A rapid testing kit, which can help farmers detect diseases that might affect their crops, has been developed by scientists at the University of Worcester.

The University’s National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit (NPARU) has created a ‘pregnancy-style’ piece of equipment that can identify and quantify particular airborne diseases, allowing farmers to take preventative measures before they can infect.

The scientists at NPARU developed mathematical models to predict when disease infection can occur and air samplers that can collect airborne disease.

Growers can monitor from the computer at home when the crop is at risk from infection. On days when a high reading is given a ‘pregnancy-style’ detection test can be used in the field to determine whether disease is in the air. Using all of this information together allows growers to improve crop production and only apply fungicides if absolutely necessary.

The test systems developed by NPARU scientists can be applied to other airborne material. In the future consumers could purchase a do it yourself test for airborne pollen allergens and a range of infectious diseases.

Professor Roy Kennedy, Director of the NPARU, said: “Using this technology, work funded by the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and translated to the industry by Horticulture Development Council (HDC) funding has reaped real benefits both to the consumer and to the environment.

“It means farmers no longer have to waste time and money spraying crops when there is no disease in the air, and can be more effective in their protection, creating greater yields.”

The kits are proving popular with those in the agricultural industry.

Fred Tyler, a consultant for Alphagrow in Lancashire, said: “The inoculum testing kits and the approach being taken, have shown reliability and show great promise in reducing the amount of pesticides required to control disease in crops.”

Andy Richardson, from The Allium & Brassica Centre (ABC) added: “With the new test kits, we’ll be able to get a much better handle on Light Leaf spot (LLS) and in the future genetics clearly has a clear role to play.”

The University’s National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit supplies all of the UK’s pollen forecasts, in association with the Met Office, as well as carrying out vital research into airborne allergens and testing for clients such as Allergy UK.