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The Warwick Crop Centre

The Warwick Crop Centre

Improving the sustainability of vegetable production

Warwick Crop Centre (WCC) and the UK Vegetable Gene Bank (UKVGB) provide global seed companies with germplasm, training and resources for increasing the sustainability of vegetable crops through genetic improvement. Research into the genetic diversity of crops and the identification of disease resistance genes has enabled companies to breed better crop varieties, reducing wastage and saving growers substantial financial losses. Improved selections of globally important crops such as carrots, lettuces, parsnips and onions, have benefitted breeders and breeding companies across the world.

The challenge

The vegetable market is worth £1.4 billion annually in the UK alone. Crop diseases and the lack of effective control treatments, as well as poor crop scheduling, lead to significant global production losses. Many vegetables have complicated genetics. The WCC hosts the Defra-funded UKVGB, which conserves natural genetic diversity. Research projects associated with UKVGB fix this diversity into smaller, focussed seed collections accessible to breeders. The challenge is then to map crop quality characteristics within these collections, such as flowering time or resistance to disease, and provide genetic markers for breeders to make use of when selecting for these useful genes. This ensures that genes involved in determining flowering time, disease resistance and other crop quality traits are accessible to companies, enabling breeders to develop new lines resistant to common viruses.

Our approach

Researchers at the Warwick Crop Centre provide companies with training, expertise and resources to improve the sustainability of vegetable crops. Research expertise includes:

  • Professor Guy Barker directs the Vegetable Genetic Improvement Network (VeGIN), a network of commercial growers, breeders and academic researchers. VeGIN encourages and supports collaborations for genetic improvement of vegetable crop varieties with the aim of increasing sustainability in fresh food production.

  • Dr John Clarkson’s research has developed new methods to identify pathogens in onions, parsnips and leeks, and identified resistance genes to combat them. Each year an estimated 20% of the UK’s parsnip crop is unsuitable for sale due to root canker diseases. Dr Clarkson’s work with specialist seed companies is driving new, canker-resistant variety selections.

  • Dr Stephen Jackson’s expertise in the molecular mechanisms of flowering time has been applied to salad crops, such as lettuce and wild rocket. As soon as these crops start to bolt (flower) they become unsaleable. Dr Jackson has identified genes that delay flowering, and produced late bolting varieties, that allow for longer and more reliable harvest windows.

  • Dr Charlotte Allender is director of UKVGB.

Our impact

Warwick research has provided access to new genetic information, accelerating breeding programmes and improving the quality and saleability of vegetable crops. As a result, companies have adopted new screening technologies and developed new crop varieties with improved resistance to diseases and environmental challenges.

Our researchers are curating over 14,000 new variants of globally important crops such as carrots, parsnips and onions. Along with genetic diversity collections, these resources are accessed by companies across the world, including prominent global agribusinesses such as Elsoms Seeds, BASF Hazera, Limagrain, Syngenta and Tozer. Warwick researchers have also provided hands-on support for upskilling existing variety selection programmes for companies such as Elsoms Seeds, BASF, Syngenta and Hazera.

Research at WCC continues to contribute to vegetable crop sustainability and to work with the crop improvement companies. The work is mitigating hundreds of millions of pounds worth of losses each year through the successful identification and integration of resistance genes within breeding lines. In collaboration with industry partners, WCC helps underpin food production and food security in the UK and globally.

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