A rapid test to identify net blotch and rhynchosporium in barley is set to launch next month. The SwiftDetect test from Microgenetics has already been used to identify diseases of Septoria.
Net blotch has the potential to cause yield losses of between 10% and 40%, while rhynchosporium can inflict several infection cycles during a single growing season.
“We decided to focus on these pathogens because they’re a particular concern for the British farming industry – we know they cause the biggest crop yield failures and have the biggest financial impact,” said Dr Rebecca Sanders, principal scientist at Microgenetics.
By identifying the presence of these diseases before they are visible, farmers will be able to act quickly to control them before they become a more serious problem.
“These diseases have a long latent period when the disease is present but not yet visible,” Dr Sanders said. “By the time visible signs do appear it is too late to recover the full yield and aggressive fungicides will need to be used.
“By using SwiftDetect, farmers are given an early warning that treatment is necessary. It allows them to use it as part of their integrated crop management and spray according to what’s actually in the field, rather than a pre-emptive campaign.
“It saves money. It saves the environment. And it prolongs the life of fungicides because, like antibiotics, the more fungicides we use, the more likely it is that pathogens will develop resistance to them.”
The test is reportedly easy to complete, with farmers collecting ten leaves from across a barley field for the sample. These are then posted to the SwiftDetect laboratory using a prepaid envelope that can be ordered from Microgenetics. The results are sent back by email, usually within one business day.
“A traffic light warning system will tell a farmer whether the sample was low, medium or high risk”, said Dr Charles Grant, research scientist at Microgenetics. “They will also receive a SwiftDetect score, which is determined by the amount of pathogen identified in the sample.
“Farmers will get the information they need to inform what formulation they should use and at what level, or whether they need to target specific fields first where disease levels are higher.”
He added that farmers can choose to use the tests after spraying to check the effects of the pesticides used or to assess the level of disease resistance in varieties being trialled.
“We’ve had feedback from farmers who have tailored their fungicide programme according to the results and saved themselves thousands of pounds,” Dr Grant added. ”Other benefits aren’t as quantifiable but are just as important, for instance, the quality of the overall yield.
“At the moment, a lot of farmers will spray at specific times of the year, at specific growth stages or following particular weather patterns. We’re trying to give them an accurate picture of what’s actually going on during the latent phase so they don’t need to guess.”
Dr Sanders added: “SwiftDetect doesn’t replace the role of an agronomist, it enhances their ability to manage the crop. More information is always a positive thing and SwiftDetect provides farmers and growers with a bit more power to enable them to make informed decisions.”