This week The English Apple Man continues reporting on the 2023 Fruit Focus event, held at NIAB EMR
Following on from last week's Part 1. This week Part 2. of my day at Fruit Focus and a few of the stands I visited, meeting friends old a new.
Reflecting on this year's Fruit Focus, there was not enough time to do justice to the many exhibiting Stand holders.
My focus of interest was the advances in technology demonstrated well by the Wet Centre, where the fine tuning of water use, the level of nutrient application, even light distribution, which shows up in higher production in the rows receiving the most natural light.
Automated venting and irrigation are just part of the complex formula used by the scientists managing the Wet Centre.
The performance comparison between the Standard tunnel (where management is in line with best practice in the strawberry industry, V the Wet Centre experimental tunnel applying 'ongoing' improvements as they are discovered.
Below: NP Seymour and Kirkland Stands at Fruit Focus 2023
Below: Jasper Hubert and Stella Cubison from Koppert UK and 'Bumble Bees' one of their many Biological products
Koppert "We were founded in 1967 by Jan Koppert, a Dutch grower with a clear vision; the world needed an alternative for chemical pesticides. He was the first to find a natural solution to combat the pest in his crop. Setting in motion a major transformation towards sustainable agriculture.
For over 50 years, we have been pushing agricultural innovation, and these efforts have impact. Growers and farmers worldwide use our products and knowledge to restore the natural balance in their crops. Improving crop health, resilience, and yield.
The WET (Water Efficient Technologies) Centre was set up in 2017 to demonstrate NIAB's water use efficiency research in practice for commercial strawberry growers. The Centre has now evolved and developed into a facility that investigates ways of optimising key resources using novel approaches, and to increase precision, yields, fruit quality, and yield/harvest profiling in soft fruit crops.
Below: Information Board, Wet Centre exhibit (with sensor module) and right. Carlotta Gonzalez-Noguer, quantitive crop physiologist presenting her Wet Centre results.
The WET Centre is divided into a 'commercial area' which mirrors typical commercial practice and an 'advanced area', which incorporates the latest technologies to control the microclimate more precisely. Not only can visitors to the site view this in action, but the scientists are able to make direct comparisons of fruit yield and quality between the two areas and report their results to the industry, allowing businesses to make informed decisions over whether to implement such technology on their own sites.
Dr Mark Else - Head of Crop Science and Production Systems - East Malling
In projects at The WET Centre, NIAB scientists collaborate with a multi-disciplinary team, including software engineers, data scientists, AI and machine learning experts, robotics and automation developers, crop modellers, meteorologists, and of course growers, to help to develop practical and affordable solutions to industry problems.
The latest step was the planting of 20,000 Malling tm Ace in the WET Centre in 2023 - our aim is to secure funding from the Defra FIP Future Farming Theme 1 call - Climate Smart Farming.
We're currently developing a 4m+ Berry Gardens-led proposal aimed at optimising resource acquisition and use, maximising marketable yields and berry phytonutrient quality whilst reducing emissions to land, air and water and supporting the soft fruit industry's transition to net zero.
The amount of accumulated light (photosynthetically active radiation - PAR) has been measured each season and the lower yields in 2021 could be attributed to lower light levels. The differing yields between the commercial and advanced areas, coupled with differing light levels, prompted the science team to start investigating whether differences in PAR were responsible for the variability in yields between individual rows in the advanced area.
There are six rows within each tunnel bay and further investigation revealed that the middle rows (2, 3, 4 and 5) were producing higher yields than the outer rows (1 and 6), with the highest yield being produced in Row 4. Using an array of precision environmental sensors manufactured by Delta-T Devices, a correlation was found between the highest yields per row and the amount of light reaching the canopy, so a comparison was made between Row 4 with Rows 1 and 6. Row 4 was found to receive 2 hours
more PAR per day than Row 1, but strangely, despite both being outside "leg" rows, Row 1 produced higher yields than Row 6. We don't yet know what is causing this result.
In the standard tunnel, venting is still done manually (see top right in first picture below) but automatic venting is now a feature of the Advanced experimental Wet centre tunnel (see top right in second picture below)
Below: Measuring run-off has allowed us to demonstrate that levels can be reduced from 25% to 5%
With commercial growers typically irrigating their substrategrown strawberry crops to 15–25% run-off, some early work at the Centre demonstrated how growers could reduce their total water use each season by up to 33%, whilst maintaining the same yields and producing equal or higher quality berries.
Combined with precision irrigation approaches, rainwater harvesting and re-use resulted in 90% water self-sufficiency in 2018, despite the very dry June and July in that year. The Centre has since compared reducing the level of run-off to 5% and 10%, without seeing any significant difference in yields between these levels, or any compromise in fruit quality.
Other early work demonstrated a 5% yield increase from white plastic Cocogreen bags in comparison to black bags, and current esearch is investigating the causes of this difference. The Centre was also used to demonstrate how the use of the powdery mildew risk prediction model, developed originally by NIAB at East Malling, could lead to a significant reduction in overall fungicide use on an everbearer strawberry variety.
Coconut husks are processed at coconut fibre mills in Sri Lanka to extract coir fibre, leaving behind the coco peat or coir pith, a spongy material that binds the coconut fibre in the husk. It is also the main raw material for coco peat-based products.
My last visit of the day at Fruit Focus was to Botanicoir who create a high quality substrate with Coir grown sustainably in Sri Lanka
Botanicoir was founded in 2005 by Kalum, Samantha and Chaminda Balasuriya
"We are a family run company with 15 years experience manufacturing quality coir products in Sri Lanka for the commercial horticultural industry. Our focus is and always will be providing top quality products and service to our customers around the world, whilst looking after the planet that we inhabit".
With multiple issues putting our fruit growers under pressure, we're doing our utmost to ensure that your growing media isn't one of them.
Agrovista UK Limited is a leading supplier of agronomy advice, seed, crop protection products and precision farming services.
We speak to Mark Davies, head of fruit at Agrovista, for top tips on getting the most from your Botanicoir Precision Plus Ultra (PPU) grow bags.
"If you buy the right coir and treat it correctly, it will serve you well," says Mark.
He explains that the benefit of Botanicoir PPU grow bags is that they have a consistent high quality, which gives growers more flexibility and longevity.
"At a time where growers are really hit with higher costs, re-use may be an option and the higher the quality of the coir purchased, the less yield penalty experienced on re-use.
Click on Botanicoir Video
Finally: my good friend Scott Raffle; Senior Knowledge Exchange Manager at NIAB EMR reminds me, and my readers that the NIAB Fruit Annual Review 2023 is available in print form or on line NIAB Fruit Annual Review 2023
That is all for this week
The English Apple Man