‘I believe that growing crops resistant to the pest will help reduce insecticide use and secure UK production of oilseed rape, which is important for farmland biodiversity.’
John Innes Centre, Rothamsted Research and several industrial partners have received a financial boost to efforts to combat the cabbage stem flea beetle, with £1.8 million in funding from Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
The withdrawal of neonicotinoid-based pesticides, which were used to as seed treatment to control the beetle, has led to the spread of the pest. The research-industry partnership, which is led by the John Innes Centre, is implementing an integrated pest-control management approach; this will include the development of pest-resistant cultivars.
The cabbage stem flea beetle attacks oilseed rape, and UK crop losses were estimated at 6.4% in 2016 to 2017, rising to 15% in some areas. The UK cropping area has declined 35% between 2012 and 2019, which has called into question the future of the UK oilseed rape crop. The project will allow researchers to indentify genetic markers which will guide breeders in developing oil seed rape varieties that are less palatable to the pest. Research into the life cycle and feeding preferences of the beetle is being carried out by researchers at the John Innes Centre. The funding means that work to combat the pest can now be accelerated.
Dr Sam Cook, scientific lead of the project at Rothamsted Research said: ‘Rothamsted’s role in the project is to learn more about the mechanisms that drive feeding preferences of adult cabbage stem flea beetles, and the survival and development of their larvae. I believe that growing crops resistant to the pest will help reduce insecticide use and secure UK production of oilseed rape, which is important for farmland biodiversity.’
The industrial partners participating in the research include Bayer and LS Plant Breeding.