Dr Mark Else – NIAB EMR
Dr Eleftheria Stavridou – NIAB EMR
Dr Andrew Simkin – University of Kent
The strawberry market within the UK continues to grow but demand outstrips supply of home-grown berries and so an increasing volume of fruit is imported each year during the winter months.
The COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit have uncovered the fragility of traditionally complex and convoluted agricultural supply chains, and the changing climate is also beginning to impact on horticultural productivity
Vertical farming could facilitate year-round production of strawberries in the UK. By growing crops in layers in a controlled environment, it is possible to provide guarantees on the quantity and quality of production, every day of the year, irrespective of changes in the weather or climate. While the habit of strawberry plants make them good candidates for vertical farming, they require a specific climate to optimise productivity and quality. The long production cycles, complex cropping patterns, and the need for continuous harvesting of high quality , phytonutritious berries with assured shelf-life present many challenges when compared to growing leafy greens. A fundamental understanding of the different components of vertical farming is essential to ensure high quality nutritious fruit. The aim of the project is to understand the physiological mechanisms and metabolic pathways regulating nutritional quality and postharvest performance of strawberries by manipulating the quantity and quality of light, air temperature and supply of water and nutrients. Furthermore, the project will analyse crop yield and growth rates with all resource inputs to compare their carbon footprint to other commercial production systems. This project will contribute towards a secure and sustainable fruit supply and import substitution, lowered pesticide and nutrient emissions, reduced water consumption and land use, lower food mileage, less waste and lower energy use per kg produce compared to current commercial production systems.