Dr Brian Rigney is the son of an Irish dairy farmer and he has seen firsthand the benefits of emerging technologies.
“In our dairy herd we adopted the technique of Artificial Insemination as a way to improve the breeding qualities of our stock and enhance the genetic diversity of the herd. In our arable enterprise we have introduced new grasses swards into the rotation that offer better productivity and quality. As a result, our milk solids are above average, with 6 per cent protein and 6.2 per cent fat.
“Efforts in plant breeding in the mid-1900s gave rise to the green revolution through the development of better performing crop varieties. Now it is crop diseases that have become the limiting factor of crop yields.”
Disease resistance is the future
Brian is now a scientist at the 2Blades Group, part of The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich. He continues: “I grew up on a farming enterprise and one of the primary factors which made our farm profitable was the rapid adaptation of emerging techniques and technology. Improving disease resistance in crops will increase yield in the field.
“Research at The Sainsbury Laboratory has identified multiple key traits in the plant genome that will help reduce crop losses through disease.
“This discovery has the potential to improve yields and reduce the impact of toxic chemicals on the environment and the farmer. “Although these biotech traits are currently prohibited for use in Europe, this technology may be adopted in large agriculture economies such as the USA and Brazil. I hope that the positive impact will resonate and the technology will be adopted more widely in the near future.
Protection from wilt
“I first joined the 2Blades Group in 2017 to study the genetics of disease resistance against Phakopsora pachyrhizi in diverse legume species and then looked at bacterial spot and wilt which are big problems in tomato cultivations. We found that bacterial spot resistance does exist in pepper, a close relative of tomato, and a gene known as Bs2 was isolated.
“The 2Blades foundation supported the introduction of Bs2 into tomatoes. A series of field studies looked at the effect of Bs2 in a California tomato variety and demonstrated a significant positive impact on plant health and fruit yield over six years of multi-site field trials in Florida.
“I see great potential for gene enhancement, it will enable us to become more efficient in reducing crop loss, and this will in turn have a positive impact on sustainable agriculture. In the future, we will be able to produce more crops with fewer chemicals and protect the environment.”
Dr Brian Rigney has an M Res in Crop Sciences from the James Hutton Institute and a PhD in Potato Genetics. During his PhD he mapped potato nematode resistance genes and validated the efficacy of molecular markers in a commercial breeding program to improve resistance levels towards nematodes, through pyramiding of different resistance sources.
Brian will be speaking at REAP 2019 – see more information at reapconference.co.uk