M.Sc. HORTICULTURE, READING
By Frank Emmerich
In October 2002, I started the one-year M.Sc. course in Horticulture at Reading University. Thanks to the generous contribution of the Kew Guild I was able to cover a part of my tuition fees.
The School of Plant Sciences at the University of Reading offers a full time M.Sc. program of 12 months duration,consisting of two terms of taught modules. Final exams are after Easter time,which are then immediately followed by a three to four month supervised project involving original research. The work is presented as a thesis towards the end of the summer.
According to the programme’s literature, The M.Sc. programme provides advanced instruction in horticulture,as preparation for a career in any aspect of the subject,including specialisation in crop production (temperate and tropical),crop protection,amenity horticulture and therapeutic horticulture. Emphasis is laid on environmentally desirable production methods.
The option I chose was crop protection that focused on Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPDM) strategies. Students of this option were partly lectured and supervised by Professor Chris Payne,who some of you may know as a Trustee of RBG Kew. A number of compulsory courses are attended by all horticultural M.Sc. students and include Principles of Horticulture,Organic and Sustainable Horticulture,Quality Management and Nursery Stock Production. The latter two were taught by Mr. Martin Emmett,who also lectures greenhouse technology on the Kew Diploma Course.
The topics covered in the crop protection option included:Pests and Diseases of Horticultural Crops,Biology of Plant Pathogens,Applied Entomology and Plant Pathology I and II, Practical Pest Management,as well as Introduction to Crop Pathology. Beside the usual range of compulsory modules,I attended lessons in Entomology, Arboriculture and Spanish for Beginners.
Practicals and seminars given by students are an important part of the course and gave me opportunities to investigate further into a more specific topic. An introductory programme in statistics was offered and training in computing was available. Those provided essential tools for the analysis of data generated during the research project. The different courses were all arranged in a strict timetable but there were often gaps that could be filled with additional lectures (subject to availability),even if they were not part of the actual program. In general,there was a degree of flexibility in each option,as long as students attend an agreed number (11 in my case) of both compulsory and optional modules.
There was very mixed and diverse crowd of a dozen students and my student fellows originated from countries all over the world.
Visits to commercial and research establishments form an integral part of the programme. Sites visited ranged from commercial growers,to garden centres, 215 research institutes and botanic gardens. These were supplemented by a field programme in which we undertook a tour to horticultural places in the region around Malaga,Spain. The horticulture of Andulacia is highly productive and one of Europe’s most successful examples of agricultural development,a feat which has been achieved by the establishment of vast areas covered by the ‘plasticulturas’ flimsy poly houses. With an interesting range of visits to places such as the Alhambra, botanic gardens,horticultural research institutes,pack houses and commercial growers,it is only true to say that the one-week excursion formed the highlight of the course. Not to forget the very tasty food and wine but also the astonishing landscape sceneries and the exciting flora of Spain`s southernmost province.
For my thesis I was offered a research opportunity in collaboration with Horticultural Research International (HRI) at East Malling/Kent. The laboratory based experiments were part of a DEFRA-funded project on investigating into alternative pest management strategies of primary apple pest. The following specific objectives formed the experimental programme:
Development and evaluation of a laboratory bioassay method to measure the susceptibility of greenhouse-reared and field-collected rosy apple aphids (RAA) to four commercial myco-insecticides (Vertalec,Mycotal,BotaniGard,Naturalis).
Development and evaluation of a laboratory bioassay method that investigates disease development,dose response and the effect of different relative humidity (RH) on aphid mortality while comparing the efficacy of two myco-insecticide products of different dilutions on insets from field-collected leaves.
A first series of bioassay experiments was conducted to compare the efficacy of myco-insecticides containing virulent strains of Verticillium lecanii (Mycotal and Vertalec) and Beauveria bassiana (Botanigard and Naturalis) on RAA. The method included the use of apple leaves removed directly from field/greenhouse, minimising aphid handling. In general,susceptibility to entomopathogens was highest on glasshouse-reared RAA with infection levels of 97% (Mycotal) and 58% (Botanigard). RAA taken from field showed consistently lower levels of susceptibility with maximum mortality rates of 89% (Mycotal) and 53% (Botanigard). Entomopathogenic strains of the mycoinsecticides Vertalec and Naturalis dis- played lower efficacy on RAA from both cultures.
The second bioassay compared the efficacy of different dosages of Botanigard and Mycotal on RAA from field-collected leaves under three different RH levels (100,85,and 65%). With both products and under all three different RH,fungal infection was highest when full dosage rates were applied. The highest infection level caused by Mycotal was obtained at full rate under 65% RH. The highest mortality caused by Botanigard application was obtained at full rate under 85% RH. Equally high numbers of infected aphids were observed at full rate and under 65% RH. Results indicated that a high insect mortality due to fungal infection is more dependent on the concentration of the product than on the different levels of RH during the infective process. Following the actual experiments and data analysis I had to produce a written thesis which marked the end of the M.Sc. course.
The M.Sc. course itself gave me some very enlightening moments and I had great fun taking part in the program. Above all I was able to expand my horticultural horizon and I gained some very interesting insights into alternative pest and disease management strategies. I realised that the consideration of ecological principles and the often under estimated antagonistic activity of insects and fungi can become a vital tool for the successful and pesticide-free cultivation crops. In September 2003, I graduated with a distinction as the best student of my year.