Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Category: Standard Studentships

Applying nutrient dynamics to adjust the nutrient-water balance in soft fruit soiless grown crops

Project No. 2361


Primary Supervisor

Dr Eleftheria Stavridou – NIAB at East Malling


Dr Carlota Gonzalez Noguer – NIAB at East Malling

Prof Tiina Roose – University of Southampton


The current global food production system generates significant negative impacts on the environment and consumes vast amounts of resources: 70% of global water demand is consumed by agriculture, and run-off from pesticides and fertilisers is a major source of pollution.

Intensive fruit production is an economically important industry in the UK. The UK production must continue to satisfy UK demand for home-grown berries and reduce reliance on imports but must be achieved using fewer resources and with a lower environmental impact. The customary practice of applying standard nutrient solutions using experiential management results in excessive nutrient application and unnecessary regular cost for growers.

The nutrient dynamics consists of balancing nutrient inputs and outputs of the farming system, to analyse the nutrient flows in the crops. This methodology has been widely applied in soil-based agriculture, however, to our knowledge, little information is available on nutrient dynamics in hydroponic systems using coconut coir as substrate. Unbalances between crop demand and water and mineral transfers in the substrate are responsible for large saline variations of concentrations around the roots, which stress the plants and give rise to large production losses. This is a reason for growers to drain water and nutrients to the environment.

The project will focus on development of dynamic mechanistic plant and substrate models to match nutrient demand with supply. Emphasis will be on the development of simulation models for plant nutrient and water relationships. Experimental studies as well as modelling will be performed to develop a model that simulates the dynamics and heterogeneity of water and mineral flows in the coir substrate in dependence of root absorption and convective and diffusive transfers in the substrate. The substrate model will be linked to the crop model to predict the strategy of fertigation to meet the demand of the roots.