We need to stop pests eating our food. Richard Pywell and Ben Woodcock argue that supporting native wildlife on farms is part of the answer.
Farmers have always been in a running battle with pests. We estimate using Defra statistics that in 2010, UK crops worth £715M were lost to insect pests. Chemical pesticides are crucial to controlling them, but the development of pest resistance, and key products being withdrawn amid fears about human and environmental health mean that alternative methods are increasingly important.
One solution is to promote native biodiversity that will kill pests within crops. Many native species have the potential to increase crop yields, so supporting biodiversity on farmland has more to offer than simply beautifying the countryside. For example, bees pollinate crops and predatory beetles eat pest aphids. In any case, the UK has signed the Convention on Biological Diversity, which requires that “by 2020 areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity”.
Continue reading Protecting nature’s harvest
Plants don’t necessarily operate at their full potential. Let’s make them, says Peter Horton.
To provide more crop yield on less land with fewer inputs undoubtedly requires alteration to the fundamental physiological attributes of plants. Included in these is the increase in efficiency of photosynthesis, recently identified by BBRSC as a focus of special interest and subject of a previous post on this blog.
The relationship between photosynthesis and crop yield is controversial.
Continue reading Enhancing photosynthesis
Fine tuning policies and collaborations can strengthen animal and plant pathogen research, says Wyn Grant.
In the 21st century, one of the potential consequences of climate change and free global trade is that animal and plant disease may pose increasing threats to our food supplies.
It’s important to understand the biology of the pathogens and pests involved, but it’s equally important to fully consider the human dimension, and the part that people and their behaviour play.
Continue reading The devils and the details of disease
There has never been a more urgent need to train scientists in the food security disciplines, says Christopher Thornton.
Publication of the Royal Society report Reaping the benefits: Science and the sustainable intensification of global agriculture in October 2009 provided the clearest evidence yet of the immense challenge of ensuring global food security over the next 50 years.
Crop yields need to rise significantly, but in a manner that requires much lower energy inputs and less dependency on chemical intervention and fertilisers.
Continue reading Generation X and agricultural education