PS Seminar Series: Beet-ing a path to a greener future – Using field phenomics to tackle major threats to sugar beet

Abstract - Sugar beet accounts for around 20% of the world sugar supply and is the dominant source of sugar in Europe. Yield of sugar beet is directly related to the amount of intercepted light. Therefore, maintaining green area is vital. Not an easy challenge when drought, pests and diseases can seriously limit production.

Growers of the crop are now looking for innovative new methods to protect yields, especially from nematodes, foliar diseases and viruses. One option to do this is to deploy field phenomics and drones to identify sugar beet which perform best under different stressors and then guide industry decisions on variety selection. Targeted and accessible communication of these results is already assisting with deployment of varieties with resilience to pathogens and long term will reduce farmers’ reliance on the ever-shrinking agrochemical toolbox.

Biography - Having completed a PhD in interactions between the beet cyst nematode (Heterodera schachtii) and sugar beet at the University of Nottingham in 2018, Alistair Wright now works in a knowledge transfer partnership with the British Beet Research Organisation and supported by UK Government. His main focus is developing innovative new experimental approaches and deploying new technologies to obtain rigorous data to assess varietal resistances to a multitude of pathogens. Currently, trials are underway to assess varietal responses to nematodes, fungal foliar diseases and yellowing viruses vectored by aphids.

Having grown up on a farm where sugar beet formed a major part of the rotation Alistair sees good knowledge exchange with farmers as important as well conducted research to ensure yields continue to improve in the future. Alistair is a member of the Association of Applied Biologists Nematology Group and also the Institute of International Sugar Beet Research (IIRB) Pest and Disease Study Group.