Turn Back the Crops: Growers Needed to Help Stop Plants Going to Seed

Posted on Friday 20th February 2009

Researchers at the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick are calling on all vegetable growers so that they can learn more about traditional and unusual vegetable varieties that are still grown, with a view to preserving them for use by future generations.

There are many diverse traditional crop varieties still being grown in the UK which are culturally and historically important. They are also a rich source of genes needed to improve future crops to combat climate change and feed future generations. Researchers already know a lot about traditional grain and forage crops, such as wheat, barley, oats, clovers and ryegrass, but they need more information about traditional vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, onion and pea.

Dr Nigel Maxted from the University of Birmingham’s School of Biosciences, said: “We are aware that some farmers grow traditional vegetable varieties, but we do not have a comprehensive list of them, nor do we know who is growing them, where or why.  These older varieties are dwindling fast and are not being passed on to the next generation. They are being rapidly replaced by modern cultivars.  If this continues, and unless seed is stored and conserved, they will be lost forever.”

The team of researchers want to preserve these varieties by storing the seeds in the seed genebank at Warwick Horticultural Research Institute, where they can be maintained for many years.  Dr Maxted added: “If they cannot be maintained in their local environment, then at least we will have a sample of the crop’s diversity available for future use, either as a new variety in its own right or to contribute the vital traits needed to improve and adapt our crops to the changing climate and needs for the future.”

Growers who would like to get involved in conserving these types of crops are urged to take part in this research project by contacting Shelagh Kell on 01297 678117 or email: s.p.kell@bham.ac.uk

Ends

Notes to Editors

1. This research is funded by Defra.

2. The team’s next project will be to find growers of traditional fruit and other crop varieties to carry out a similar study. 

For further information:

Anna Dingley, Press Officer, University of Birmingham, tel: 0121 4158134 or 07769 952763 or Kate Chapple, Press Officer, University of Birmingham, tel 0121 414 2772 or 07789 921164.