Oilseed rape crops under threat

Professor Bruce Fitt

Professor Bruce Fitt

New strategies are needed to manage oilseed rape diseases, according to Bruce Fitt, professor of plant pathology at the University of Hertfordshire’s Crop and Environmental Protection Research Group. In his presentation at last week’s HGCA Agronomist conference, Professor Fitt urged industry and academics to work together to protect genes for resistance against diseases in oilseed rape.

Disease resistance genes in oilseed rape crops are often effective when initially introduced into commercial crops, but new pathogen races arise that are able to overcome them in a relatively short period of time – causing crop losses.

Field of Oilseed rape Image credit: Baum im Feld von Petr Kratochvil

Field of Oilseed rape
Image credit: Baum im Feld von Petr Kratochvil

Phoma stem canker was responsible for more than £140m of oilseed rape crop losses in England in 2010.  And with current production methods putting a great strain on those crop varieties that are disease resistant, the crop losses can only get bigger – putting our future food security at risk.

With the range of diseases and their pathogens under constant change, there is a need for good resistance against these pathogens.  We need to exploit new genetic information to improve resistance as well as devising new strategies to manage and control oilseed rape disease.

In Australia, the oilseed rape industry is working together to protect their disease resistance genes.  By monitoring the regional distribution of the races of phoma stem canker pathogen, the farmers are then advised to grow the oilseed varieties which have effective resistance in their area.  Similar schemes operate in France and Canada.

A study to better understand the disease resistant crops in the UK is currently underway.  The ongoing BBSRC LINK project is investigating factors affecting resistance against phoma stem canker under field conditions. The UK oilseed rape production industry, including farmers, breeders and researchers, needs to work together to protect our disease resistance genes in oilseed rape.