Sustainable Strawberry Production and Management Including Control of Strawberry Powdery Mildew
At present, the global population is increasing, while soil and fresh water resources for crop production are declining. It is important to adopt sustainable practices to optimise the use of limited natural resources without compromising the environment, and to enhance continuous production in the long term. The rapid growth of UK strawberry industry has been achieved through the precision use of varieties, nutrients and polythene tunnels. This intensive production has caused significant environmental impacts especially Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from the production. Strawberry powdery mildew (Podosphaera aphanis) is a major fungal disease affecting strawberry production worldwide particularly in polythene tunnels. The disease can result in yield losses of up to 70% of the crop. A ruleQbased system was used in the field trials to predict high risk days of P. aphanis development, taking into account the optimal environmental conditions conducive to conidial germination and disease development. The results (Chapter 3) showed that the use of this prediction system achieved satisfactory control of P. aphanis in commercial strawberry production, with reduced fungicide applications compared with commercial spray programme. The results were consistent in two consecutive years and on different varieties. In addition, it was suggested that the use of the prediction system may also lead to lower GHG emissions associated with fewer fungicide applications, thereby benefit strawberry growers both environmentally and economically. Results from 2014 & 2015 silicon fertigation trials showed that the use of a silicon nutrient via the fertigation system reduced the strawberry susceptibility to P. aphanis and twoQspotted spider mites (Tetranychus urticae Koch) in two consecutive years on different varieties (Chapter 4). In both years, crops received the silicon nutrient only without fungicides had both lower rate of epidemic (r) and lower value of Area Under the Disease Progress Curve (AUDPC) (r = 0.0036, AUDPC = 475 in 2014[ r = 0.001, AUDPC = 267 in 2015) compared with the untreated control (r = 0.0042, AUDPC = 662 in 2014[ r = 0.0011, AUDPC = 281 in 2015). Silicon also delayed the epidemic buildQup in the silicon nutrient only treatment for approximately two weeks compared with the untreated control. Crops from the silicon nutrient plus fungicides treatment had lower susceptibility (r = 0.0012 in 2014[ r = 0.0004 in 2015) than those from the fungicides only treatment (r = 0.0017 in 2014[ r = 0.0005 in 2015) suggesting that the silicon nutrient may also enhance fungicides performance in reducing the epidemic buildQup when used together. Moreover, the presence of T. urticae on strawberry leaves was significantly lower (P < 0.001) in plants treated with the silicon nutrient than those without. In addition, initial results suggested that silicon may play a positive role in raising ºBrix of strawberry leaf petiole, improving pollen viability, and influencing the length of flower receptacle and stamens. Maltmas Farm has a wide range of semiQnatural habitats that provide food and nesting resources for wild pollinators. Hoverflies, bumblebees and solitary bees were found to be the main wild pollinators that pollinate commercial strawberries at Maltmas Farm (Chapter 5). The number of pollinators in tunnels or open fields significantly correlated with the abundance of strawberry flowers (P < 0.05). Pollinator presence also differed between groups throughout the day and over the seasons. Hoverflies appeared early in the day and were abundant in summer months; bumblebees and solitary bees were present most of the day and throughout the season, whereas honeybees were only active in sunny days. Temperatures, relative humidity and cloud coverage also affected pollinator presence. In addition, pollinator activity was not significantly (P > 0.05) affected by the application of the silicon nutrient via the fertigation system. The integrated use of the prediction system (to reduce fungicide applications and subsequent GHG emissions), the silicon nutrient (to reduce crop susceptibility to P. aphanis and T. urticae), and sustainable farmland management (to encourage the presence of wild pollinators) could help strawberry growers to achieve a more sustainable production.
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