UK – British Onions Producer Association (BOPA) has invested GBP 1 million (USD 1.26 million) in a research project aimed at combating Fusarium Basal Rot (FBR) on its onion industry through detection and control.

The UK which a significant contributor to the global onion market with 500,000 tons produced in 2022, valued at GBP 160 million (USD 201.6 million), is currently grappling with the devastating impact of FBR threatening both their pre- and post-harvest stages.

This challenge, compounded by climate change, has prompted the BOPA to launch an ambitious research project aimed at transforming FBR detection and control strategies.

The groundbreaking initiative, named “FUSED: integrated fusarium early diagnostic and management,” has secured £1 million in funding under DEFRA’s Farming Innovation Programme from Innovate UK.

The 24-month project assembles a diverse team of experts encompassing remote sensing, agronomy, and biology.

Key contributors include the British Onions Producer Association, B-hive Innovations Ltd, G’s Growers, Moulton Bulb Company, Stourgarden, Bedfordshire Growers, and researchers from the University of Warwick, RSK-ADAS, CHAP (Crop Health and Protection), VCS Agronomy, and Allium & Brassica Centre.

Dr. Andy Gill, General Manager at B-hive Innovations and the project’s lead, elaborated on the multifaceted approach: “Together, we’re pioneering new methods to assess FBR risk pre-planting, detect infected onions in the field and during harvest, and identify early signs of infection in storage.”

The overarching goal of the project is ambitious yet crucial: to reduce FBR prevalence by 50%, potentially saving millions in annual losses and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the industry.

Tim Elcombe, Chairman of the British Onions Producer Association and Bedfordshire Growers, emphasized the urgency of the research, stating, “The UK onion industry is really struggling to combat FBR. Crop losses can reach 40%, costing the industry more than £10 million a year. As a sector, we desperately need better detection and management solutions.”

The impact of the FUSED project extends beyond financial gains. With crop losses reaching staggering figures and costing millions annually, the research is expected to reduce reliance on imports and enhance environmental sustainability.

By arming growers with effective strategies to detect and combat FBR, the project represents a pivotal step toward securing the future of the UK onion industry.

Sam Rix, British Onions Producer Association R&D Chairman and representative from Stourgarden, praised the comprehensive nature of the research, stating, “The project focuses on every point in the onion growing process, from pre-planting molecular diagnostics through in-field imaging, to FBR detection in stores to smell infections at the earliest possible stages. This should equip onion producers with an amazing array of new technology.”

With a commitment to addressing the pressing challenges faced by the UK onion industry, the collaborative efforts of BOPA and its partners underscore the importance of innovation in safeguarding the future of vital agricultural sectors.

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