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More or less? Disease control key to maintaining yields under climate change


More or less?  Disease control key to maintaining yields under climate change

Oilseed rape disease losses are predicted to increase by a further 50M by 2050,
under high CO2 emission scenarios.  However, such losses, on untreated crops of
winter oilseed rape, could be mitigated by effective control of the two main
diseases; phoma stem canker and light leaf spot. Scientists from Rothamsted
Research, an institute of BBSRC, SAC and the University of Vienna,  have
demonstrated that disease control can be aided by new disease forecasting
systems (
and will mean that yields will actually increase due to better crop productivity under higher CO2.

In research published in the June issue of “Food Security”, the scientists used
disease and crop models to show that unlike the disease phoma stem canker, which
had previously been predicted to become more severe under a range of climate
change scenarios, light leaf spot, the disease associated with oilseed rape
crops in northern England and Scotland, was predicted to decrease in severity in
coming decades.  Economic analysis indicated that this, coupled with increased
yields from treated crops where diseases were effectively controlled, would be
enough to offset increased losses from canker so that the net UK losses from
climate change for untreated oilseed rape would be small.

Dr Neal Evans from Rothamsted Research explained “We weren’t surprised by the
outcome of this study since the results reflect what we know about the biology
of these two plant pathogens.  Phoma stem canker is a global disease which is
actually most severe in hot, dry countries such as Australia so one would expect
the disease to be favoured by global warming.  In contrast, light leaf spot is
favoured by cooler, moist conditions and so would not be expected to fair so
well in the future”.  Professor Bruce Fitt added “These results can be used by
industry and government to guide policy for adaptation to climate change, as a
contribution to global food security”.

This paper, “The impact of climate change on disease constraints on production of oilseed rape” by Neal Evans, Michael Butterworth, Andreas Baierl, Mikhail Semenov, Jon West, Andrew Barnes, Dominic Moran and Bruce Fitt was published in the June 2010 issue of Food Security, Vol 2, Issue 2, 143-156 (DOI 10.1007/s12571-010-0058-3).

The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (the OREGIN project), the Sustainable Arable Link Programme (the PASSWORD, CORDISOR and CLIMDIS projects) and the European Commission’s Sixth Framework Programme, priority 5: ‘Food Quality and Security’ (ENDURE, 031499) with supplementary funding from the British Society for Plant Pathology.

Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is based in Hertfordshire and is one of the largest agricultural research institutes in the country. The mission of Rothamsted Research is to be recognised internationally as a primary source of first-class scientific research and new knowledge that addresses stakeholder requirements for innovative policies, products and practices to enhance the economic, environmental and societal value of agricultural land. The Applied Crop Science department is based at Broom’s Barn, Higham, Bury St. Edmunds. North Wyke Research is located near Okehampton in Devon. Rothamsted Research is an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. For further information, please contact the Rothamsted Research Press Office. Dr Sharon Hall (Tel: +44 (0) 1582 763 133 ext 2757 or email

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around 470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes. For more information see

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