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ATW23: Heat and Drought – University of Essex 

Agri-TechE Article
British Beet Research Organisation British Beet Research Organisation

Industry representatives and researchers from the Essex Innovation Centre at the University of Essex got together to discuss the impact of unpredictable weather patterns in agriculture and to explore solutions that farmers are already implementing in the field alongside emerging academic research. 

What impact does climate change have on crop production? 

The impact of unpredictable and extreme weather events varies from crop to crop. Three different crops – sugar beet, wine grapes and onions, illustrated this variety.  

‘Sugar beet is water demanding’ explained British Beet Research Organisation’s Georgina Barrett. This means that when water is lacking, as has been the case during recent spells of drought, leaves wilt and the sugar content drops. Droughts are particularly damaging early in the season, before the crop has properly established, resulting in increased levels of seedling deaths. 

In onions, climate change means dealing with different types of challenges year on year. Jonathan Bell, a farmer from Stourgarden, described how, in 2022, dry weather and lack of sufficient irrigation limited root growth which caused yield losses of up to 30%. In contrast, 2023’s wet July led to markedly larger onion bulbs which meant a higher percentage of the crop fell ‘out of spec’ for retailers to sell. 

Wine grapes are the fastest growing edible crop in terms of acreage in the UK. But it’s not all rosy for Rosé, reflects Phoebe French from WineGB:

“Climate change is often portrayed as a catalyst for the growth of the [British wine] sector, but it has actually brought about a lot of challenges”  

Warmer temperatures may have led to more reliable grape ripening in the UK, but spring comes with increased risk of frost damage.

Daniel Johns, Managing Director, Water Resources East 
Dr Georgina Barratt, Applied Crop Specialist at British Beet Research Organisation 

How is the industry coping and what solutions does emerging research offer? 

Daniel Johns from Water Resources East stressed how the East of England is already classified by the Environment Agency as an area of ‘serious water stress’. Precision irrigation, rainwater storage and improved soil structure are already in the farmers’ toolbox, but they can’t be achieved overnight.  

Stourgarden is applying organic matter to improve soil health and, ultimately, soil structure; the farm is also trialling drip irrigation to better direct water at the crop, but this currently remains an expensive option.  

The BBRO is investing in soil health research and, together with the University of Essex, is also exploring potential avenues of collaborative research in the areas of plant physiology and photosynthesis to help address the challenges faced by beet growers. Increased collaborations between researchers and industry will be a key contributor in identifying new solutions. 

Research at the University is providing a better understanding of how specific traits like non-leaf photosynthesis in legumes, stomatal density, and light sensitivity cam improve photosynthesis and crop thermal resilience in crops in periods of high heat and drought. 

From left to right top row: Dr. Georgina Barratt, BBRO; Dr. John Ferguson, University of Essex; Mengjie Fan; William Atkinson; Jonathan Bell, Stourgarden; Robert Crook, Innovate UK. From left to right bottom row: Amanda Milliken, Dr. Amanda Cavanagh, University of Essex; Prof. Tracy Lawson, Plant Innovation Centre. 

Conclusions

Climate change will continue to have an impact on crop yields and quality, and periods of extreme weather events will become the norm. But collaborations between research and agriculture will go a long way in continuing to identify solutions. 

Looking forward to Agri-Tech Week 2023

Agri-TechE Article

Agri-Tech Week creates a unique opportunity to meet the people behind the latest science and innovations and to visit those on-farm that are adopting cutting-edge technology.

The week aims to showcase exciting developments in agri-tech through a dynamic mix of events, workshops, farm visits and, of course, the Agri-TechE REAP conference.

More detailed information about the events is available on the Agri-Tech Week microsite.

Monday 6th November

Real-world solutions to tackle the impacts of climate change

Chance to gain an insight into five ground-breaking projects that are providing novel solutions to real world challenges. Topics include:

  • Decision support for policy
  • Improving soil health
  • Biofortification and disease resistance
  • Biotechnology as alternative to fossil fuels
  • Developments in the circular economy

In-person event hosted by the Norwich Research Park, at the Centrum, NR4 7UG

Click here to read our event report.

3 CPD Basis Points are available to attendees.

Heat and drought

Many crop growing regions are expected to experience reduced rainfall and prolonged droughts, which can have serious implications for agriculture productivity. In this event researchers will explore various mechanisms to predict and mitigate these impacts on food security.

This free in-person event is hosted by the University of Essex, and looks at innovations that may offer a lifeline to this sector.

Click here to read the summary of the day.

water

Tuesday 7th November

Integrated pest management in action

This interactive event discusses learning points from three EU funded integrated pest management projects. It will signpost the tools and information that are available and discuss the results of field based demonstrations.

This free in-person event is hosted by ADAS RSK at the Over Community Centre, Cambridge, CB24 5NW.

Read our event summary here.

pests

3 CPD Basis Points are available to attendees.

Embedding entrepreneurship in research

Commercially-driven scientists discuss how they have spun out new companies from their research in areas such as plant-based therapeutics, made-to-order disease resistance and biofortification.

This event at The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich, NR4 7UG, explores the success of its Entrepreneur-in-Residence Programme and includes interactive displays.

Read the summary of the day here.

TSL

2 CPD Basis Points are available to attendees.

Wednesday 8th November

REAP conference 2023: Adaptation through innovation; beyond the comfort zone

Can agriculture improve its resilience to increasingly frequent ‘extreme’ events and what is the role of science and innovation in creating opportunity out of challenge?

Expert speakers drawn from farming and policy, ground-breaking scientists and technology visionaries discuss at Agri-TechE’s REAP conference 2023 at the Rowley Mile Conference Centre, Newmarket, CB8 0TF.

Find out more at reapconference.co.uk or read the summary and the Start-Up Showcase is unveiled!

REAP 2023

6 CPD Basis Points are available to attendees.

Thursday 9th November

Gene editing and genetic modification

The first European field trial of genome-edited wheat at Rothamsted Research showed a significant reduction of asparagine, with no effects on yield or nitrogen content of the grain. This is one of the breakthroughs that will benefit from the new Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act that will enable the development and marketing of gene edited crops in England.

This free event hosted at Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, AL5 2JQ, reviews the technology and its potential.

Read the summary of the day here.

6 CPD Basis Points are available to attendees.

4 CPD Basis Points are available to attendees.

Explore first-hand how technology is at the root of vegetable consumption

Farming and fresh produce company, Fredrick Hiam Foods Ltd, has introduced automation technologies in its field operations and factory. There will be a chance to see Robotti demonstrated by Autonomous Agri Solutions and a Laser Weed Sprayer demonstrated by VCS Agronomy and the parsnip processor Wyma in the packing shed.

This event is hosted by Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association and takes place at Fredrick Hiam Foods Ltd, Brick Kiln Farm IP27 OSE

Read our summary of the day here.

Robotti

2 CPD Basis Points are available to attendees.

Friday 10th November

Crops to products; building those value-chains

Novel crops offer resilience and new market opportunities, but how do you grow and harvest them and what are the market opportunities? NIAB’s Centre for High Carbon Capture Cropping aims to answer these types of questions.

This lively event brings together a diverse range of speakers to talk about the value chains and products.

A hybrid event taking place at NIAB Park Farm, Cambridge CB24 9NZ.

Click here to read our summary of the day.

hemp

2 CPD Basis Points are available to attendees.

Agri-Tech Week 2023

Lighting increases tomato yield by 12% – Light Science Technologies and CHAP trial finds

Meet the Network

Light Science TechnologiesSupplementary light was found to increase tomato crop yield by up to 12.1%, a trial by Light Science Technologies (LST) and CHAP has found. 

The 5-month project used three different lighting combinations to see which produced the most yield for the least energy, while finding the optimum balance between energy and yield.

The first used LST’s nurturGROW interlight only, the second used its nurturGROW high power top light and the third used both types of supplementary lighting.

The results showed that supplementary light increases crop yield by up to 12.1% even when used in summer months and that top lighting only is the most energy efficient lighting regime with 38.2% more fruit per kWh. The trial also revealed that interlighting only was the top performing light regime.

During the trial period, 7,880 tomatoes were grown, collectively weighing 615.31kg and with 7449.15kWh total energy used.

Andy Williams, Marketing Director at LST said: “The trial has shown the tangible gains and benefits of using an energy efficient grow light on vine crops, with further energy saved as the luminaire turns off when not needed. nurturGROW also reduces light wastage with its recyclable and reusable design, making it more sustainable.”

The project was carried out in conjunction with CHAP at the Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC), at their Advanced Glasshouse facility in Selby, North Yorkshire.

Light science increases yield

The facility enables new plant protection products and integrated crop protection programmes to be robustly assessed in field, glasshouse and hydroponic systems. Light Science TechnologiesThis provides benefits to food producers by offering more reliable trial conditions for their products, especially for biopesticides, with consequent benefits to the crop production sector in the form of increased product availability.

CHAP’s Technical Liaison Officer, Lucy Plowman, said: “Lighting has a huge impact on the success of glasshouse-grown crops, particularly in a grower’s ability to extend the production season for vine crops such as tomatoes. But, recent price hikes in energy costs means it is critical to ensure it is efficient as well as effective.

“The research undertaken by LST will help growers to strike this balance, as well as address environmental concerns associated with both energy waste and produce imports.”

 

More about Light Science Technologies Ltd

More about Crop Health and Protection (CHAP)

Light Science Technologies aims to cut energy usage for growers through CHAP and STC trial

Light Science Technologies Light Science Technologies

AgTech specialist Light Science Technologies (LST) is conducting a tomato trial with Crop Health and Protection (CHAP) to test low power technology to reduce energy costs while growing vine crops.

Running for six months, the project has started trialling three different light combinations to see which produces the most yield for the least energy. With the aim of championing crop production using technology, the project is being carried out in partnership with CHAP at the Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC), in their advanced glasshouse facility in Selby, North Yorkshire.

As import costs soar due to rising fuel and energy costs, there is a consensus that growing more local produce and using less energy can be achieved through more productive light positioning.

The trial is harnessing LST’s nurturGROW interlight, its energy efficient grow light which runs on less power as it is closer to the crop, targeting the light and specifically working within the canopy. By positioning nearer the vine, more PPFD is used, creating less waste and energy. Further energy is saved as the luminaire turns off when not needed.

Focusing on energy expenditure per kilogramme of fruit, the output will determine which lighting configuration uses the least energy, while finding the optimum balance between energy and yield.

Designed to create bespoke light recipes for growers to provide optimum crop yield, nurturGROW also reduces light wastage with its recyclable and reusable design, making it more sustainable.

Andy Williams, Marketing Manager at LST said: “What we’re aiming to do is find that sweet spot by striking the right balance between quality and energy usage. The collaboration with CHAP enables us to work with leading agronomists and experienced growers to determine two key factors: whether the UK can increase its food security by growing more locally and do so in an energy efficient manner, at a time when energy costs are rising to record levels.”

Lucy Plowman, Technical Liaison Officer at CHAP said: “We are seeing some significant developments in growth in the primary stages of the trial as it is already revealing the lighting’s potential for increasing tomato production and quality. We look forward to gathering the results after its conclusion.”

 

 

The UK imports over £11 billion worth of fruit and vegetables per year, equating to 500,000 tonnes of fruit, with only 100,000 tonnes of that which is home grown.  Growers are planning to increase production over the next decade and hope to see half of the tomatoes eaten in Britain to be grown locally by 2030. Energy efficient technology can play a prominent role in making this happen and reduce the reliance on imports long term.

Light Science Technologies’ rapid growth continues with key sales appointment

Light Science Technologies Light Science Technologies

Jack Vickery has joined Light Science Technologies (LST) as National Account Manager as growth shows no signs of slowing for the AgTech specialist.

The new addition to its sales team is the latest of a string of appointments at the Derbyshire-based company which specialises in lighting and sensor technology for indoor farming, covering vertical farming, greenhouses and polytunnels. In recent months it has welcomed fresh talent to all aspects of the business in response to rapid growth and rising demand for more sustainable food production.

Jack’s first foray into the industry was as a commercial graduate at Philips Lighting, before working for the company in a commercial role for 10 years when it became Signify. Here, he worked across several sectors including the healthcare sector and also office and industry, where he worked with global automotive clients including Honda and Jaguar Land Rover, before working on major street lighting contracts and tenders.

In his new role, Jack will use his commercial acumen to grow the business’s fast-expanding customer base of indoor growers and nurseries across the UK.

On his new position, Jack commented: “It’s just exciting to be involved at the start of something at ground level which has huge growth potential. This opportunity also resonates with me on a more personal level, as we’re faced with an exploding global population we’re going to have to feed with ever-diminishing space and a disrupted supply chain. To do that in a more sustainable way requires a complete change in our approach to eating and growing fresh food. Ethically, it’s all our responsibility to do this, and it’s this clarity that will help me drive the business forward.”

Simon Deacon, Founder and CEO of LST, said: “Jack’s appointment could not have come at a better time during what is a pivotal period of growth for the company, we are extremely excited by the opportunities afforded to us.

“Jack will help support the business’ strategic objectives in continuing to build on our contracts and sales pipeline, and expand into new markets in lighting, sensors and automated crop production and management systems. He will without doubt bring an immense amount to the team in experience and skillset to help us achieve this.”

Controlling light in farming

Topic Overview
Agri-TechE

Briefing modified April 2022.

Light Science Technologies grow-light cloche gains £503k funding

Meet the Network
Agri-TechE

Light Science Technologies
Vickie Cooper, Innovate UK meets John Matcham LST, Tony Newell Zenith Nurseries and Andrew Hempsall LST.

Light Science Technologies  (LST) has  been awarded £503,000, by Innovate UK funding to develop an intelligent LED grow-light cloche for use within polytunnels and glasshouses.
The grow-light cloche will extend the growing season, enabling farmers to grow a wider variety of produce all year round. It will incorporate LST nurturGROW sensor and its nurturGROW luminaire, a semi-automated system for soil-based growing within polytunnels and glasshouses.
The consortium includes Zenith Nurseries, and the prototype will be tested at its growing site.
The solution aims to improve productivity by more than doubling the number of yields possible each year.
The initial potential UK market includes over 4,000 industrial growers, producing over 300 types of field-scale and protected vegetable and salad crops, and tree and berry fruits covering over 10 million m2.
The total market size for polytunnel in Europe is worth a potential £2.96 billion in 2022 with a predicted CAGR of 9.6% from 2021-28.
 
More about Light Science Technologies.

Growers could save thousands each year with Albotherm’s heat-sensitive coating

Albotherm Albotherm

A heat sensitive coating, which optimises the amount of sunlight entering the greenhouse or polytunnel, could save growers thousands of pounds each year by removing the annual cost of applying and removing shade paints.

The coating, developed by University of Bristol spin-out Albotherm, stays transparent on cooler days to let maximum light through, but becomes opaque as temperatures rise.

Albotherm, presented in the REAP 2021 Start-Up Showcase. 

Responsive coating  moderates temperature

Molly Allington, CEO and Co-founder of Albotherm, explains that temperature control in the glasshouses is critical for maintaining crop health and maximising yields.

“In the UK, temperature control is achieved through application of shader paints, which act as a sun-protecting screen during the summer months and are then removed for the winter.

“Our coating would be applied once as a transparent layer. As the glass reaches a specific temperature it would gradually become opaque, and then become clear again as it cools. The benefit is that it would allow passive temperature control throughout the year and not require the costly painting and removal.”

The idea for the coating emerged during CTO Sian Fussell’s PhD research into temperature responsive materials, explains Molly: “Sian realised the materials could have applications in agriculture, so we built a bench-top model greenhouse in the lab and applied our materials. It worked really well, lowering the temperature by 5-10 degrees. That’s when we realised it could have real-world use.

“We are designing the thermoregulation product to be applied to the glass as a spray-painted coating, in the same way that current shade paints are applied, so it will fit within normal procedures.

Spray coating is time saving

Molly continues: “We are designing the thermoregulation product to be applied to the glass as a spray-painted coating, in the same way that current shade paints are applied, so it will fit within normal procedures.

“In the long term, we see this as a platform technology as we can use turn out materials into a coating for a range of materials, potentially including polytunnels. We are also able to create formulations that transition at different temperatures, ranging from 18 to 45 degrees, so we can control the amount of light that is being blocked, thereby cost-effectively maintaining optimum temperature and light level in the tunnel or glasshouse for different varieties of plants and climates

“Additionally, our technology can be used on conservatory roofs.”

The company is based at Future Space, an accelerator in Bristol, and is involved in product trials.

“Right now, we are refining the product for market – we’re pretty close to having a minimum viable product,” says Molly. “Moving forward, it’s a matter of improving the durability of that, and then scaling up over the next six months.”

Technologies to extract greater value from available light and the feasibility of year around production of green vegetables are among the topics to be discussed at the Agri-TechE event ‘Let there be Light’ hosted by the University of Essex Plant Innovation Centre on the 22nd February.
Find out more and book your place here.Event Booking

Increasing the rate of photosynthesis in field and undercover

Agri-TechE

SunYield, taste and time to harvest can all be impacted by light. So, increasing the rate of photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight to biomass, has the potential to improve agricultural productivity and the nutritional value of the crop. Technologies to extract greater value from available light and the feasibility of year around production of green vegetables are among the topics to be discussed at the Agri-TechE event ‘Let there be Light’ hosted by the University of Essex Plant Innovation Centre on the 22nd February.
This in-person event will include an exhibition with the chance to talk directly to those at the leading-edge of these technologies. 

Could Glaia ‘sugar dots’ increase rate of photosynthesis in field crops?

Field crops could also benefit from technology to accelerate the rate of photosynthesis. Agri-tech start-up Glaia is achieving this by using a naturally occurring carbon-nano material to create ‘sugar dots’ that can be sprayed on to foliage. Once located on the leaves the dots increase the number of light-harvesting antenna, improving the response to light. When applied to wheat, strawberries, and tomatoes they have been shown to increase yields between 20-40%.

Could UK be self-sufficient in leafy greens?

John Stamford
John Stamford

A blended approach of field and undercover cropping may increase the UK’s potential to be self-sufficient in leafy greens, says University of Essex researcher John Stamford, who is looking at how to use tailored LED lighting recipes to improve crop performance and yield as part of the Interreg2Seas funded Hy4Dense project.
“Speaking to farmers, there are a few issues around the supply of leafy greens in the supermarkets. Around November production switches from the UK to Spain which means we are importing these crops over the winter months. The idea here is to improve accessibility of hydroponics in order to potentially have cost-effective year-round UK production. Light plays an important role in that.
“For instance, growing under red light for the first few weeks may cause the plant to focus more on biomass growth, and then transitioning into blue light in the last week before harvest, the plant is stimulated to generate a range of pigments, secondary metabolites, and flavour compounds. So that could maximise yield and flavour in the crop.”
John has experimented with artificial day lengths and changing the quality of light that a plant receives over time to see the impact that has on flavour and other properties: “A plant responds to light quality and quantity in order to optimise itself for the environment, and we can use this response to customise the flavour and morphology of the plant. Some consumers have a preference for larger, leafier, plain tasting leaves whilst others prefer smaller, more flavourful leaves.”

But still challenges to overcome

lettuceLighting can also be used to reduce time to harvest, according to research by Jim Stevens of Vertical Future, an engineering firm that designs controlled environments for clients. Vertical Future recently announced a £21million fundraising round, which will be used to boost its development pipeline and widen the options of what can be grown.
Jim explains: “Growing lettuces at supermarket prices in vertical farms may be feasible if we can get their growth cycle down from eight weeks to six or even five. The problem is, lettuces suffer from tip burn, especially if they grow too fast. These ugly brown spots on the leaves are caused mainly by slow transpiration of water through the plants and are unsurprisingly rejected by consumers.”
“One option is to change the light spectrum to increase transpiration at higher light levels – for example turning up the blue spectrum to trigger the plant’s stomata to open and cool the plant.”
Other speakers at ‘Let there be light’ include:

  • Molly Allington, CEO of Albotherm, whose heat-sensitive shade coating optimises the amount of light entering the glasshouse or polytunnel
  • John Matcham, Technical Director of Light Science Technologies, developers of novel lighting recipes for a variety of environments
  • James Millichap-Merrick, CEO of Vitabeam, whose ‘Quantum Energy’ lighting has been shown to boost yield and extend shelf-life of fresh produce.

The exhibitors include:

  • Kroptek  developer of LED grow lights, the company recently announced a collaboration with Surexport to fast-forward the strawberry season by a full month with the best quality of fruit.
  • GE Current – providers of professional horticultural lighting solutions for greenhouses and indoor farms
  • Pro-Lite  – portable plant science instruments that measure and analyse everything from roots to leaves including rate of photosynthesis, canopy structure, leaf area, spectroscopy, and root function.
  • Glaia – developers of nanotechnology-based solutions for sustainable agriculture

Find out more and book your place here.

Event Booking

 

Albotherm’s greenhouse coating maintains optimum temperature

Agri-TechE

A heat sensitive coating for greenhouse glass, that would maintain optimum temperatures all year around and remove the annual cost of applying and removing shading, is being developed by University of Bristol spin-out Albotherm. 
Molly Allington, CEO and Co-founder of Albotherm, says: 
“When the required temperature is reached, the transition from transparent to white is nearly instantaneous – a few seconds; it’s just a matter of the glass having the time to change temperature, and then it’s very, very quick.” 
Molly is looking forward to talking to potential partners, growers, and investors at REAP 2021. 
“At the moment we’re based in Future Space, a start-up incubator based at UWE in Bristol, and testing the products in the lab. We are talking to partners about further product trials and scale-up of our facilities.” 
Find out more at albotherm.com. 

REAP 2021: Changing Time(s) for Agriculture10th November 2021

Imagine a world where agriculture is not constrained by time. The ability to manage and manipulate time is increasing and REAP 2021 will explore the advances in technology and breakthroughs in science that is making this possible.
REAP brings together people from across the agri-tech ecosystem who believe that innovation is the engine for change. The conference bridges the gap between producer needs and technology solutions and showcases exciting agri-tech start-ups. 

1660: Why is Newton’s prism important for high density salads?

Agri-TechE

John Stamford is investigating how light can be used to both measure plants and regulate their growth and performance. He has previously investigated non-invasive physiological tools such as chlorophyll fluorescence, thermography, and spectral reflectance, which are used to monitor crop performance and health.
He is currently working on the Interreg 2Seas funded Hy4Dense project, which aims to develop a novel hydroponic cultivation system for high density growth of baby leaf salads. His particular interest is the role of LED lighting spectra and regimes on plant growth, morphology and performance.

REAP 2021: Changing Time(s) for Agriculture10th November 2021

Imagine a world where agriculture is not constrained by time. The ability to manage and manipulate time is increasing and REAP 2021 will explore the advances in technology and breakthroughs in science that is making this possible.
REAP brings together people from across the agri-tech ecosystem who believe that innovation is the engine for change. The conference bridges the gap between producer needs and technology solutions and showcases exciting agri-tech start-ups. 

Cracking the secret of timing and its potential for agri-tech

Research Digest
Agri-TechE

As scientists, we know from the lab that time of day is important for treatments – herbicides are more effective when sprayed at dawn than dusk – but there is not much evidence that in current agricultural practice, timing of treatment is being considered. This is probably because it is only recently that the technology has become cheap enough to justify the investment.

The chronoculture idea is not just about the plant – it’s also about the fact that automation is now incredibly cheap.

25 years ago, it would have been ridiculously expensive and time consuming to optimise watering by computer. But now, somebody subscribing to a smart app can have automated watering for the cost of a few pounds – and suddenly these smaller benefits can start to accrue.

Professor Alex Webb, Chair of Cell Signalling in the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge
Professor Alex Webb, Chair of Cell Signalling in the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge

For example, if it was shown that watering at night would be more beneficial for the plant it would be possible to input this knowledge into the algorithm used to control irrigation. However, if the temperature is very high during the day and it is found that water is beneficial for cooling then the system could override these rules and sprinkle the crop. This dynamic decision making would balance the yield benefit with the cost of the water.

Fundamental research unlocks the secret of timing

Alex Webb’s team at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, had a major breakthrough when they discovered circadian clocks increased the size of the plants they were studying, confirming that this timing mechanism provides an advantage to plants.

Further research revealed that sugars produced by the plant regulate the clock function and calcium controls the circadian rhythm.

Professor Webb says we are at a tipping point where “we’ve got the fundamental biological knowledge and we’ve got the means to exploit it – with expensive automation like robots, cheap automation like smart irrigation, with smart data analysis tools and the ultimate: Controlled Environment Agriculture.”

Our findings about the importance of circadian rhythms in plants and the role of calcium and sugars in regulating their clocks are really fundamental discoveries that help us to understand the biology of the plant. I think this has been the exciting intellectual challenge for the past 25 years!

Now we more or less understand how plants measure time. The big excitement is that these discoveries don’t just apply to daily rhythms, they probably also apply to drought stress biology, pest resistance biology and much more.

We might be able to help adapt plants to different geographies, with different day lengths or breed for a changing environment.

It is already possible to get multiple harvests of wheat in a year under controlled conditions. This is achieved by giving the plants 18 hours of light, four hours of darkness – extreme photoperiods. This is an example of a really radical controlled environmental condition to rapidly accelerate the generation time of wheat – a real example of chronoculture.

But is this applicable in a field environment?  For this we need crop data, and my lab is currently working with NIAB and BASF on field trials with wheat. We are growing plants in which the circadian clock is disrupted to see the consequence on different traits.

An application for this could be to adjust harvest time to coincide with optimum environmental conditions, particularly if we have trend towards wet Augusts and warmer drier Autumns.

We now have the opportunity to monitor the plant and control its environment 24 hours a day, which is a significant change in our relationship to farming.

This extends to storage and increasing the shelf-life of fresh produce.

For example, Beko have just released a range of ‘harvest fresh’ fridges which use blue and red lights in the vegetable drawer to simulate a 24-hour sun cycle which mimics natural light conditions ‘to maintain vitamins for longer’.

This feature came directly from fundamental research, where it was found that maintaining a light/dark cycle after harvest reduces pest attacks and maintains the quality of the fruit and vegetables because it stops them whitening and senescing – particularly in brassicas. The papers on this were only published only about 10 years ago.

The big question is: where will this new knowledge bring the best returns?

REAP 2021: Changing Time(s) for Agriculture

10th November 2021

Imagine a world where agriculture is not constrained by time. The ability to manage and manipulate time is increasing and REAP 2021 will explore the advances in technology and breakthroughs in science that is making this possible.

REAP brings together people from across the agri-tech ecosystem who believe that innovation is the engine for change. The conference bridges the gap between producer needs and technology solutions and showcases exciting agri-tech start-ups.

Read more here.