CAPSEED - A new seed conditioning process for arable and horticultural crops.

Lead Research Organisation: National Inst of Agricultural Botany
Department Name: Centre for Research

Abstract

Cold atmospheric plasmas (CAPs) have been shown to have disinfectant properties in human and animal health systems,
providing surface and sub-surface activity while leaving healthy tissue undamaged. Very recently, CAPs have been shown
to reduce certain plant diseases, and to modify seed and seedling behaviour, altering seed coat properties and water
uptake, resulting in improved seedling vigour and, in some cases, improved crop yield. Many horticultural crops are
adversely affected by seed-borne diseases which are difficult to control with standard fungicidal products. In broad-acre
arable crops, while seed-borne diseases can usually be effectively controlled, there are many establishment problems,
primarily associated with lack of moisture, which result in either crop loss, or more usually sub-optimal plant populations,
poor growth and lower final yields. This feasibility study will focus on understanding how CAPs could be used to condition
seed and overcome some of these problems. Contrasting seed types and problems will be addressed, to include a) control
of seed-borne disease in small seeded vegetables (celery, onion, lettuce) b) promotion of germination and vigour in large
seeded (maize) and small seeded (oilseed rape) field crops, and evaluation of crop performance. The feasibility study will
inform the potential for a novel, easy to use, non-chemical technique for improving crop performance, and create a
commercial opportunity for the development of safe and effective plasma generating units.

Technical Summary

Cold atmospheric plasmas (CAPs) have been shown to have disinfectant properties in human and animal health systems,
providing surface and sub-surface activity while leaving healthy tissue undamaged. Very recently, CAPs have been shown
to reduce certain plant diseases, and to modify seed and seedling behaviour, altering seed coat properties and water
uptake, resulting in improved seedling vigour and, in some cases, improved crop yield. Many horticultural crops are
adversely affected by seed-borne diseases which are difficult to control with standard fungicidal products. In broad-acre
arable crops, while seed-borne diseases can usually be effectively controlled, there are many establishment problems,
primarily associated with lack of moisture, which result in either crop loss, or more usually sub-optimal plant populations,
poor growth and lower final yields. This feasibility study will focus on understanding how CAPs could be used to condition
seed and overcome some of these problems. Contrasting seed types and problems will be addressed, to include a) control
of seed-borne disease in small seeded vegetables (celery, onion, lettuce) b) promotion of germination and vigour in large
seeded (maize) and small seeded (oilseed rape) field crops, and evaluation of crop performance. The feasibility study will
inform the potential for a novel, easy to use, non-chemical technique for improving crop performance, and create a
commercial opportunity for the development of safe and effective plasma generating units.

Planned Impact

The impact of this research will be on a) producers and growers b) advisors and agronomists. The research output will be
an appraisal of the benefits of cold atmospheric plasma treatments on seed. While further research after the feasibility
study will be needed, the impacts would be a new seed conditioning system which could be applied, according to specific
growing circumstances, at the point of planting, by producers. There would be potential for reducing losses in the supply
chain through waste reduction (eg celery heads infected with Septoria, a seed-borne pathogen, are discarded) and benefits
of increased crop productivity with better and more uniform establishment. Rapid establishment is a key factor in oilseed
rape production, and would contribute to reducing exposure to cabbage stem flea beetle damage in the absence of
neonicotenoid seed treatments. Agronomists and advisors would need to acquire new knowledge about when and how to
use plasmas, and new supply chains for appropriate gases would need to be established. The technology would also
impact on the crop protection industry, where it would complement existing treatments rather than replace them. Though
this study is focused on crop production, cold plasmas are already being investigated as disinfection strategies in food
processing and packing systems because of their antimicrobial activity at low temperatures. Potentially, this research may
generate new information on antimicrobial effects which could be applied in the treatment of food, and for the eradication of
human pathogens on plants (eg in sprouting seeds, pre-packed salads etc)

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Evidence of effectives of gas plasma treatment in a) improving seed vigour, b) reducing seed-borne disease. Further tests have confirmed that the effects of plasma treatment are highly species specific, producing beneficial effects in some cases and adverse effects in others. The process may have beneficial effects in reducing seed microflora where these are likley to have adverse effects on human health (eg bacterial infections). However, the process as tested had unpredictable adverse effects on seed viability, and significant further work outside the scope of the project would be necessary to minimise these while optimising effects of seed-borne plant disease
Exploitation Route A follow on study is needed after this feasibility project. Further opportunities have been identified by the consortium using plasma in different ways in the agricultural sector and these are currently being explored
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink