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Government funding helping to breed disease and weather resilient crops

Posted 12 July

“By looking for traits that breeders can use in commercial crops, we can help growers supply vegetables during periods of climate extremes, not only in the UK but also internationally.”

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The Harper Adams University Fresh Produce Research Centre (FPRC) and University of Warwick Crop Centre have recently been jointly awarded the five year research grant from Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to help breeders produce the more resilient vegetable crops.

The £1.2 million project aims to breed vegetable crops that can cope with climate extremes, pests and diseases. This important work will help ensure that countries are protected against shortages in vegetables, such as lettuce, which are less resilient to weather fluctuations.

FPRC Director Dr Jim Monaghan, said: “Climate change and weather variability represent one of the greatest threats to the future of global agriculture and so to human nutrition.

“Extreme weather conditions lead to both long- and short-term environmental crop stresses such as drought and waterlogging.

“The recent shortage of rainfall and high temperatures in the UK have led to a number of reports of growers predicting shortages in vegetable and salad crops, including lettuce and broccoli, due to these crops’ growth becoming stunted in hot weather."

The team has already identified several different vegetable Brassica lines, including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale which are more tolerant to high temperatures and stress leading to better crop growth in stressful environments. The project will also be looking at lettuce, carrot and onion plants.

Promising crop varieties highlighted in the study will then progress to conventional breeding programmes with commercial partners in order to generate new crop varieties with improved resilience to environmental stress and better performance under extreme weather conditions.

In this way, the team hopes to help safeguard the future of food production by increasing crop environmental durability.

“By looking for traits that breeders can use in commercial crops, we can help growers supply vegetables during periods of climate extremes, not only in the UK but also internationally,” added Dr Monaghan.

This research project forms part of the Vegetable Genetic Improvement Network (VeGIN), a long-term collaboration between Harper Adams and the University of Warwick.

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