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Student crop protection research

Posted 9 February 2012

Doing this work is quite exciting because there’s not a lot of research being carried out into this crop in particular. I’m definitely enjoying it.

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Four Harper Adams students are investigating the role of alternative crop protection methods for their final year research projects.

Three students are researching biofumigation – a term used to describe the use of brassica residues, such as mustard, to improve soil fertility and reduce pests, weeds and diseases.

21-year-old Bill Watts from Ludlow is looking at different brassica varieties for their glucosinolate content.

The Agriculture with Crop Management student said: “Glucosinolates can generate a range of toxic compounds which could control potato cyst nematoes (PCN) – an important pest of potatoes in this country.

“I’ve conducted two field experiments and one greenhouse experiment. So far there are great differences between the species and the compounds that they produce and the biomass that we get from them.”

In a separate study, Tom Magness from Saffron Walden, Essex, has chosen to research the effects of sulphur and nitrogen on the biofumigation potential of mustard in the control of PCN.

The 21-year-old Agriculture student said: “When mustard is chopped and incorporated into the soil, it releases the glucosinolates which are degraded to release toxic isothiocynates.

“We are finding that the nitrogen, as expected, gives the plant more biomass so we can expect higher levels of glucosinolate when using it.

“However, because the active compounds are rich in sulphur, perhaps adding further sulphur would increase the volume of glucosinolate within the biomass. We are now hoping to find out whether it is better to have more biomass or more glucosinolate.”

Richard Clark, a 21-year-old Agriculture with Crop Management student is researching lucerne (alfalfa) and its potential for controlling PCN.

Richard from Spilsby, Lincolnshire, said: “With limited chemicals available to farmers, people are looking to alternative control measures.

“We’ve found from the literature that there are natural plant compounds called saponins, and they could have some effect on reducing PCN.

“We have a glasshouse experiment and are looking at incorporating various different parts of the lucerne plant to see whether they effect the subsequent infestation of potatoes by PCN.

“Doing this work is quite exciting because there’s not a lot of research being carried out into this crop in particular. I’m definitely enjoying it.”

Finally, 21-year-old Alex McCormack from Selby, North Yorkshire, is conducting literature-based research, comparing previously completely research and seeing how it can be used to improve future work.

The FdSc Agriculture student, said: “So far, I’ve noticed that the research done in this area is very varied and there are a lot of people doing different things.

“I’d like to develop my biofumigation work further by staying on to top up to an honours degree and maybe look at field trials.”

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