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: Kirsty Park
Xylella fastidiosa is a bacterial plant pathogen that can cause disease in a broad range of hosts, including Polygala myrtifolia, Olea europaea, Rosmarinus Officinalis, Lavandula sp., Prunus sp. and Nerium oleander. Disease symptoms include leaf scorch, wilting of foliage, dieback and plant death. Xylella fastidiosa was first detected in Europe in 2013 in Puglia in Italy and was identified as subspecies pauca which has gone on to devastate olive plantations in this region. There are currently major Xylella outbreaks in Southern France, including Corsica, Italy, mainland Spain and the Balearic Islands. The bacteria are transmitted by xylem feeding insects from the Cercopidae family, which include froghoppers and spittlebugs.

There are several species of insects that could vector Xylella fastidiosa in the UK including the meadow spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius), which is very common in Scotland. An outbreak of Xylella in Scotland would have serious impacts on the affected grower/nursery and any other host plant-related activities/business within a 5km buffer zone. Therefore, in order to establish the potential for these bacteria to spread, should they be introduced, it is important to identify and get an understanding of the abundance of potential Xylella vectors in Scotland. The WrEN project (http://www.wrenproject.com/), presents a unique opportunity to make use of existing insect collections to map the occurrence of potential Xylella vectors within agricultural woodlands across Scotland. Since 2013, partners on the WrEN project have surveyed over 130 secondary and ancient woodland sites for habitat and wildlife in two regions of mainland Britain. To date, over 1100 species have been recorded from a wide range of taxa. Vegetation structure has been characterised at all sites including information on tree species richness, tree density and size, understorey and canopy cover. In addition, the surrounding landscape has been mapped at a range of spatial scales up to 3 km from each site.

Impact: This project will contribute to Scottish Government’s preparedness measures for the possible
arrival of Xylella fastidiosa by identifying and mapping the distribution of potential vectors of Xylella
in Scotland.
Project Lead: Fiona Highet
The unexpected finding of the presence of Lso and a potential vector species in Scotland raised significant concerns (Sjolund et al. 2017). However, without further information this cannot be put into context. The likelihood is that the disease and possible vector have been present in Scotland for a long time, and yet our crops remain symptomless. Therefore, without the introduction of another vector risk may remain low. In order to confirm this and establish the current risk of transmission to crops, the following information is urgently required: the distribution of potential pyllid vectors including T. anthrisci in regions of Scotland, the presence of Haplotype C Lso within these vectors, a genomic comparison of the Scottish Haplotype C Lso with disease-causing Haplotype C Lso from Finland and Spain, and establishment of T. anthrisci’s vector potential through the development of a breeding colony.

The knowledge required to identify different psyllid species is highly specialised but is essential in order to gain a wider understanding of the disease threat that such insects cause. As few in Scotland have this specialisation (including SASA), it is deemed important to up-skill others by running a training course on psyllid identification for entomologists within Scottish organisations to better enable Scotland to deal with possible Lso threats both now and in the future.

Impact:
This project will contribute to Scottish Government’s ability to control pests / diseases by increased knowledge on the presence and distribution of Liberibacter solonacearum and its host psyllids in Scotland and the potential of these organisms to cause and spread disease.
Project Lead: Fiona Burnett
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.

Publications

Horticulture, Agriculture | Policy Document

Impact on Scottish crops if the molluscicide metaldehyde is withdrawn

January 2019

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.