The Fall armyworm – a caterpillar that eats its way through staple cereal crops, like maize, and other crops, including beans and peas – poses a major threat to food security and farmers’ livelihoods.
It seems we are facing a Courgette Crisis. Although it’s really just a bit of a run on green vegetables, it does remind us that actually, courgettes – and now iceberg lettuce – shouldn’t be ‘February vegetables’. This raises some important issues about what we as consumers have learned to expect when it comes to food.
Headline news that UK supermarkets are rationing sales of fresh produce after bad weather hit supplies from southern Europe highlights the critical role of applied horticulture research focused on improving home-grown production, according to Professor Mario Caccamo, the newly appointed MD of Kent-based NIAB EMR.
“As the UK prepares for a future outside the EU Single Market, these short-term concerns over availability provide a timely reminder that the UK is only 50 per cent self-sufficient in fresh produce,” he said.
Daniel Wilson, a PhD student in Warwick University‘s School of Life Sciences and the Warwick Crop Centre, won first prize for his poster at the Royal Entomological Society Post-Graduate Forum held at Sheffield University on 2nd–3rd February.
Daniel’s project is funded by the Waitrose Agronomy Group and the University of Warwick.
The small but mighty chickpea packs a dietary and environmental punch. They are an important source of nutrition, especially protein, for billions of people across the world. Additionally, bacteria that live in root nodules of chickpea plants pull in atmospheric nitrogen, increasing soil productivity.
But breeding new varieties of chickpeas with desirable traits – such as increased resistance to diseases and pests – is difficult. In fact, it is “tedious and inefficient,” says Thomas Stefaniak, a researcher at North Dakota State University (USA).
When they are attacked by herbivores, many plants call in reinforcements. To this end, they emit odours. These odours attract wasps, for example, that are parasites and in search for host animals. The wasps lay their eggs into the caterpillars, thereby killing them: this means fewer butterflies and voracious caterpillars in the next generation.
An international research team has tested the effects of twelve types of herbivores on field mustard (Brassica rapa). The researchers found that the plants consistently adapt the odours they emit upon attack to the characteristics of the respective herbivore. This helps the plant to specifically attract natural enemies that feed on the herbivores eating them. Most surprisingly, they emit different odour bouquets in response to exotic as opposed to native herbivores.