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Harper Adams Fresh Produce experts report new research findings at world’s largest horticultural research conference

Posted 6 September

Professor Jim Monaghan checking crops.

Professor Jim Monaghan checking crops.

Research from the Fresh Produce Research Centre (FPRC) at Harper Adams University has been presented at the world’s largest horticultural conference.

Professor Jim Monaghan, Director of the FPRC and Dr Andrew Beacham, Lecturer in Sustainable Crop Production attended the 31st International Horticultural Congress, held in Angers, France.

Organised by the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS), the congress is held every four years and attracts more than 2000 international delegates from more than 80 countries.

Professor Monaghan discussed the use and importance of wide-ranging vegetable crop populations to find sources of resistance to environmental, or ‘abiotic’, sources of stress.

He said: “With long-term climate change and short-term weather patterns making the production of crops more difficult with every year, we need to develop new varieties that can better withstand future environments. By examining the responses of wide ranges of crop varieties to environmental stresses we increase our chances of identifying useful resistance to such conditions.”

Prof Monaghan described work carried out at Harper Adams as part of the Defra-funded Vegetable Genetic Improvement Network (VeGIN), a collaboration with the University of Warwick.

As part of VeGIN, the Harper team have been exposing vegetable seedlings - including lettuce, brassicas, carrots and onions - to periods of drought, waterlogging, heat or salt. The plants which grow best under these difficult conditions can then proceed to crop breeding programmes to develop new, more durable varieties.

He added: “The serious droughts and heatwaves we have experienced, not just in the UK but across Europe and elsewhere in the world, demonstrate how important it is to act now to ensure viable food supply chains in the future.”

Dr Beacham presented his work looking at tipburn, an important crop quality issue in lettuce and brassica which causes leaf browning and product rejection by retailers, leading to increased food waste.

He said: “Tipburn is the most important quality issue in lettuce and affects both outdoor and indoor-grown crops. Although it is thought to be associated with leaf margins not having enough calcium, the cellular process involved remain a mystery and because of this progress combating the condition has slowed.”

Dr Beacham’s study, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) Horticultural Quality and Food Loss Network in Collaboration with the Universities of Cambridge and Warwick and industrial partners G’s Fresh and Vertical Future, is revealing more about the condition.

He added: “By looking at findings from brassicas, we have been able to associated changes in the activity of leaf genes involved in moving calcium around different parts of the cell with different levels of tipburn resistance. This is the first stage towards finding out what is really going on with tipburn.”

Dr Beacham explained the work opens the door to discovered the processes behind tipburn and allows the development of growth and treatment options to address the issue.

“The more we know about how and why tipburn develops, the better we can combat it.”

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