Funding to support Kent’s fruit industry - Fruit & Vine

Funding to support Kent’s fruit industry

The primary purpose of the Growing Kent & Medway (GK&M) programme is to support the plant-based food, drink and horticultural industries in the region, helping them to grow and thrive in the area.

Gala apple orchard

Tapping into the UK government’s ‘Strength in Places’ fund, Growing Kent & Medway has already supported the construction of new state-of-the-art research facilities, whilst the programme is now funding a series of research projects where the science partners are collaborating with businesses to develop both sustainability and circularity within their operations.

GK&M has also developed a ‘Business Innovation Voucher’ (BIV) Scheme in 2022. These vouchers, worth up to £15,000 each were set up to support innovative ideas addressing specific challenges in six areas including energy use, sustainable packaging, reducing food waste, water, alternative proteins and sustainable crop production. Following a competitive tendering process, eleven projects successfully secured vouchers, with four of them involved in fruit-related innovation.

plastic container full of raspberries

Unravelling the texture of raspberries

Edward Vinson Ltd is seeking to develop new, improved raspberry varieties for BerryWorld Plus Ltd’s breeding programme. Despite major advances having been made in breeding larger, firmer berries with improved shelf-life, significant proportions of the UK crop still go to waste if the fruit is not sold or consumed quickly enough. One of its main objectives is to breed berries with improved texture, offering higher quality fruit and prolonged shelf-life.

Working with post-harvest specialist Richard Colgan at the University of Greenwich, the breeding team is carrying out detailed texture measurements on ripe berries. They have been recording texture every week from the start to end of harvest and also from a range of their different advanced selections and varieties. The measurements are being made using a Lloyd-LRX penetrometer using specialised software programmed for raspberries. This technology has been previously assessed and developed by scientists at the University of Greenwich as part of the Heif Project. After identifying those selections with the most consistent and optimum texture, the breeders will seek to incorporate these in their future crossing programmes to enhance the quality of their new selections.

Improving low-oxygen controlled atmosphere storage for Gala apples

A.C. Hulme & Sons is seeking to improve the long-term storage of Gala apples. Now the most widely grown dessert apple in the UK, the volumes are such that Gala must be marketed over an extended period to avoid any fruit wastage. Fruit for long-term storage must be harvested at the optimum stage of maturity for growers to sell their entire crop. In previous research funded by the AHDB and conducted at the Produce Quality Centre by scientists at the University of Greenwich, they successfully extended the storage of Gala apples from seven to 10 months using storage regimes of 5% CO2 and 1% O2 or 3% CO2 and 1% O2, with or without SmartFresh. However, the industry believes that further improvements in quality can be achieved using Dynamic Controlled Atmosphere (DCA) storage, a system which continually monitors and detects changes in fruit physiology in store and adjusts the storage conditions accordingly.

In this project, apple grower Tom Hulme (A.C. Hulme & Sons) is collaborating with Richard Colgan and Debbie Rees (University of Greenwich) to study how Gala fruits of differing maturity stages respond to the use of DCA and what effect it has on the overall storage life of the fruit. Fruit is being picked over two or three stages of fruit maturity, stored using DCA technology, and held at different gas regimes, including <1% O2. The ex-store quality will be assessed. It is hoped to discover whether fruit that is not picked at the optimum stage of harvest maturity can attain the same ex-store quality as fruit that is picked at the optimum stage of maturity, under DCA conditions. It is physically impossible to pick all fruit at the optimum stage of maturity for long-term storage, so identifying ways of improving the storage potential of fruit picked later than optimum will help A.C. Hulme & Sons to extend its Gala marketing season.

The potential health benefits of Nashi Gold pear juice

J.L. Baxter & Son is investigating the health benefits of an Asian pear. Growing tree fruit crops since 1943, the company has recently found a market for a new pear derived from a cross between a European pear and an Asian pear.

When the retail demand for this pear came to an end, the company decided to start the manufacture of ‘Nashi Gold’ pear juice, made from this Asian derived pear. Asian pear juice is reputed to offer a number of health benefits, being a good source of vitamin C, whilst also purporting to lower cholesterol, relieve constipation and offer anti-inflammatory effects. It is also believed to alleviate an alcohol-induced hangover, if consumed prior to drinking, by altering the metabolism of alcohol in the body. Further research is required to substantiate these claims.

Working with Lori Fisher at the University of Kent, the company is using this BIV to identify any key components of the juice such as fibre content, vitamins, and minerals that may be offering health benefits, including a cure for hangovers. They are comparing the impact of both chilling the juice and storing it in ambient conditions, whilst also assessing the effect of different packaging materials. The findings are likely to create further questions about the volume needed to be consumed to provide the desired benefits, and the optimum volumes to sell to satisfy both demand and sales.

Identifying soil types that lend themselves to carbon storage

Verdant Carbon is identifying land management techniques that lend themselves to carbon storage. A newly formed business in Kent, Verdant Carbon offers a soil carbon measurement service to farmers and growers measuring the levels of organic carbon and total carbon at different levels up to 1 metre deep.

They do this using UTV-mounted soil coring equipment and dumas dry combustion analysis, ultimately providing their customers certification stating the quantity of carbon that is sequestered in their soils. This certificate is stored on the block chain which maintains a permanent record of changes, keeping a secure, accurate record of the results. By tracking changes in a farm’s soil carbon over several years, a customer can track their farm’s total carbon output, and count it towards a ‘net-zero’ business. Minimal or no tillage soils are already known to contain higher levels of carbon than those farmed with conventional tillage methods, but it would be useful to learn more about the soil microbiome of soils that are left undisturbed.

Working with Matevz Papp-Rupar at NIAB, Verdant Carbon will measure both the volumes of carbon stored and the associated microbiological analysis from a range of soils with different soil management methods across 16–20 farms in Kent. Conventional and regenerative agriculture farms producing tree fruit, arable crops and livestock will be included. For those soils recording high levels of stored carbon, the team will investigate if these are associated with certain bacteria. It is hoped that the results will highlight certain soil types and management systems which capture higher levels of carbon whilst identifying the microbiome that is associated with these. This information might lead to soil management guidance for farmers and growers on how to maximise carbon capture.

storage crates containing apples

New round of BIVs in 2023

New funding for another round of ‘Business Innovation Vouchers’ will become available early in 2024. Businesses wishing to be kept abreast of new funding opportunities should sign up to Growing Kent & Medway to receive regular information. To sign up or find more details about the range of current programmes being funded visit the website here

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