Towards year-round production of UK strawberries

Reference: CTP_FCR_2019_8

This student is to be registered with the University of Reading.

Lead academic supervisors: Prof Paul Hadley and Dr Carrie-Anne Twitchen, University of Reading
NIAB EMR supervisor: Dr Mark Else, NIAB EMR

Background

Over the last twenty years the UK season for strawberry production has increased from little more than six weeks to more than seven months; this has been achieved through the introduction of polythene greenhouses (polytunnels) in the mid-1990s as well as the increased use of improved Everbearer varieties combined more advance growing systems using coir-based media on table top benching with automated fertigation systems. As a result, the UK now produces approximately 80% of the UK demand for strawberries compared to only 20% 20 years ago. The market is valued at £283m and is growing at 8% per annum. However, sustained growth is needed to displace imported fruit currently valued at £172m per annum and further innovation is needed to enable out-of-season UK production. Recently, the introduction of winter glasshouse planting of specialist low-chill cultivars, where supplementary light and heat is used to force early cropping, has led to fruit availability from as early as mid-March in the UK. However, further advances are limited by the high costs of winter greenhouse production and suitable genotypes with a low chill requirement.

Objectives

Consistent demand for out of season UK produced fruit, and a strategic requirement to further reduce fruit imports has provided an opportunity to investigate methods to enable all year-round production of strawberries.

  • To evaluate potential new low-chill cultivars and their responses to contrasting photo-thermal environments and feed regimes with the objective of optimising growth and maximising yield and quality of fruit for out of season production.
  • To evaluate canopy productivity and reproductive efficiency in multi-layer growing systems.
  • To carry out an economic study on the level of PAR and photoperiod from artificial lights (LEDs) required to ensure maximum returns from winter produced strawberries.
  • To study the manipulation of chilling during the propagation period to enhance earliness and ensure satisfactory winter production under glasshouse conditions.
  • To develop a physiological-based chilling model for key Junebearer and Everbearer cultivars.

Approaches

The study will employ a new suite of controlled environment facilities and advanced multi-layer (vertical) growing systems that have recently been established at the University of Reading Crops and Environment Laboratory. The studentship will provide advanced training in crop physiology, assessments of fruit quality, growth analysis and use of physiological equipment as well as statistical analysis and development of mathematical plant growth models.

The student will have the opportunity to work in close collaboration with one of the leading soft fruit producer organisations in the UK, Berry Gardens as well as researchers in the Soft Fruit Technology Group at the University of Reading and at NIBA EMR.

Applying for this studentship

Due to the funding constraints, this studentship can only be offered to UK/EU/EEA candidates. However, we may consider applicants from other jurisdictions under exceptional circumstances.

Anyone interested should contact recruitment@emr.ac.uk for an application form and return the form to recruitment@emr.ac.uk before the deadline of 28th February 2019.