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Link between Harper Adams experts and Staffordshire fruit farm features on BBC’s Farming Today

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6 September 2022

A working relationship between a commercial fruit farm and experts at Harper Adams University has featured on BBC Radio Four’s Faming Today programme.

The programme featured research being carried out by the University in collaboration with Aston University to develop a photonic ‘nose’ which will monitor for pests and disease.

The new project uses recent developments in photonics technology that can analyse low levels of volatile organic compounds emitted by plants – essentially ‘scents’ which indicate their level of health. This is coupled with machine learning hardware which makes it practical to use artificial intelligence in commercial settings. 

The year-long project will receive £200,000 from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council.

For the segment on the programme, the Farming Today team wanted to hear directly from farmers about how the device could help – and did so at Littywood Farm in Staffordshire.

The farm, near Bradley, produces strawberries, raspberries and cherries commercially – and while it is not open to the public, students and academics from Harper Adams are regular visitors, working with Production Manager Gabriel Slabbert, Littywood’s Agronomists and others to help tackle crop pests through both work and research.

Harper Adams Reader in Entomology Dr Tom Pope was interviewed alongside Gabriel for Farming Today – and explains that the link between the farm and Entomologists at Harper Adams has proved mutually beneficial.

He said: “Much of our work on Integrated Pest Management at Harper Adams is aimed at assisting commercial farms with the challenges they face – so having commercial partners such as Littywood is crucial to give our researchers the hands-on industry experience they need.

“Commercial growers such as Littywood need the most up-to-date research on pest and disease management – as their crops depend upon it.

“Through working with us at Harper Adams, they are not only getting immediate guidance and assistance – they are also helping to develop our research further.

“It’s also great to work with an industry partner who are so close to our University and to help them get the best from their crops through research projects such as our photonics collaboration with Aston University.”

You can listen again to the Farming Today segment here.

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Gabriel Slabbert and Dr Tom Pope Gabriel Slabbert and Dr Tom Pope

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