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Crop Security

Module titleCrop Security
Module codeBIOM563
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Dan Bebber (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

With the human population projected to reach 9.2 billion by the year 2050, unsustainable demands will be placed on global agriculture to meet future food requirements. Improvements in crops yields that have traditionally relied on conventional plant breeding strategies and energy intensive agriculture are unlikely to meet these needs and therefore marginal land, previously considered unsuitable for agriculture, will need to be brought into cultivation. Much of this land will have sub-optimal fertility and nutrient-poor soils and will require substantial inputs of synthetic fertilisers to support sustainable crop production. However, the fluctuating cost of fossil fuels has led to significant increases in the price of fertilisers that many farmers, particularly in developing countries, are unable to afford. The spiraling financial burden of fertilisers, combined with growing public anxiety over the environmental and health impacts of synthetic chemical additives, means that alternative strategies for sustainable crop production need to be addressed urgently.

This module will introduce you to key concepts in the sustainable production of crop plants. An emphasis will be placed on plant pathology since pathogens such as fungi, oomycetes, bacteria and viruses represent a major threat to food security, and technologies used to monitor their presence and to control the introduction and spread of invasive pathogens are key facets to the protection of crops and native plant species. The beneficial properties of soil microorganisms will also be addressed including genetic modification procedures that can enhance the plant-growth-promotion and biological control properties of rhizosphere fungi. Plant breeding and the need for genetic modification of crops to deliver increased yields and maintain disease resistance will be covered in the module. Biofuels, their impact on crop production, and novel strategies for their synthesis will also be examined. The module will be delivered by academics and guest lecturers with expert knowledge in all of the keys areas and will be informed by research-led teaching. The module will include field trips to an organic farm to illustrate novel approaches to the sustainable intensification of agriculture.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to introduce you to farming systems in the UK and overseas. The role of integrated farm management in sustainable agricultural systems will be demonstrated through a visit to a local organic farm. An introduction to weeds, pests and diseases will provide you with the background knowledge needed to critically appraise current reliance of pesticides in crop protection within current and future legislative frameworks of pesticide usage. Alternative strategies for disease control within integrated pest management systems will then be examined. Plant health and biosecurity strategies will be addressed. Throughout the module, attention will be paid to plant pathology since pathogens, such as fungi, bacteria and viruses, represent a major threat to global crop security. The prevention of foliar and root pathogens and economically important storage diseases will be examined and their rapid and specific detection demonstrated using modern monoclonal antibody- and nucleic acid-based technologies. The beneficial properties of soil microorganisms will be demonstrated, as well as genetic engineering procedures that can enhance the plant-growth-promotion and biological control properties of rhizosphere fungi. Plant physiology (nutrition, stress), classical plant breeding and the potential of genetically modified crops to deliver increased yields and maintain disease resistance will be a focus of the module. Biofuel crops, their impact on food production and novel strategies for their synthesis will also be examined.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe in detail UK and global farming systems, including contemporary and evolving concepts in the field of crop security
  • 2. Illustrate the procedures used to implement crop security in the context of integrated farm management systems, including legislative procedures to reduce the environmental impact of pesticides and its implication for sustainable pest management
  • 3. Describe critically technologies used to secure a sustainable food chain including modern techniques for the detection and eradication of crop and storage pathogens, biotechnologies for improving crop productivity and disease resistance, and enhancement of beneficial activities of rhizosphere microbes using genetic engineering

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Demonstrate a systematic understanding of knowledge, and a critical awareness of, current problems and/or new insights in Crop Security; much of which is at, or informed by, the forefront of the field of study
  • 5. Evaluate critically some techniques applicable to research in crop security
  • 6. Apply knowledge originally and explain how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to create and interpret knowledge in the discipline
  • 7. Evaluate critically current research and advanced scholarship in the discipline, and evaluate methodologies and develop critiques of them and, where appropriate, propose new hypotheses

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Deal with complex issues both systematically and creatively, make sound judgements in the absence of complete data, and communicate your conclusions clearly to specialist and non-specialist audiences
  • 9. Tackle and solve problems with self-direction and originality, and act autonomously in planning and implementing tasks at a professional or equivalent level
  • 10. Demonstrate self-direction in advancing your knowledge and understanding and in developing new skills to a high level

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Specific topics covered may change yearly to focus on the latest developments and to reflect the expertise of speakers, but coverage will include:

  • Introduction to farming systems – UK and global perspectives.
  • Integrated farm management – field visit to an organic farm.
  • Introduction to weeds and pests.
  • Introduction to diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi and oomycetes.
  • Pesticides – EU pesticides approval process and UK Chemical Regulation Directorate – how restrictions on usage will effect crop protection.
  • Impacts of pesticides on non-target organisms - role of pollination in food production and impact of bee colony-collapse-disorder on crop productivity.
  • Alternative strategies for pest and disease control, including biological control and GM crops, within integrated pest management systems.
  • Plant health and biosecurity – the role of regulation and the UK plant health service.
  • Emergent diseases and their management.
  • Diagnostics (conventional techniques, monoclonal antibody and nucleic acid-based technologies) – tracking foliar and root pathogens.
  • Storage pest and diseases and seed health – certification, detection and control of seed-borne diseases and storage pests.
  • Plant physiology (nutrition and stress) and sustainable alternatives to energy intensive agriculture (including plant-growth-promotion by rhizosphere microorganisms and manipulation of soil microorganism communities to enhance crop productivity and reduce N/P/K and pesticide inputs).
  • Classical plant breeding and genetic modification of crops to enhance yields and disease resistance.
  • Biofuel crop production and associated impacts on agricultural availability – sustainable alternatives to biofuel crops: hydrocarbon production by bacteria and algae as a case study.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching14Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching12Field trips
Guided Independent Study5Field trip preparation
Guided Independent Study20Preparation for research presentation
Guided Independent Study99Guided reading of literature, literature research and revision


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Problem solving with field instructors12 hours2-5, 7Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay703000 wordsAllWritten
Oral presentation3012 minutes + 2 minutes questionsAllWritten


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssayAll2 weeks
Oral presentationOral presentationAll1 week

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to re-submit either the essay and/or oral presentation. The mark given for a re-assessment will be capped at 50%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

No comprehensive text is currently available, but you will be directed to reading in journals and literature directly relevant to the module, most of which will be available electronically via Exeter Learning Environment (ELE).

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Food security, sustainable agriculture, pathogens, fungi, plant pathology, pests, pesticides, pollination, biofuels

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date