Category: CTP News

CTP news and student blog posts

Agroecological Crop Protection- yet another acronym?

By Hannah McGrath (Waitrose CTP Student)

 

In early February, I left Luton airport on a dreary Saturday morning for the sunshine in Volterra, Tuscany. I was off to attend a course on Agroecological Crop Protection (ACP), a concept I knew little about but aware that by the end of the week I would know more! Now I have the opportunity to pass some of that knowledge onto you…

 

What is Agroecological Crop Protection?

At its most broad, ACP could be described as a cropping system that has been designed with biodiversity and soil health as the two most important goals for the farmer. By improving the quality of these two components, crops should be able to tolerate the stresses placed upon them by the environment and so the farmer does not have to add any inputs to the system. For instance, by adding flowering plants within the field, biodiversity increases. These flowers might be able to provide food for natural enemies such as parasitoid wasps, which can control outbreaks of crop pests without requiring chemical sprays.

 

Why does Agroecological Crop Protection exist?

Agroecological Crop Protection was developed by predominately French agricultural researchers as a result of their many years of experience working and researching agricultural issues. Together this group saw that Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a buzzword, catch-all phrase used by many to describe their attempts to control crop pests in non-chemical ways. But, the reality they encountered was that the control pests and diseases often heavily relied upon chemical control, despite the methods being called IPM. This group also saw that the use of many of the chemicals that we use to control insect pests, weeds, and plant pathogens are being restricted by governments. Therefore, there is a need to develop cropping systems that can function without high inputs. Therefore, the researchers mainly from INRA and CIRAD, two French agricultural research institutes came together to propose ACP as an improvement on current agricultural practices.

Eventually, ACP has been written up in a book edited by J.P. Deguine, C. Gloanec, P. Laurent, A. Ratnadass and J.N. Aubertot, but the entire book contains work from 56 different authors around the globe. As many of the editors and authors of this book led the course in Volterra, I was literally from the people who wrote the book on ACP!

Figure 1. Agroecological Crop Protection Book.

I realise that you may be thinking that ACP and IPM sound like essentially the same thing, and in many ways they are. They both are agricultural concepts with an acronym developed to try and build more sustainable agricultural systems. For other people, the textbook definition doesn’t matter much to them, instead understanding the actions that take place to control pests, weeds and diseases out in the fields is what really matters.

Ultimately, Agroecological Crop Protection does attempt to further the relatively old concept of Integrated Pest Management and given that we are living in a regulatory environment where the use of chemicals is highly regulated, it is sensible to be working towards the goal of lowering chemical inputs.

Figure 2. The Tuscan landscape didn’t disappoint. Here was the view from an organic farm we visited to learn about how they were implementing Agroecological Crop Protection methods.

 

My personal reflections on the course

The course had a truly global attendance, with researchers from Costa Rica, Vietnam and Martinique making my journey from Rothamsted look rather tame. The opportunity to learn about the huge variety of cropping systems around the globe expanded the bubble I have formed around the way I see agriculture. Beneath all of case studies and anecdotes I heard, were farmers who cared deeply about their crop and the environment they worked in.

I also began to appreciate that agriculture and the many issues which farmers face shouldn’t be looked at in isolation. If we only think about pest management, soil health or crop nutrition on their own, we may be unintentionally making a problem worse or might miss a single solution for multiple problems. Whilst Agroecological Crop Protection may sound unachievably optimistic and futuristic, it at least gives a framework for further improvements in agriculture. It’s now up to me and the other attendees at the course to work out how that might look in the commercial agricultural settings we work in.

Waitrose CTP Annual Conference

By Roz Wareing

Waitrose CTP students, supervisors and board members attended the 2018 Waitrose Science Day, held at Scarman House. University of Warwick. The students battled snow and wind to attend our first annual conference event at the end of February.

On the first afternoon the students participated in a training workshop ran by colleagues from the Centre of Eco Innovation (CGE), Laura O’Keefe and Zoe Detko. Laura and Zoe are ex PhD students and currently work on the CGE project as Innovation Fellows. They discussed the benefits of an industry focused PhD, and the challenges involved with the collaboration with academia and industry. The workshop also taught the students varying methods of engagement for different audiences.

For the second and third day the students attended the sessions organised by the Waitrose Science Day. There were a range of presentations from academia presenting their area of research and the CTP projects based at their institutes. Emma Garfield from G’s delivered an excellent presentation to the potential industry partners, willing them to get involved with the CTP. Emma focussed on the huge benefits and opportunities a PhD student can provide to their host company.

The students had an opportunity to engage with our industry colleagues during evening poster reception. Each student showcased a poster about their project and delivered talks to other academics and industry.

The last morning allowed opportunities for industry and academia to discuss research interests and ideas for PhD projects. The discussion groups related to several areas of interest; Water, Soil Biodiversity, Pesticides/IPM and Protected Crops. The CTP hopes to see these ideas flourish over the next few months awaiting the next call of project proposals and we look forward to the next student training event coming up in the summer.

The Battle of Resistance

By Dion Garrett (Waitrose CTP Student)

A consent battle for dominance is being fought between grower and agricultural pest every growing season. This fight has been waged ever since civilisations required food to feed the masses. It was inevitable that various pests would take advantage of this veritable feast. To fully understand how the pieces fit together, a brief introduction to the laws that underpin this conflict is necessary:

Once ridiculed and subject to much controversy, evolution is now regarded as fact due to the overwhelming evidence in its favour. It was once thought that evolution was a very slow process, taking thousands of years for changes to visibly occur. This made it extremely difficult to provide any substantial evidence to support the initial theory.

Hanging on the Infection Peg

By Jessica Fostvedt (Waitrose CTP Student)

Survival demands that all living things must adapt to their environment or perish. However, an alternative strategy is for an organism to alter the environment to suit its own needs.  For fungal plant pathogens, the surrounding plant tissue provides a generous home… and one that is just as prone to manipulation.  Some pathogens actively attack cells and disrupt plant defences, but others simply ‘wait’ for their environment to become more favourable, and they do this during a stage called pathogen quiescence.

Why I am excited about this Collaborative Training Partnership?

By Carly Stevens

There are lots of reasons why we enter our chosen professions but for a lot of scientists working within the field of environmental science a big motivator is that we want to ‘make a difference’. We know that we aren’t going to single handily save the planet but we would like to achieve something that changes how things are done, whether it is policy or practice on a large scale or a small one, we want to have some kind of impact. That is what really excites me about the Waitrose Agronomy Group Collaborative Training Partnership (CTP), it offers an amazing opportunity to make a difference.

Welcome to Waitrose CTP Cohort 1

Waitrose CTP welcomed its first cohort of students at the end of October for a 3 day Induction Training Event. This was held at the scenic venue of Forrest Hills at Lancaster University.

All students attended the event and some students had the company of their academic supervisors.