Feeding the Future: Can we protect crops sustainably? Day 3

CHAP’s Scientific Support Coordinator Dr Alex McCormack reflects on the final day of SCI’s Feeding the Future webinar 

Dave Hughes, Global Head of Technology Scouting for Syngenta, began by asking Has the last small molecule pesticide already been invented? Based on the modelling of registration data he showed decreased product discovery/innovation since the late 1990s could mean none would be registered in 2022, and that the last had already been discovered. However, he reassured us that new products are still being developed. Next, he examined technology, such as the introduction of precision spraying, but for me, his introduction of proteolysis targeting chimera (PROTAC) was enlightening. This uses mechanisms within a weed, pest or pathogen’s cells to target and destroy key proteins, rather than trying to block them as traditional pesticides do.

Dr Kathryn Knight, Research and Technology Manager at Croda Crop Care, then explored the importance of product formulation in crop protection. Formulation alters key aspects of a product from droplet size and spray patterns, to reducing drift and improving applications to hydrophobic surfaces; preventing leaf runoff. She used videos to show how drying rates altered the absorption into the plant. She also highlighted the aims to reduce micro-plastics within the industry, and key challenges for biopesticides such as shelf life, product compatibility and between-batch variability.

The second session covered biological crop protection with Angela de Manzanos Guinot, of  CHAP member FungiAlert examined the role of soil microbes in plant health. She demonstrated how microbes could be collected from UK soils using novel soil health sensors that mimic roots, and purified to be used as biocontrol agents

Dr Belinda Luke, from CABI, spoke about the use of mycoinsecticides, to control insect pests. She showcased CABI’s work in this field and looked at how factors such as temperature can impact efficacy. In conjunction with CHAP and commercial partners, she is working on mycoinsecticide seed treatments and foliar products to protect OSR crops from cabbage stem flea beetle.

The final two speakers explored the role of society and farmers in the future of crop protection. Professor Andrew Fearne, from the University of East Anglia, looked at social aspects surrounding the food supply chain and the use of crop protection. He highlighted how Covid-19 had brought food systems and sustainability into focus, and highlighted younger generations’ growing interest in ethical and environmentally aware suppliers.

The final speaker Richard Bramley, a grower from Yorkshire spoke about integrated crop management, and how he considered his farm in terms of food potential rather than crop output; saying he produced the equivalent of 750K loaves of bread, 100t of porridge oats, 60t of beans for human consumption, and most importantly for many, 6M pints of beer. He takes a bottom up approach, starting with healthy soils to build healthy crops, underpinned by diverse cover cropping and environmental mixes/strips, which benefit both environment and crops. It was also great to hear how his phacelia mixes provided food for bees last November, a time of year which can be difficult for pollinators.

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