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Climate Change May Lead to Greater Severity in Wheat Crop Disease

Feb 26, 2014 04:19 PM EST

Climate change may lead to an increased risk in severity of wheat crop diseases in the next two decades, according to a new study.

Scientists from University of Hertfordshire led the research, which was conducted in China to establish whether there is a link between weather and the severity of epidemics of fusarium ear blight on the wheat crops there. When epidemics of fusarium ear blight are big enough, upwards of 60 percent of a wheat crop can be lost to the disease. The blight also produces a toxin that renders the crop unsuitable for human or animal consumption.

"There is considerable debate about the impact of climate change on crop production -- and making sure that we have sufficient food to feed the ever-growing global population is key to our future food security," said Bruce Fitt, professor of plant pathology at the University of Hertfordshire's School of Medical and Life Sciences.

"We know that the weather plays a big part in the development of the disease on the wheat crops -- the incidence of the disease is determined by temperature and the occurrence of wet weather at the flowering or anthesis of the wheat crops," he said.

As climate change continues, the researchers expect that wheat crops may be affected by flowering earlier, which will lead to an increase of the ear blight disease on wheat crops. This increased blight is expected to be observed on winter wheat in China by the middle of this century, between 2020 and 2050. Similar projection have been made for the UK.

A healthy wheat crop is essential for global food security, the researchers said, noting that the grain is found in many common foods such as bread, breakfast cereals, cakes, pizzas, confectionery, soups and many other food items.

"In a world where more than one billion people do not have enough to eat, and our future food security is threatened by climate change and an ever-growing population, it is essential to improve the control of crop diseases like fusarium ear blight around the globe," the researchers said in a statement.

Their work is published in the journal Annals of Applied Biology.

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