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Defra Launches £1 Million Initiative to Tackle Onion Crop Rot

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has unveiled a new research initiative designed to tackle crop losses caused by Fusarium Basal Rot (FBR), a disease stemming from a soil-dwelling fungus.

Source: B-Hive

The project, named "FUSED – Integrated Fusarium Early Diagnostic and Management," is a two-year endeavour with a budget of £1 million, spearheaded by the Lincoln-based R&D firm, B-hive Innovations.

B-hive Innovations, recognised as a 'Subject Matter Expert' in the fresh produce research field, is leading this effort with support from Innovate UK, as part of the Defra Farming Innovation Programme.

The project's goal is to enhance the detection and management of FBR, aiming to identify the disease at the earliest possible stage in onion cultivation. FBR is responsible for up to 40% of crop losses in the sector, inflicting financial damages exceeding £10 million annually on the onion industry.

Dr Andy Gill, General Manager of B-hive Innovations and the project lead for FUSED, expressed enthusiasm about the collaborative effort to address FBR in onions, stating: "B-hive is delighted to be coordinating efforts to combat FBR infection in onions. The project will bring together many members of the British onion sector who share a common desire to prevent FBR. By engaging with the grower base at the beginning of the research process, it will enable us to develop solutions that are fit for purpose, a key mission that drives B-hive’s research projects.”

The FUSED project will see B-hive working in concert with agronomy experts from Vegetable Consultancy Services (VCS) Agronomy and The Allium and Brassica Centre, alongside academic researchers from the University of Warwick, the agri-tech innovation centre CHAP (Crop Health and Protection), and the research team at RSK-ADS. Additional support will come from key players in the onion-growing sector, including Moulton Bulb, G’s Growers, Stourgarden, and Bedfordshire Growers.

B-hive will not only manage the project but also lend its computer vision expertise to detect FBR-affected bulbs directly in the field. Dr Mercedes Torres Torres, B-hive’s head of machine learning, highlighted the project's innovative approach: "Our goal is to detect infected onions during growth and at the earliest possible stages. We will be drawing on our considerable expertise in remote sensing, including the use of hyperspectral imaging in agriculture, and are confident that we can find better ways of detecting disease.”

Vidyanath Gururajan, Managing Director of B-hive, underscored the project's contribution to the sustainability of the British onion sector and expressed gratitude for the trust placed in them by Innovate UK and project partners.


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