Plant pests and diseases that affect food crops can cause significant losses to farmers and threaten food security. Fera is supporting farmers to make informed decisions about their use of pesticides.

The spread of pests and diseases has increased dramatically in recent years. Globalisation, trade and climate change, as well as reduced resilience in production systems due to decades of agricultural intensification, have all played a part1.

Fera, formerly the Food and Environment Research Agency, is a joint private/public sector venture between Capita and the UK Government. It has been leading a project funded by Innovate UK on behalf of the Crop Health and Protection Centre (CHAP), to develop a new decision support service to assist farmers in making decisions about sustainable use of pesticides in farming. The new web-based platform, called CropMonitor Pro, will provide users with summary risk forecasts for all pests and diseases which are a threat to crops of wheat or oilseed rape during the season.

Based on a sophisticated modelling framework using live weather data feeds and novel risk algorithms, the system will quantify daily risks of pests and diseases and provide guidance on whether a spray is required. In addition, the platform can provide support for decisions on optimal spray timing and generate lists of approved products available, based on the specific threats to the crop. Using well-timed sprays to control pests and diseases only when necessary – and the correct product and dose – will both increase yields and reduce pesticide use. This maximises food security while minimising environmental impact and risks of development of pesticide resistance.

The CropMonitor platform also uses the latest in-field diagnostic technologies, such as automated spore capture and detection. These technologies provide very early warnings for pathogen spore incursion into crops before any infection or damage can occur. They also provide additional evidence to promote the use of well-timed sprays, which can then reduce the need for subsequent sprays. CropMonitor is also trialling new sensor technologies including a new WiFi-enabled soil moisture and temperature sensor, which can inform prediction of risks from soil borne pests and diseases and drought stress to crops. These devices also have a role in supporting risk assessments for flooding and run-off after rainfall which can lead to contamination of water sources with pesticide and/or fertiliser residues.

Capita Green Week

This year we’re holding Capita’s annual Green Week to coincide with the United Nation’s World Environment Day (5 June) – an international day that encourages us all to do something to take care of the earth.

The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is ‘Air Pollution’, so during Green Week we aim to help improve our own understanding of air pollution and showcase some of the work we do with clients to reduce it, protect our environment and measure and monitor air quality.

1. http://www.fao.org/emergencies/emergency-types/plant-pests-and-diseases/en/

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