My ultimate aim is to help growers of vegetable and salad crops to manage their pest infestations effectively with minimal use of pesticides. I’ve always believed that a better understanding of insect biology and behaviour will help to minimise the impact of pests. However, it isn’t easy, because the scale on which we need to grow crops, to feed a large population, makes them a very attractive food source for certain insects and it takes a lot of lateral thinking and detailed experimental work to learn how to outwit these pests.
I think that it’s essential to talk to the end-users of our research - the growers and agronomists – to understand the issues and also the constraints that may limit any new approach to pest management. It’s also necessary to try and understand what the insects do in the field. Much of my work has involved developing simple models to describe insect development and biology and a quantitative approach has been essential.
We have a dedicated team of research scientists and technicians in the School of Life Sciences and at the Wellesbourne Campus, where we have fantastic facilities to explore insect biology, behaviour and management in detail. A specialist Horticultural Services Team also help us to undertake some very detailed and, at times complicated, field and glasshouse experiments, which allow us to explore scenarios as they would occur in industry.
The way ahead for more sustainable pest control involves a huge amount of detailed research before we will be able to help growers manage the entire complex of pests and diseases attacking their crops. I’m convinced there is a way forward but it’s often hard to take the next logical step in my research because there’s no appropriate source of funding. It can be very frustrating at times. It is also important to realise that there are few simple solutions, even though certain approaches may seem appealing; there is a lot of complexity out there.
We also need to see behaviour change by consumers and organisations along the supply chain. I would love to see society more ready to accept small blemishes or imperfections in fresh produce. This would help reduce the pressure on production standards and lessen the use of control measures. This will come if we learn to link our food to the current environmental issues the world is facing.
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