide withdrawals in Scotland, in the context of alternative control options

July 2023

Insecticides are commonly used in Scottish agricultural, horticultural, forestry production, and for amenity and natural environment management purposes.  Over the last 10 years, approximately 50% of UK insecticide active substances have been withdrawn due to increasing concern over human health and environmental impacts.  Some of these losses will be mitigated by using alternatives but their practicality and cost under Scottish conditions is unknown.  This project analysed current crop production patterns and insecticide use in combination with how likely different insecticides are to be withdrawn and provided stakeholder views on the impacts of any such losses on their industry, including other control methods that may be adopted.

PHC Annual Report 2022-2023

July 2023

The Plant Health Centre works with Scottish Government, public bodies and stakeholders to provide scientific evidence to help them make important decisions about pests and pathogens that threaten Scotland the most.  Over the past 12 months we have delivered a consistent programme of stakeholder engagement and project commissioning, which are detailed in our annual report. 

Forestry, Horticulture, Agriculture, Environment | Final Report and Policy Document

Biosecurity practices to support plant health: a review of knowledge and practice

March 2023

This research investigated plant biosecurity risks from site visitors, tools & equipment, and large machinery. In addition to reviewing published guidance, UK businesses and organisations were engaged via questionnaires and interviews to explore how these aspects of biosecurity are understood and what procedures may be in place to address them.

Agriculture | Final Report and Policy Document

Modelling the spread of PCN in Scotland

Authors: Peter Skelsey
March 2023

Potato cyst nematodes (PCN) cost Scottish agriculture over £25 million/year and threatens food security in the developed and developing world. Improved understanding of PCN epidemiology is a priority for the Scottish potato industry, with spatial and temporal modelling identified by the recent PHC PCN working group as essential components.

Enhancing the Plant Health Centre’s communication with stakeholders

February 2023

This project was commissioned to implement a selection of the recommendations made in the PHC stakeholder engagement strategy and communication plan. The team developed strategies to manage time and resources of the Plant Health Centre more efficiently regarding communication of outputs, general information on activities, aims and current issues related to plant health.

Horticulture, Agriculture | Final Report and Policy Document

Perceptions of pest risk and differences in IPM uptake by arable farmers and agronomists in Scotland

November 2022

Pesticide use remains an important tool in managing pest, weed and disease risks to crops and maintaining profitable production. There are several drivers for reducing reliance on pesticides and promoting the uptake of more sustainable practices through integrated pest management (IPM).  By identifying IPM information networks it may be possible to improve the flow of information to farmers by targeting their preferred information sources.  Better informed farmers and agronomists can make better IPM decisions.  Therefore, this project undertook a telephone survey to collect information on currently perceived invertebrate pest and disease threats in Scotland, the level of IPM uptake, and the information sources they relied upon.  

Forestry, Horticulture, Agriculture, Environment | Final Report and Policy Document

Improving knowledge of Xylella fastidiosa vector ecology: modelling vector occurrence and abundance in the wider landscape in Scotland

May 2022

If introduced to the UK, the insect-vectored, bacterial plant pathogen Xylella fastidiosa could be a serious threat to trees and other plants. There is a lack of knowledge about the ecology and distributions of Xylella vectors in Scotland and the potential effects of this on any outbreak of the disease, which this project aimed to address.

Assessment of large-scale biosecurity risks to Scotland

December 2021

PHC commissioned an assessment of large-scale biosecurity risks with a focus on three areas of concern:

  1. non-specialist and online horticulture sales;
  2. landscaping and infrastructure;
  3. planting for environmental benefits.

An additional area was the potential for modelling to support decision making across these areas of concern.  This policy report summaries each report and highlights the key findings and suggested actions.  

Assessment of large-scale plant biosecurity risks to Scotland from non-specialist and online horticultural sales

October 2021

This project focused on an initial exploration of tree and plant biosecurity risks to Scotland arising from large-scale movement of plants via non-specialist (those for which plants are not their primary product type, e.g., supermarkets, DIY and lifestyle stores) and online plant retailers. By better understanding the characteristics of these retailer types, the plant health behaviours they undertake, and the challenges they face, potential avenues were offered for greater engagement and collaboration on biosecurity with this important, but understudied and hard to reach sector.

Assessment of plant biosecurity risks to Scotland from large scale plantings for landscaping and infra-structure projects

October 2021

Planting for large-scale landscaping and infrastructure can typically involve tens of thousands of individual plants, potentially threatening plant health in Scotland due to the biosecurity risks of imports and widespread planting of infested or diseased plants. This project aimed to understand the extent and means to mitigate against such plant biosecurity risks with a focus on mapping the pathways from plant specification through to planting and establishment and highlight different biosecurity awareness for actors, in decision-making and procurement processes.

Assessment of plant biosecurity risks to Scotland from large scale tree plantings for environmental benefits

October 2021

This report features five case studies from across Scotland and examines risks associated with large scale tree planting schemes, levels of awareness around pests and diseases, and how the decisions and actions of those involved can serve to reduce or exacerbate pest and disease related threats and long-term tree health. Each case study was unique in respect to their combination of location, site conditions, ownership, management objectives, species choice, supply chains and management activities. By highlighting best practice and lessons learned, it was hoped to ensure that future planting schemes can be successful and, importantly, reduce the likelihood of pests and diseases being introduced and spread into the wider environment.

The potential of ecological and epidemiological models to inform assessment and mitigation of biosecurity risks arising from large scale planting

October 2021

Large scale planting projects linked to infra-structure such as transport networks and major housing projects or to planting for environmental benefits (e.g., urban greening, woodland restoration) pose high biosecurity risks due to the high number and types of plants involved. This report focusses on whether and how ecological and epidemiological model frameworks can inform assessment and mitigation of biosecurity risks from large scale planting using a combination of literature review and stakeholder engagement.  The project aimed to identify priority steps to develop more useful models and tools for assessing biosecurity risks from planting in the future.

Agriculture | Policy Document

A new IPM Planning Tool for Scottish growers

March 2021

Integrated pest management (IPM) is a holistic approach to managing harmful organisms which maximizes profitability and minimises negative impacts on the environment. IPM aims to reduce reliance on pesticides and promoting IPM is identified as a key action in support of a National Action Plan. To promote IPM practices and improve on-farm uptake, it is essential to understand current uptake levels and better understand what motivates farmers to further adopt IPM. A new integrated pest management planning tool for Scottish growers has been launched, replacing a previous IPM plan. The new plan uses stakeholder derived metrics to value how important different interventions, such as rotations or varieties, are in achieving sustainable reductions in invertebrate pest, weed and disease risk.

Horticulture, Agriculture | Final Report and Policy Document

Monitoring for BMSB in Scotland - Final Report and Policy Summary

March 2021

The increase in global trade brings with it the risk of spread of new pests and diseases into Scotland. Halyomorpha halys, Brown Marmorated Stinkbug (BMSB) is an invasive pest that has already become established in North America and several European countries. The insect aggregates inside houses over winter and can cause problems as an urban nuisance pest in homes as well as being a pest of agriculture. In this project, co-ordinated monitoring for the presence of BMSB was undertaken by teams at SASA and the James Hutton Institute. A reference collection of voucher specimens of common UK stinkbug species was established, including DNA barcoding. A process-oriented climate-based niche model was used by a team at SRUC to determine the areas in Scotland that are suitable for the establishment of BMSB under current and future climates.

Recommendations and suggested 'next steps', including encouraging further surveillance, are detailed in the report and policy summary documents.

Agriculture | Policy Document

PCN Working Group - Final Report

March 2021

Following a Ministerial round table meeting on PCN in June 2020, a working group of over 50 potato industry, government and academic partners was set up (from both Scotland and the wider UK) to identify a clear strategy for dealing with the PCN crisis. Following over 320 person hours of scheduled meetings, plus many days of personal discussions, recommendations for how to combat the growing threat of PCN to the Scottish potato industry have been proposed.

Forestry, Horticulture, Agriculture, Environment | Final Report and Policy Document

PHC2020/09: Economic Impact of Pesticide Withdrawals to Scotland, with Case Studies

March 2021

Chemical forms of plant protection are widely used in Scottish agricultural, horticultural and forestry production plus for amenity and natural environment management purposes.  The availability and use of active substances in pesticides are closely regulated and increasing concern over human health and environmental impacts has led to a greater likelihood that some existing approvals will be withdrawn and/or that approvals for new products will not be granted.  Potential impacts from withdrawal of these pesticides are of policy interest and this summary report builds on the data and results from project PHC2018/15 (Potential impacts arising from pesticide withdrawals to Scotland’s plant health) and uses case studies to understand the likely magnitude and distribution of potential impacts and how they may be mitigated. 

PHC2018/15: Potential Impacts Arising from Pesticide Withdrawals to Scotland’s Plant Health

November 2020

The use of pesticides to manage plant pests and diseases is a key management intervention across plant health sectors, particularly in agriculture, horticulture and commercial forestry production. Pesticide withdrawals through legislation, coupled with resistance development and their impact on plant health, have emerged as key concerns for Scottish plant health stakeholders.  This project quantifies the impacts on Scottish plant health that will arise from pesticide withdrawal scenarios and sets this in the context and time frame of alternative management tools. 

Impact of climate change on the spread of pests and diseases in Scotland

June 2020

This project constructed a modelling framework which combined epidemiological and economic modelling.  The modelling framework was used to study predictions of spread and economic impact of pests which are not currently in the UK, including Xylella fastidiosa, Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum (Zebra chip) and Ips typographus (Eight toothed Spruce Bark Beetle). 

Impact:  A web/desktop application is available to the PHC and Scottish Government to analyse the effects of climate change on the spread and economic impact of new threats. 

Expansion of PHC Online Plant Health Resources

May 2020

This project has expanded the PHC online Resource Bank for plant health threats to the Natural Environment sector in Scotland to include information sources for the remaining three sectors (Forestry, Agriculture and Horticulture). Information sources for Forestry, Agriculture and Horticulture were compiled and evaluated, and a Knowledge Bank relevant to each sector is now online at the PHC website, creating a comprehensive and unique signposting resource for plant health information with relevance to Scotland.

 

Forestry, Horticulture, Agriculture, Environment | Final Report and Policy Document

The use of mobile technology to enhance plant health monitoring and awareness in Scotland

August 2019

The aim of the project was to review existing websites and smartphone apps currently available and applied in the plant health sector and to assemble a detailed overview covering the following points:

  • What options are available in terms of mobile software applications for plant health?
  • What is their primary purpose?
  • Who is the target audience (growers, plant health professionals, citizen science, …)?
  • Which plant health sectors do they cover?
  • Are they reliable and accurate?
  • Is information submitted to a central database? If so, how is this information used?
  • Could they be used globally, or are they limited to certain geographic regions?
Agriculture | Final Report and Policy Document

Assessing the potential of the psyllid Trioza anthrisci to vector Liberibacter solanacearum (Lso) in Scotland

June 2019

The aim of the project was to assess the distribution and population numbers of the psyllid Trioza anthrisci and it’s potential as a vector of ‘Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum’ (Lso).  The project has allowed the PHC to better understand the distribution and number of T. anthrisci populations in carrot growing areas to better inform assessment of the risk of disease transmission to crops in Scotland. 

Horticulture, Agriculture | Policy Document

Impact on Scottish crops if the molluscicide metaldehyde is withdrawn

December 2018

This report sets out estimates for the crop loss and value to Scottish crop production should the molluscicide metaldehyde be withdrawn. This would leave ferric phosphate as the only available chemical control option. Short term losses are negligible as the substitution of ferric phosphate carries no additional treatment costs and has equivalent efficacy. Longer term there is some risk should resistance arise to this single site mode of action active, and ferric phosphate (although of lower mammalian toxicity to metaldehyde) has some environmental impacts of its own.