Czech-Slovak Project Helps Vegetable Growers Detect Pests Early

The project involves scientific teams from the Czech Republic and Slovakia under the leadership of the project partner, the agricultural company Moravoseed CZ a.s. Photo Credit: Freepik.

Brno, 4 Sept (BD) – Modern agriculture faces a combination of negative influences that have a major impact on the quality and quantity of crops. Due to climate change, plants are stressed at an early stage of growth and are therefore more susceptible to damage from various pathogens or pests. 

Scientists at Brno’s Mendel University, in collaboration with other partners, focused on the early detection of harmful organisms. The experts developed methods to help detect selected diseases that cause the greatest losses to growers at an early stage. At MENDELU’s Faculty of Agronomy, the experts worked on the detection of, for example, nematodes, tomato phytoplasma stolbur and garlic white rot. 

To detect selected pathogens, the experts at the Faculty of Agronomy use species-specific DNA analysis with molecular genetics methods. “Detection is carried out on a similar basis to coronavirus testing in medicine today, mainly using real-time PCR,” explained Aleš Knoll, MENDELU project coordinator at the Institute of Animal Morphology, Physiology and Genetics.

“A cultivator or even a gardener can come to us with a sample if they are not sure, and we are able to confirm whether it is a certain disease or something else,” said Tomáš Vyhnánek from the Institute of Plant Biology. “In the case of phytoplasma, for example, the manifestations in certain stages are very similar to various physiological disorders associated with inadequate nutrition. In our laboratory, the grower gets confirmation as to whether it is a disease or not.” 

The diseases the scientists will focus on were selected in advance by the growers through a questionnaire. The aim of the project was to respond as closely as possible to the current needs of the Czech and Slovakian horticultural industry. “For example, the tomato phytoplasma stolbur causes plant deformation,” added Vyhnánek. “It is a disease transmitted by stinging insects that causes considerable problems in terms of yield. Similarly, garlic white rot can reduce yields when it appears, for example, in garlic or onion storage. This can lead to contamination of a large part of the production.”

“By identifying pests early and correctly, growers are able to minimise not only production losses, but also financial ones. Another advantage is that it enables the targeted use of chemical plant protection products and thus the possibility of reducing their impact on the environment,” said Knoll, noting the EU’s efforts to limit the use of chemicals in agricultural and food production.

In addition to the MENDELU experts, scientists from the University of St Cyril and Methodius in Trnava and the Slovak University of Agriculture in Nitra are also involved in the cross-border cooperation project. The project will last until January next year. However, thanks to the purchase of new equipment, the scientists will be able to continue the same activities in the future. 

“Our aim was to create a trusted partner for the farmers, equipped with the necessary equipment and skills for rapid detection and subsequent advisory work,” Knoll added. The INTERREG project was supported by an EU subsidy of more than EUR 340,000.

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