From Crop Protection to Crop Health

Professor Rob Edwards is Head of Newcastle University’s School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and chairs Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Farmer Scientist Network.

Professor Rob Edwards

My scientific career has been focused on finding ways of protecting our crops from pests and diseases. Over the past few decades we have been very successful in doing that, but in more recent years two serious issues have arisen: concerns about the environmental and health effects of modern pesticides and increasing resistance of pathogens to the pesticides we use. The latter has been a particular problem in controlling fungal diseases affecting wheat.

That’s why, just like the NHS, we are looking at alternatives with more emphasis on enhancing the health of crops rather than treating disease. The Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Farmer -Scientist Network brings together scientific and practical expertise to push forward innovation and new technology in agriculture. A grant from the European Innovation Programme for Agriculture (EIP-AGRI) is enabling the Network to carry out trials, looking at different approaches to crop protection.

Working with a group of farmers and technologists we are comparing the effectiveness of synthetic and “biologic” products on different wheat varieties’ disease resistance, yield and quality. The trials are taking place at three sites: Stockbridge Technology Centre in Yorkshire and Newcastle University’s Cockle Park and Nafferton farms in Northumberland. By using three different sites we are also able to test performance on different soils and in varied climatic conditions.

The biologic reagents are micro-organisms used to coat seeds before sowing or sprayed onto the plant. They work, rather like probiotics in human medicine, to strengthen the plant’s natural resistance. These are relatively new to the UK but likely to become widely available over the next few years.

The research will continue over the next two years, with open days when farmers and anyone who is interested can come and learn about the trial. The results will be widely disseminated as they could help ensure our food security in future. In the meantime, if you want to know more, please contact the project coordinator, Holly Jones at the Yorkshire Agricultural Society: Email: Hollyj@yas.co.uk

Within this project, Rob will be acting as the Lead/Scientific Coordinator of the project.

Dr Phillip Davis

Applied Photobiologist, Stockbridge Technology Centre.

Within this project,
Philip will be a Technical Specialist and
Test Site Lead for Stockbridge
Technology Centre.

Project Timeline

Project updates as they happen

November 2018

CropTec Show 2018

Prof Rob Edwards and Dr Roma Gwynn were among the speakers at this year’s CropTec Show 2018. The event was held at the East of England Showground in Peterborough. Rob and Roma spoke to audience of 200 over the two day show. Their topic focussed on how biological products can help to strengthen a plants resistance to disease and pests as a result of the trials. In addition they focussed how much benefit do they provide; are they value for money and what about public perception? In conclusion, Rob and Roma shared two years of trial results comparing the effectiveness of synthetic and biological products on disease resistance, yield and quality for different wheat varieties.

You can see the presentation here: Biologicals for disease and pest control: a farmer-led case study

July 2018

10th July 2018 – Will biocontrol’s work for arable farmers?


Group discussion with farmers and researchers.


Dr Roma Gwynn, Biorationale and Prof Rob Edwards, University of Newcastle, led discussions at this year’s 160th Great Yorkshire Show, on whether biocontrol’s were the future for farmers, what was the perception of these bio-agents and would they would be cost effective for farmers to use. Discussions linked in the trials currently underway through Crop Health North.

June 2018

8th June 2018 – Demonstration Day at Stockbridge Technology Centre

A second day of trial demonstrations took place on the 8th June during Stockbridge Technology Centre’s Procam event. The audience was made up of farmers and agronomists with around 60-70 people, three groups in total, with plenty of interest.



7th June 2018 – Demonstration day at Stockbridge Technology Centre

Members of the operational group went to showcase the trials at the recent Stockbridge Technology Centre demonstration event, it was a great day for it!

The wheat trial is looking good. Septoria still not an issue. Just trying to keep a hold on yellow rust on the biological plots with another Serenade spray earlier this week.

Attendees included farmers, agronomists, representation from Bayer and a group from the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) in York.

February 2018

22nd February 2018 – Crop Health North Team meet to discuss the trials

    (L-R, Holly Jones, Phillip Davis, Emma Bumby, Nicholas Ashtree, Tom King, Roma Gwynn, Rob Edwards, Richard Bramley)


Crop Health North Team meet at the Yorkshire Agricultural Society to discuss the details of the trials.

7th February 2018 – Nafferton Farm Spring Wheat trial photos

Progress photos of the Spring Wheat trial site at Nafferton Farm.

Full Timeline


Demonstration days, exhibitions and presentations