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Biofumigation research to be shared with international audience

Posted 18 August 2014

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Bill Watts, Dr Matthew Back and Bruno Ngala

Research being conducted by Harper Adams University that investigates alternative crop protection method, biofumigation, is to be showcased at an international conference next month.

As well as hosting the 5th International Symposium of Biofumigation on behalf of the Association of Applied Biologists (AAB), Harper Adams will also be sharing the findings of several research projects taking place at the university, and conducting live in-field demonstrations of the work.

Conference coordinator and Senior Lecturer in Plant Pathology and Nematology at Harper Adams, Dr Matthew Back, said: “Biofumigation is a process that involves growing short-term cover crops from the brassica family, such as oilseed radish and Indian mustard, that are naturally high in compounds called glucosinolates.

“When plants with these compounds are crushed and incorporated into the soil, a reaction takes place that produces volatile toxic compounds that are known to have an effect on a range of pests and diseases.

“What we are trying to do at Harper Adams is develop practical advice for growers and agronomists for how to use the technique of biofumigation successfully.”

Research into the topic is becoming increasingly more important for the industry, since legislative changes to EU pesticide registration now mean that chemicals previously used in crop protection are now restricted.

Postgraduate research student, Bruno Ngala, began investigating the effect of biofumigation on common potato pest, Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN), three years ago.

Bruno, from Cameroon, said: “PCN costs farmers around £26m a year and many of the chemicals previously used to control the pest have now been phased out.

“My PhD focusses on applying the method of biofumigation in the field, and has used four experiments to investigate the best position in crop rotations to use the technique.

“The brassicas were analysed for their glucosinolate content before incorporation, and then the field plots were planted with potatoes to evaluate the biofumigation effects on PCN reproduction.

“I found that as the crop grows it releases compounds into the soil that restrict the nematodes, as well as also having an effect on the nematodes when they are chopped and incorporated into the soil.”

Continuing Bruno’s research is postgraduate research student, Bill Watts. Bill said: “My project looks at continuing the existing research, to optimise biofumigation for the management of PCN.

“I’m looking at the effect of soil moisture on the release of the gases from incorporated biofumigants, and also the effect of the chop length and pulpiness of the incorporated material.

“I also hope to identify the most appropriate machinery for use with biofumigation, and the most effective species or blends.”

The symposium is taking place September 9-12 and aims to provide a unique opportunity for researchers, crop managers, agronomists and seed suppliers to meet and discuss new developments in the rapidly evolving area of biofumigation.

Harper Adams is also home to the Centre for Integrated Pest Management which includes the International Biofumigation Network – a group that encourages collaboration between those working in biofumigation.

Dr Back added: “This event will attract researchers from across the world, so is a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase our work in the area of biofumigation.

“The practical demonstrations will not only inform delegates about the technique of biofumigation, but also share what is being developed in the UK, with the rest of the world.”

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