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More or less? Disease control key to maintaining yields under climate change

Visit  Rothamsted Research website

21 June 2010

Oilseed rape disease losses are predicted to increase by a further £50M by 2050, under high CO2 emission scenarios. However, such losses, on untreated crops of winter oilseed rape, could be mitigated by effective control of the two main diseases; phoma stem canker and light leaf spot. Scientists from Rothamsted Research, an institute of BBSRC, SAC and the University of Vienna, have demonstrated that disease control can be aided by new disease forecasting systems ( and will mean that yields will actually increase due to better crop productivity under higher CO2.

Stem canker © Rothamsted Research
Stem canker
© Rothamsted Research

In research published in the June issue of "Food Security", the scientists used disease and crop models to show that unlike the disease phoma stem canker, which had previously been predicted to become more severe under a range of climate change scenarios, light leaf spot, the disease associated with oilseed rape crops in northern England and Scotland, was predicted to decrease in severity in coming decades. Economic analysis indicated that this, coupled with increased yields from treated crops where diseases were effectively controlled, would be enough to offset increased losses from canker so that the net UK losses from climate change for untreated oilseed rape would be small.

Dr Neal Evans from Rothamsted Research explained "We weren't surprised by the outcome of this study since the results reflect what we know about the biology of these two plant pathogens. Phoma stem canker is a global disease which is actually most severe in hot, dry countries such as Australia so one would expect the disease to be favoured by global warming. In contrast, light leaf spot is favoured by cooler, moist conditions and so would not be expected to fair so well in the future". Professor Bruce Fitt added "These results can be used by industry and government to guide policy for adaptation to climate change, as a contribution to global food security".


Notes to editors

This paper, The impact of climate change on disease constraints on production of oilseed rape by Neal Evans, Michael Butterworth, Andreas Baierl, Mikhail Semenov, Jon West, Andrew Barnes, Dominic Moran and Bruce Fitt was published in the June 2010 issue of Food Security, Vol 2, Issue 2, 143-156 (DOI 10.1007/s12571-010-0058-3).

The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (the OREGIN project), the Sustainable Arable Link Programme (the PASSWORD, CORDISOR and CLIM-DIS projects) and the European Commission's Sixth Framework Programme, priority 5: 'Food Quality and Security' (ENDURE, 031499) with supplementary funding from the British Society for Plant Pathology.

About Rothamsted Research

Rothamsted Research is based in Hertfordshire and is one of the largest agricultural research institutes in the country. The mission of Rothamsted Research is to be recognised internationally as a primary source of first-class scientific research and new knowledge that addresses stakeholder requirements for innovative policies, products and practices to enhance the economic, environmental and societal value of agricultural land. The Applied Crop Science department is based at Broom's Barn, Higham, Bury St. Edmunds. North Wyke Research is located near Okehampton in Devon. Rothamsted Research is an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.


BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

External contact

Neal Evans, Rothamsted Research

Bruce Fitt, Rothamsted Research