Warwick researchers really know their onions

Research led by the Warwick Crop Centre…at the University of Warwick has developed a unique collection of information about the disease resistance of 96 of the world’s onion varieties. It will be a crucial resource for commercial growers and seed producers trying to combat one of the most difficult diseases affecting onion crops. This work may also have key-benefits of reduced fertiliser consumption and enhanced drought tolerance.

The work on onions, in this research funded by Defra (The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), is being carried out by Dr Andrew Taylor…who has tested and recorded key traits of 96 varieties of onion from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Africa , India, the US and Japan. The data provides information that will be crucial to growers seeking to create onion varieties that can resist Fusarium oxysporum (which causes basal rot in onions), and which also respond well to Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi – beneficial fungi. An improved interaction with these fungi assists nutrient uptake in onions potentially decreasing the amount of fertiliser required. These fungi can have other beneficial effects such as increased disease resistance and drought tolerance.

This research will not only help individual commercial growers and seed producers but will also contribute significantly to global food security, particularly in situations where rising temperatures are an issue. Enhanced resistance to Fusarium oxysporum will be of importance in dealing with rising temperatures as basal rot is more active and acute in warmer conditions…

A Defra spokesperson said: “This important research shows how farmers can farm smarter – producing crops that are naturally resistant to rot and disease can help them reduce the amount of fertiliser and pesticides they need in our changing climate.”

A topic near and dear to my heart. My wife’s wonderful organic garden has a critical bed dedicated to onions. We are high and hot and dry – though we have sufficient irrigation rights to take care of water needs. She has proven year after year that our alkaline soil needs only slight modification and moderate organic fertilizing to produce a bumper crop of those wonderful bulbs.

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