Hemp production in USA to benefit from work of Pershore College researchers

Pershore College Mologic

Researchers at Pershore College are helping to reduce the impact of a deadly plant disease on hemp production in the USA.

The researchers, based in the state-of-the-art Agri-Tech Research Centre at the college, have been working in partnership with Mologic to develop lateral flow tests to support the prevention of Botrytis.

Botrytis is a fungus commonly called grey mould and can result in significant crop loss for growers if it takes hold.

The innovative lateral flow tests were initially trialled in wine grapes and strawberries, but are now being adapted to identify the disease in other plants more generally, including hemp, which has a wide range of practical uses.

Hemp is not widely grown in the UK but is very prominent in the USA, with hemp losses to Botrytis stretching into the billions.

The BotrytisAlert tests could help to significantly reduce those losses, by identifying and containing Botrytis before it spreads and stopping one hemp plant infecting the entire crop.

Pershore College is working with growers in California and Utah to better understand what impact identifying the disease early could have on hemp production.

The development of the tests was funded through Innovate UK and other partners, including Berry Garden Growers and horticulture researchers at NIAB EMR.

According to Mologic, in the UK, Botrytis infection provides the second greatest cause of crop loss to the horticulture sector, with the total cost to the UK industry is estimated at £54million.

Early intervention informed by the lateral flow tests could prevent Botrytis epidemics in a wide range of plants and crops – reducing crop and post-storage harvest losses.

Pershore College and Mologic are working with a collection of growers in the UK to further analyse how they can be used with other plants.

Professor Roy Kennedy, who has led on the project for Pershore College from the Agri-Tech Research Centre, said: “Botrytis causes huge damage to growers if it is not detected and controlled as part of on-going quality procedures.

“Hemp is a very high-value crop and while we don’t grow it much in the UK, in America it is a significant crop.

“It is generally mass-produced from cuttings. If the plants are contaminated with Botrytis, which can grow within plant, the cuttings will be infected and die. The people we work with have estimated hemp losses at more than $2 billion.

“But the benefits of these tests are huge for a wide range of growers of all sorts of produce. They will be particularly useful to growers of high-value crops, regionally, nationally and internationally.

“Our role in the partnership has been to look into the use of these tests and then how they can be optimised to be used in different plants and crops.

“This is great example of a Innovate UK funded collaboration between specialist industrial and academic partners leading to a real improvement in diagnostics capability for certain horticulture crops and ornamentals.

“We now look forward to continuing to work with our partners on other crops such as potatoes.”

Dr Alison Wakeham, from Mologic, added: “Botrytis is a big problem on many crops and is responsible for dramatic yield losses in hemp because of the clonal nature of hemp production.

“Using detection tests for Botrytis developed by Mologic will be a huge benefit to the hemp industry in the US.”