Contact : Rosemary Bayles
Concern has been mounting in recent years about the increasing problem of ergot contamination in wheat. This has resulted in greater numbers of grain loads being rejected for milling and in seed failing to reach the certification standards. Recent changes in farming systems have been implicated, in particular the introduction of grass margins in arable fields, encouraged by CAP reform. The risk is that flowering grasses in the margins will become infected by ergot and act as a source of inoculum for the adjacent wheat crop, as well as adding to the reservoir of ergots available to initiate the next season's infection cycle. Other trends contributing to the increased ergot problem may include poor control of grass weeds because of increased herbicide resistance, shorter rotations, and earlier sowing.
The objective of this project is to develop an integrated package of measures aimed at reducing the risk of ergot infection in wheat crops, whilst retaining the environmental benefits of grass margins. The importance of grass field margins as a source of ergot inoculum will be assessed and means of reducing this risk will be explored. These will include low risk grass species that are unlikely to act as a source of infection for wheat and margin management regimes that reduce the risk of ergot infection spreading to the crop.
The resistance of wheat varieties to ergot will be investigated in order to identify low risk varieties with flowering characteristics that confer escape from infection, or with resistance that is effective at a later stage once infection has occurred. The research will combine monitoring of farm and experimental field margins, artificially inoculated and naturally infected field and glasshouse experiments, spore trapping and epidemiological studies and will use quantitative PCR diagnostics for pathogen detection.
Funding: The financial support of Defra through the Sustainable Arable LINK Programme, HGCA and our industrial collaborators is gratefully acknowledged.