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Reducing the impact of sclerotinia disease on arable rotations, vegetable crops and land use

2 August 2011

Although sclerotinia is usually associated with other crops in the rotation Dr Mike Storey, Head of R&D explains that  infection can occur in potato and may cause early dieback of the haulm and occasionally tuber rots in store. AHDB Potatoes is now involved with other AHDB partners in a Defra-LINK project looking at the impact of this disease and options for chemical control and rotational management.

This project is looking at control of sclerotinia disease using both short-term and longer-term approaches. Sclerotinia disease caused by the fungus Sclerotinia sclerotiorum is an increasing problem in the UK.  Many arable and vegetable crops in rotations are affected each year, including oilseed rape, potatoes, carrots and green beans. In crops such as oilseed rape, the losses can depend on the extent of infection, but for beans the entire crop may be rejected if contamination with sclerotinia is found. The risk of sclerotinia infection varies across regions and seasons, and major outbreaks are hard to predict. Fungicides can be very effective but the timing of applications correctly is difficult.
The S. sclerotiorum fungus has two main phases susceptible to control measures: long-lived resting bodies (sclerotia) in soil, and airborne spores, produced when these sclerotia germinate, starting in spring. Control relies mainly on foliar fungicides which prevent infection by airborne spores.  However, there is good potential to improve not only control with fungicides but also control of the soil phase using a combination of control and management practices. 

To improve the timing of fungicide applications, airborne inoculum detection methods and weather data based approaches are being investigated. The relationship between spore detection and disease incidence in oilseed rape crops are being determined to assess the potential for spore detection methods to indicate disease risk and guide fungicide timing. The ability of weather-based models to predict spore production and sclerotinia infection are being determined, and disease control from fungicides applied according to model alerts are being compared with control achieved by fungicides applied at standard prophylactic timings.  A range of contrasting sites across England and Scotland are being included, from various research and industry partners, focusing on oilseed rape but including some carrot and bean sites. 

To reduce soil inoculum, a combination of field experiments, modelling and grower participation is being used to look at the effects of soil management and crop rotation on sclerotinia disease. A pathogen life cycle model for S. sclerotiorum is being constructed and used to explore the potential impact of combinations of control methods applied over several seasons. Associated field work is providing data to validate the model, and experiments will test the effects of soil treatments and quantify the relative numbers of sclerotia produced in different crop species.

Data is also being obtained by disease incidence monitoring in a range of susceptible crops, including potatoes.  The work is also exploring the potential benefits of grower coordination for soil management, which is a longer term approach but which has potential to achieve a reduction in Sclerotinia disease across all susceptible crops.

This project is led by Caroline Young of ADAS, and brings together a consortium of research and industry partners, including all the relevant AHDB sectors.

The partners are:
ADAS, Rothamsted Research, SAC, Warwick-HRI, HGCA, HDC, AHDB Potatoes, PGRO, BASF plc, Belchim Crop Protection Ltd., Burkard Manufacturing Company Ltd., Microzone Ltd., NPARU and Velcourt R&D.

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