Developing resource-use efficient strawberries for substrate production

The aim of the project is to improve the sustainability and efficiency of UK strawberry production by using innovative technologies to develop improved cultivars and systems for soil-less culture. Strawberries account for around 60% of total berry production. The strawberry market is worth c. £450 million based on retail sales, and UK production exceeded 108,000 tonnes in 2012. With annual growth of 10-15% p.a., production in the UK has shown the largest increase in Europe with a rise of 156% in the last ten years. New and improved cultivars and innovative technologies has enabled growers to extend the season of production to at least eight months of the year. This increase has led to a significant reduction in reliance of imported fruit; home production marketed as a percentage of total supply was 66% in 2012 compared to 53% in 2002.

However with fresh strawberry imports worth c. £122.8 million, there is still scope to improve self-sufficiency of the UK industry. To do so UK growers will need to adopt new products and embrace new methods to further improve the efficiency of production and season extension. Following the withdrawal of the soil sterilant methyl bromide in 2009, the incidence of soil-borne diseases such as crown rot and Verticillium wilt has increased considerably. Chloropicrin has been adopted as a substitute product, but since this also faces an uncertain future, alternative strategies are being sought.

Instead of planting directly in the soil, many growers are now utilising substrate bags to alleviate the risks posed by soil-borne pathogens. Soil-less culture has been growing steadily in recent years and currently around 40% of strawberries produced in the UK are grown using this system. In the last five years peat-based products have been replaced by coir, an arguably more sustainable alternative growing medium. In an effort to advance the sustainable intensification of strawberry production, a commercial-led breeding programme will be intrinsic the future of the industry. Currently most breeding programmes focus on cultivars for soil production but if the adoption of soil-less systems continues to rise, there is a necessity to promote economic sustainability by developing new cultivars that are adapted to substrate production. By improving efficiency, yield and fruit quality through a new generation of innovative technologies it is envisaged that the whole UK soft fruit industry, from grower to consumer will benefit.

Principal Investigator: Dr Richard Harrison

Researchers: Dr Eleftheria Stavridou, Dr Helen Cockerton, Dr Bo Li, Abi Johnson

Funder: BBSRC through innovate UK

Duration: 2014-2019

Industry Partners: EMS, SoloBerry, Sainsbury’s, Botanicoir, Agrovista.

Display of fruit and truss architecture is a key efficiency trait as optimally designed trusses lead to higher numbers of  class I fruit and greater picking efficiency.

The genetics underpinning root architecture variation in strawberry are largely unknown, though our work has shown that architecture impact upon many different efficiency traits.

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