Resistance breeding for healthy crops

Last changed: 28 September 2021
Wheat
Project - Resistance breeding for healthy crops.Photo Magnus Karlsson.

The project in brief

One important factor of maintaining a high yield within Swedish plant production is to use varieties that are highly resistant to disease. By breeding varieties with high resistance to disease, the use of chemical plant protection agents can be reduced. This contributes to a better environment for both people and animals, including pollinating insects, which can otherwise be sensitive to certain types of chemical pesticides. Phasing out many older pesticides also requires alternative solutions for the plant protection of the future and to maintain the competitiveness of Swedish farmers. Breeding of resistant crops also has a central and important role in managing diseases where there are currently no effective plant protection measures. Climate changes can also lead to increased problems with diseases within Swedish crop production, which requires long-term solutions for an effective and environmentally friendly plant protection.

Within this SLU Grogrund project, we will focus on five crops which are often found directly or indirectly on Swedish dinner plates: potatoes, wheat (bread), beet (sugar), peas and red clover (meat and dairy). The academic and industrial sectors will collaborate to develop and use modern techniques to ensure access to varieties with a high resistance to diseases, and which are adapted to Swedish conditions. The five crops are very different from one another in terms of disease issues, cultivation systems and scope of existing breeding programmes. This means that within the project, we will be working to develop competence over a wide range of plant breeding methods, from identification of new sources of resistance to genetic markers.

More specifically, the work with potatoes will focus on early blight, where reduced efficiency and phasing out of chemical pesticides makes it urgent to find alternative solutions. A similar situation can be seen in wheat, where the focus is placed on septoria tritici blotch, fusarium ear blight, yellow rust and powdery mildew. Beets are frequently affected by viral diseases spread by aphids, and the possibilities of fighting aphids has recently been greatly reduced due to the ban on neonicotinoids. The legumes red clover and pea are both highly sensitive to soil-borne diseases causing root rot and, in the case of red clover, crown rot. There are currently no commercial varieties with high resistance to these diseases, which causes a significant limitation of the total production capacity.

We will be striving towards a long-term knowledge development in terms of pathogen biology and spread, their interactions with their hosts and the resistance biology of our crops. This knowledge will be put into practice in more efficient breeding of resistant crops in order to increase the yield and competitiveness within Swedish crop production.

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