Government research councils have awarded more than £4m in research funding to six projects to help improve the sustainability of horticultural crops.
The funding is the second round of awards from the Horticulture & Potato Initiative (HAPI), developed by Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Natural Environment Research Council and (NERC) the Scottish Government.
Combined with contributions from industry partners, it aims to boost the competitiveness and resilience of the horticulture and potato supply chains, and also increase crops' resistance to disease and environmental change.
BBSRC executive director for innovation and skills Dr Celia Caulcott said: "Working with industrial partners, we have identified key areas where research is necessary to help address the challenges of a sustainable food supply. These projects' research will help to deliver improved yields and reduce waste, benefiting both producers and consumers."
East Malling Research head of genetics and crop improvement Professor Xiangming Xu, one of the funded project leaders, said: "Apple replant disease is a complex syndrome and, until recent advances in DNA sequencing technology, it has been practically impossible to develop effective controls.
"With this new funding we will better understand the relationship between causal agents, rootstocks and soil microbial populations, enabling us to develop effective control strategies."
The Sainsbury Laboratory group leader Professor Jonathan Jones said, subject to regulatory approval, the new GM Maris Piper potato his project is developing "could prevent many tonnes of pesticides and fungicides being sprayed on our land, increase yields and make a healthier crisp or chip".
The University of Warwick's School of Life Sciences secured nearly £1.4m from the fund. Its head, Professor Laura Green, said: "Research findings from HAPI-funded projects will result in substantial impacts on the horticulture industry generating solutions for breeders, growers and processors."
In a separate development, the five-year £14m Global Food Security Programme will call for proposals to take up the first half of its funding in September.
Backed by BBSRC, NERC, the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), Defra, the Food Standards Agency and industry, its goals include "enhancing productivity, resilience and sustainability of agricultural landscapes" and "influencing food choice for health and sustainability at the individual and household level".
Research projects - Funding aims to improve crop sustainability
- Apple replant disease evolution and rootstock interaction (East Malling Research, £482,000). EMR and industry partners aim to develop new management strategies and breeding programmes to counter this disease of newly planted apple trees.
- New UK potato varieties with late blight and potato cyst nematode resistance, reduced bruising and improved processing quality through genetic modification (The Sainsbury Laboratory/University of Leeds, £841,000).
- Exploiting seed coat properties to improve uniformity and resilience in Brassica seed vigour (John Innes Centre/University of Exeter, £885,781). Aims to develop new brassica varieties with high seed vigour that are not sensitive to temperature during seed production, and will also monitor seeds' uptake of growth chemicals.
- Integrated approaches for pest and disease control in horticultural field crops (University of Warwick/Rothamsted Research, £925,000). Focus on control of turnip yellows virus (TuYV), including identifying molecular markers of susceptibility.
- A genetic approach to improving post-harvest quality in lettuce, cabbage and apple (Harper Adams University/University of Reading/University of Warwick, £1.024m).
- A systems biology approach to disease resistance against necrotrophic fungal pathogens in horticultural crops (University of Warwick/University of Reading/Harper Adams University, £881,891).