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Onion Crisis: Researchers Combatting Destructive Crop Disease Costing Farmers £10m Annually

Researchers at The University of Warwick are working to safeguard one of the world's most crucial crops – the humble onion. Amidst growing concerns over the threat posed by Fusarium Basal Rot (FBR), a team of experts from the University is embarking on a ground-breaking project, run by the British Onions Producer Agency (BOPA), aimed at saving our crops and revolutionising FBR detection.

Fusarium Basal Rot (FBR) is among the most destructive onion diseases in the world, causing yield losses of over 50%. In the UK, crop losses can reach 40% and cost the industry more than £10million a year.

Bulb onions, a staple of the UK's agricultural landscape, have long been a cornerstone of the nation's farming industry. However, the emergence of FBR has cast a shadow over the future of onion cultivation, with devastating losses driving growers out of business. Against the backdrop of climate change exacerbating the issue, urgent action is imperative to protect this vital crop.

In response to this pressing challenge, researchers at the University of Warwick are harnessing cutting-edge technology to develop a novel approach to FBR detection. The team is pioneering innovative detection techniques that involve both developing a DNA-based soil test to identify fields with high risk of disease and leveraging the distinctive scent of onions, that utilise scent-based indicators to identify when onions are infected. This groundbreaking methodology promises to revolutionise the way FBR is detected and controlled, offering a ray of hope to onion growers nationwide.

The project, spearheaded by the British Onions Producer Association (BOPA) in collaboration with a diverse team of experts spanning remote sensing, agronomy, and biology, has received funding support from Innovate UK and DEFRA's Farming Innovation Programme. With a multifaceted approach encompassing advanced sensing technologies and biological insights, the initiative holds the potential to transform the landscape of onion farming, ensuring its sustainability for generations to come.

Professor John Clarkson, Plant Pathologist at the University of Warwick, said: This project is an exciting opportunity for the School of Life Sciences and School of Engineering to provide new approaches to tackling Fusarium basal rot of onion, which is increasingly devastating for UK onion growers. As well as supporting Engineering and the wider consortium with expertise on the disease, my team at the Warwick Crop Centre will develop new DNA-based molecular diagnostic approaches to detect the pathogen in soil so that growers can use this test to avoid planting onions in highly infested fields. The test may also help to assess the risk of onions developing basal rot in storage”.

James Covington, Professor in Electronic Engineering at the University of Warwick, said: “The is a highly relevant project to the UK and British Farming to solve a problem that is plaguing the sector and resulting in significant financial loss. Our odour analysis approach provides a non-invasive, non-contact method to monitor Fusarium in-store, even when tons of onions are stored together and where visual inspection is not possible. This will provide a means for rapid decision-making, to help the industry to reduce crop losses. This project builds on the strong collaboration of the School of Engineering and School of Life Sciences working together with our consortium partners and the Agri-Tech sector".

For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Bron Mills
Communications Officer | +447824 540 720


Fri 16 Feb 2024, 11:49 | Tags: Life Sciences, crops