Ecological Control of Plant Diseases in Arable Farming

Barley loose smut

This research activity concentrates on the development of efficient and environmentally sound measures to control noxious organisms in cereals, potatoes, oilseed rape and in pastures – thereby making an important contribution towards environmentally compatible, economically attractive agriculturalproduction, while maintaining and expanding the supply of sustainably produced Swiss food and feed.

In organic farming, disease control is based primarily on preventative measures. However, direct control measures may also
be necessary to ensure satisfactory yields and high-quality produce. Since the production of disease-free seeds is a particular challenge in organic production, we are developing biocompatible seed dressing treatments.

Since the production of disease-free seeds is a particular challenge in organic porduction, we are developing biocompatible seed dressing treatments. Seed-borne cereal diseases such as bunts (wheat, spelt) or smuts (barley) are highly problematic in organic cereal production. Infected plants develop bunt balls or smutted ears filled with spores, which result in spread of the disease. Furthermore, some of these spores are toxic to humans and animals.

Since the use of healthy seed helps in preventing disease problems, we examine organically produced grains for
seed-borne diseases. To facilitate the production of disease-free seeds, we test and develop new biocompatible treatments for seed dressing, based on bacteria and botanicals. We examine their effectiveness in the laboratory, in climate chambers and in field trials.

In order to optimise the efficacy, we also work on improved formulation and application techniques. Apart from the development of these biological treatments, we work on the implementation of the warm water treatment, which shows a very broad range of activity and is highly efficient even in cases where the pathogen is located in the embryo of the seed (loose smut in barley).



Project Information

Project Title:
Use of Natural Antagonists for the Biological Control of Pests and Pathogens in Arable Crops and Grasslands

Further Information

Late blight infested potato leaf

In potato cropping, late blight (Phytophthora infestans) is one of the most important diseases worldwide. In organic production, late blight can only be efficiently controlled by repeated applications of copper-based treatments.

In view of the environmental toxicity of copper, we elaborate and investigate alternative treatments based on bacterial antagonists and botanicals. In addition, we optimise our late blight forecasting system PhytoPRE, to reduce the amount of copper-based fungicides in organic production and to apply new alternative treatments in an efficient and targeted way.

The research activity comprises also a project with an entomological focus:


Biological control of pest insects

Many insect pests are attacked and killed naturally by fungal disease. These fungi can be specifically used as natural enemies in biological pest control. Such control methods do not harm beneficial organisms and help reduce insecticide use.