BOPA-led project sees a collaboration of industry and scientists seeking solutions to debilitating disease

A groundbreaking research project has been launched by the British Onions Producers’ Association (BOPA) to tackle the threat of fusarium basal rot (FBR).

FBR is hugely damaging to onions

FBR is hugely damaging to onions

FBR poses a significant threat to the UK onion industry, causing devastating losses both pre- and post-harvest.

Losses are driving onion growers out of business and, with climate change exacerbating the issue, innovative solutions are being sought.

’FUSED: integrated fusarium early diagnostic and management’ is a £1 million, 24-month research project with a team consisting of BOPA, B-hive Innovations, G’s Growers, Moulton Bulb Company, Stourgarden, Bedfordshire Growers and researchers from the University of Warwick, RSK-ADAS, CHAP (Crop Health and Protection), VCS Agronomy and the Allium & Brassica Centre. 

The project is being funded by Innovate UK under Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme, and aims to revolutionise FBR detection and control with a multifaceted approach.

Pioneering methods

Through cutting-edge molecular diagnostics, agronomic insights, and advanced technologies, the team aims to empower onion growers with the tools needed to combat FBR at every stage of production, according to BOPA.

“Together, we’re pioneering new methods to assess FBR risk pre-planting, detect infected onions in the field and during harvest, and identify early signs of infection in storage,” explained Dr Andy Gill, general manager at B-hive Innovations and overall project lead.

“Our goal is ambitious: to slash FBR prevalence by 50 per cent, potentially saving millions in annual losses and enhancing the long-term sustainability of the industry.”

Tim Elcombe of Bedfordshire Growers and chairman of BOPA added: “The UK onion industry is really struggling to combat FBR. Crop losses can reach 40 per cent and this costs the industry more than £10m a year. As a sector, we desperately need better detection and management solutions.”

Every stage examined

“The combination of research is superb,” said Stourgarden’s Sam Rix, who is also BOPA R&D chairman. “The project focuses on every point in the onion-growing process, from pre-planting molecular diagnostics through in-field imaging, to FBR detection in stores to smell infections at the earliest possible stages. This should equip onion producers with an amazing array of new technology.”

Bulb onions are the world’s second-biggest vegetable crop, with an annual production of 100 million tonnes. It is also one of the UK’s most important crops, with around 500,000t produced in 2022 and a value of £160m.