Growing risk? The potential impact of plant disease on land use and the UK rural economy

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Warwick HRI


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Description The aim of this project was to take an inter-disciplinary approach to determining the potential impacts of plant diseases, affecting both food and non-food crops/plants, on land use and the UK rural economy. Overall, the project has provided a framework for taking an inclusive approach to risk analysis, regulation and governance for plant diseases and scenario planning to help inform the national response to plant disease epidemics.
Exploitation Route i. The project team have built and interacted with an extensive network of stakeholders taken from all levels of the production supply chain, processing, retailing, support industries, NGOs, Government Departments, research organisations, other RELU projects and the general public. More than 100 academic and non-academic stakeholders have attended a series of workshops run by the team, including one workshop that brought together practitioners, academics and policy makers from both animal and plant disease constituencies.

ii. Initial work focused on creating a sound project framework based on a review of relevant literature and an analysis of historical data on UK plant epidemics. This created appropriate UK crop maps, examined structural change in each sector since 1950s, established disease typologies (food/non-food crop, based on modes of spread, whether largely through human activity in trade, or more natural dispersal mechanisms) and developed an overall conceptual framework for risks to plant health and governance.

iii. Using members of a project Advisory Board, scenarios were built that examined the impact of plant diseases (food and non-food) on land use and the UK rural economy. Following on from this, in depth interviews in each of three food sectors (potato, wheat and mushrooms) were conducted with sixty eight key 'actors' in these sectors to understand how risks are measured, perceived, interpreted and managed throughout the production chain for specific diseases.

iv. Of these, 60 semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with growers and other supply chain actors in the cereal and potato sectors. Outputs suggest that plant disease is a controllable production risk for growers. Wheat and potato growers favour high-yielding varieties demanded by millers and supermarkets respectively, even if risk is increased. This situation could change if Directive 91/414, with its focus on 'hazard' rather than 'risk', is activated in its current proposed form, emphasising the importance of 'risk as politics'. Disease is not considered a major risk to 'downstream' actors in the wheat and potato supply chains. For them, key risks revolve around volatile prices and supplies. Initiation of contracts between contractor and grower ensures that most risk is passed to growers, even though key downstream actors influence growers' choice of varieties.

v. Choice experiments (CE) using a sample of 323 members of the public with respect to and willingness to pay (WTP) for reductions in pesticides for bread, potatoes and a rose bush as payment vehicles reveal the public are WTP a small premium to avert human illness and to stop the decline of bird species by reducing pesticide use on potatoes and roses respectively

vi. A model was created investigating the effect of crop consultants wrongly estimating the fungicide dose response curve in cereal production in combination with attitude to risk. We were able to investigate which aspect of the consultants' decision-making process (disease prediction or attitude to risk) has the largest effect on yield and financial losses.

vii. The project has produced 14 peer reviewed papers to date (with 8 more close to submission), two book chapters and we have presented work at 18 conferences across the world. More than 10 working papers have been produced. Our work has been published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, featured in The Garden magazine (circulation 365,000) and one of our papers highlighted by the EU Commission 'Science for Environment Policy' distributed to policy makers across Europe (circulation list 12000).

viii. Two Policy and Practice notes have been produced from the work of the project on Policy-making for animal and plant disease: a changing landscape? and Plant disease risk, management and policy formulation.

ix. Stakeholder workshops organised by this project have been the first to bring together policy makers responsible for animal and plant diseases. In addition, three work shadowing exercises were undertaken by this project team which exposed the NFU, Food Chain Centre and Defra to interdisciplinary research for plant diseases.

x. This project builds on existing and emerging approaches to formulating policies governing the spread of plant pathogens through identification of effective practice. We have examined why these approaches may be beneficial and the importance of inter/multi-disciplinarity in achieving consensus. We have examined governance, risk and stakeholder engagement as concepts central to effective policy creation. Data have been sourced through a series of workshops and interviews involving an extensive range of stakeholders from across the production/food supply chain.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description • A session was organised at the Festival of Science conference in Birmingham in 2010 at which two papers form the project were presented to a general public (non-academic) audience. • One day meeting with senior staff from Bayer Crop Science was organised in 2009 at which information on risk was exchanged. • Workshop was organised (in conjunction with the RELU GOLD team) to bring animal and plant disease stakeholders together at the Innovation Centre in Reading. • Team members have presented findings from the project at approximately 18 conferences/workshops and published 14 papers and book chapters (with a further 8 in advanced stages of preparation).
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Living With Environmental Change: Pathways to Policy
Amount £47,761 (GBP)
Organisation Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (DEFRA) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2013 
End 09/2013
Description Tree health and plant biosecurity
Amount £261,300 (GBP)
Organisation Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (DEFRA) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2012 
End 08/2014