WET Centre activities for 2020

WET Centre activities for 2020

The WET Centre demonstrates ‘Best Practice’ in irrigation and fertigation technology in substrate-grown strawberry and raspberry. Much of the technology on show has been developed in projects funded by the AHDB, Berry Gardens and Innovate UK, the aims of which are to improve resource use efficiency, crop productivity, and berry quality whilst reducing waste and lowering emissions in bag-grown strawberry and container-grown raspberry. AHDB is one of a number of part-funders of the WET Centre.

The Centre also includes other outputs from on-going research programmes across the three science departments at NIAB EMR. This allows AHDB to demonstrate some of its other research on strawberry and raspberry in a commercial cropping situation.

Each year, the WET Centre funders work closely with Dr Mark Else and his team at NIAB EMR to develop a work programme for the season, selecting specific technologies and approaches to demonstrate and compare in a range of growing systems. The plans and thinking behind the comparisons made in 2020 are set out below:

  • We’re growing Malling™ Champion, an everbearer released in 2019 from the East Malling Strawberry Breeding Club, which is part-funded by AHDB.

 

  • We’re investigating the cause of the 10% yield increase seen in 2018 when using white Cocogreen bags compared to black Cocogreen bags. We’ll be measuring reflected photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), root zone temperatures and night-time respiration rates.

 

  • We’ll be covering four of the eight strawberry tunnels with the new Lumitect plastic and comparing effects on plant physiology, Class 1 yields and berry quality with that obtained from standard Visqueen film.

 

  • We’re developing variety-specific mathematical models using thermal time and photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) as variables to predict harvest dates and yields of Class 1 fruit.

 

  • We’re very interested in understanding how to monitor, map and manage the different zonal phytoclimates within the polytunnel, and to understand how plant productivity and berry quality is influenced by row position. To that end, we’ll investigate the spatial variability in berry size, number, rate of ripening and quality throughout the WET Centre.

 

  • We’ll use calculated vapour pressure deficits (VPD) in the polytunnel to estimate the daily risk of mildew and botrytis infection using models developed at NIAB EMR and part-funded by AHDB. We’ll also test whether using site-specific predictions of VPD allows us to provide a 5-day risk profile to help growers to target mitigation strategies more effectively.

 

  • The four new automated venting polytunnels will house Malling™ Bella and Malling™ Charm – two new raspberry releases from the East Malling Rubus breeding programme. We’ll deploy precision irrigation to optimise coir moisture content, average daily run-off, and coir pore E.C., whilst minimising emissions to ground air and water.

 

  • We’ll also demonstrate a prototype “AI-based NKP sensor” that utilises a form of artificial intelligence called “fuzzy logic” to estimate coir NPK availabilities in real time so that we can target fertiliser applications more effectively. The aim in the longer-term is to be able adjust individual fertiliser inputs automatically on a regular basis (weekly, daily) to match crop demand with supply.

 

  • We’ll continue to assess the potential of using rainwater harvesting to improve local water security, and we’re also interested in developing smart venting control to optimise the phytoclimate within different sections of the polytunnel.

 

  • We continue to hold discussions with potential new partners and we will provide updates on additional members and new activities throughout the 2020 growing season.


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