Safeguarding crop storage research in the UK

The recent contraction of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) coupled with the closure of Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research has paved the way for the establishment of a new network of post-harvest research facilities across the UK.

This development marks a significant step forward in advancing the agricultural sector’s capabilities in preserving and managing harvested produce.

Prof. Sheryl Hendriks, Director of NRI, said: “In order to protect food supply chains and minimise food waste it is vital that resources for research to improve crop handling and storage are fit for purpose. This cannot be covered by an individual organisation but requires a strong national network.”

The Crop Storage and Post-harvest Solutions (CSPS) facility network spans across three strategic locations within the UK. This newly established network is the result of a collaborative partnership between ADAS, Crop Health and Protection (CHAP), the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) at the University of Greenwich, and the James Hutton Institute (JHI). Together, they have joined forces to establish and operate the CSPS facilities, aiming to advance research and innovation in crop storage and post-harvest approaches.

The facilities offer a diverse range of advanced capabilities such as the ability to simulate multiple supply chain environments while exercising precise control and monitoring over essential storage conditions – temperature, humidity, and atmospheric composition such as variable CO2 levels.

Initial research priorities will focus on developing pre- and post-harvest monitoring and modelling techniques to predict storage potential, as well as supply chain tracking and monitoring, optimising store management for energy efficiency, exploring automation and labour-saving opportunities, testing potato sprout suppressant technologies, and evaluating sustainable packaging materials.

Prof. Derek Stewart, Director of the Advanced Plant Growth Centre (APGC), at The James Hutton Institute, added: “Crop storage research is always the Cinderella of the food supply chain research portfolio, despite the fact that it underpins the whole thing: we don’t eat all that we harvest immediately and so need to store many crops.

“This new initiative should herald a new wave in data-enabled crop storage research and see it better integrated with the growing environment to determine the impact of agricultural growing practices and innovations therein. The new storage research units are at a scale that mimic industrial crop storage but allows for the flexibility to deliver state-of-the-art research and impact in the agrifood sector”.

The CSPS facility network aims to enhance food supply chain resilience by addressing key challenges including food waste reduction, extended shelf-life, and optimisation of the food value chain from primary production to retail.

Dr Faye Ritchie, Technical Director at ADAS said: “ADAS is pleased to be part of and co-invest in this important capability. Our applied field and post-harvest supply chain research will be enhanced by the new facilities and partnership of expertise. We look forward to helping deliver solutions for clients, such as to increase resource use efficiency or reduce waste, improve energy efficiency, and ensure supply chain resilience.”

Stakeholders will have the opportunity to engage in vital research focused on developing sensors, tags, and bio-indicators to enable better management of produce quality. An additional interest will be on investigating innovative methods to control microbial decay and spoilage after harvest will be tested and lastly, understanding and controlling the biological factors influencing food storage and shelf-life.

Dr Susannah Bolton, Vice Principal for Enterprise and Knowledge Exchange at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) said: “Post-harvest losses of fresh produce represent a huge risk for growers of high value crops, and effective storage is required to keep these losses at minimum.

“Threats to effective storage include loss of chemistry and increasing energy costs, and research is urgently required to find viable alternatives. Industry-scale storage research facilities such as those now provided through CHAP are essential to test the viability of these new technologies to build credibility and drive uptake.”

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