Fruit, fungi and vegetables are all essential components of a balanced and healthy diet. Consumers expect continuity of supply of fresh products that meet their expectations for visual and eating quality and they need to be assured that crops are produced with minimal chemical intervention and with minimal negative impacts on the environment. NIAB EMR science supports the sustainable production of high quality, tasty, nutritious and safe horticultural food crops, which benefit producers and consumers alike.
NIAB EMR’s strengths in the research of perennial and clonally propagated crops like tree, soft and stone fruits and mushrooms, have recently been applied to other food crops like tomatoes, herbs, potato, field vegetables and cereals.
Scientists at NIAB EMR integrate their scientific strengths across breeding and molecular genetics, pest and disease management, agronomy, post-harvest research and microbiology to address a variety of issues that impact on profitable food production.
Complex issues like that of Food Security are currently high on the Government agenda and are likely to remain a key target in the medium and long term. A fundamental understanding of the under-laying biology, allows researchers to provide innovative solutions that impact on a variety of issues associated with providing a regular supply of food and food choices in a rapidly changing world.
Maintaining the quality of fresh produce through cultivation, harvesting and the supply chain is key to increasing the consumption of produce in peak condition. The biological processes that determine texture, flavour, appearance, storage and shelf-life of a wide range of crops are examined at NIAB EMR.
Traditional breeding in conjunction with advanced genomics-based marker assisted selection, is aiding development of new varieties with improved quality attributes.
Novel and minor food crops e.g. melons, table grapes, kiwi fruit are also evaluated for their potential for the UK horticulture industry, where interest in diversification has increased over recent years.
Cultural and management practices are being developed that reduce reliance on chemical inputs or unsustainable growing media like peat, while delivering produce of uniform shape and size that are free from blemish, damage and have reduced chemical residues.
Identifying correct harvest dates, mineral nutrition standards and storage strategies for new varieties have an important bearing on improving the eating experience at the end of the supply chain. Extending the life of horticultural produce requires an understanding of all the factors that operate both pre- and post-harvest that influence quality and wastage. This in turn requires an understanding of the structure, composition and physiology of the different types of fruits and vegetables and the changes that result from modification of growing conditions and storage environment. Post-harvest and semiochemical research at NIAB EMR is conducted in collaboration with the University of Greenwich, Natural Resources Unit.
NIAB EMR continues to work with industrial sponsors particularly where efficacy trial data is required for registration purposes (EMR is a recognised ORETO licence holder).
Using resources efficiently is important for sustainable production and to reduce waste both pre- and post- farm gate. Novel irrigation strategies have been developed that improve water and nutrient use efficiency. Added benefits are derived from application of these techniques such as improvements in flavour, increase in bioactive content and extension of shelf-life. This work has recently been transferred from strawberry to potato, pear and herbs.
NIAB EMR is committed to transferring technology to the horticultural industry. For example. Best Practice Guides for UK Apple and Pear Production have been produced with sponsorship from Defra.