Current work and future plans

Strawberry variety Malling Champion

2022 was our sixth growing season at the WET Centre. We’re growing Malling™ Champion again in the final year of our IUK-funded strawberry project BerryPredictor which the WET Centre is hosting.

Research to date has shown a strong correlation between light availability (photosynthetically active radiation) and Class 1 yields, with the latter differing by as much as 12% in rows just 2 metres apart. This equates to a yield differential of over 11 tonnes per hectare, and so understanding how to “make every plant as good as the best plant” has real economic value.

We see in strawberry a diurnal decline in the efficiency of photosynthesis which has implications for the interventions we should test to try to raise productivity in the leg rows, for example smart-venting control or LEDs.

We have ordered 20,000 Malling™ Ace for planting in the WET Centre in 2023 – our aim is to secure funding from the Defra FIP Future Farming Theme 1 call – Climate Smart Farming. We’re currently developing a £4m+ Berry Gardens-led proposal aimed at optimising resource acquisition and use, maximising marketable yields and berry phytonutrient quality whilst reducing emissions to land, air and water and supporting the soft fruit industry’s transition to net zero.

The intention is to build a new plastic-skinned growing system at the WET Centre (planning permission has already been granted) where we can control the phytoclimate more precisely using green technologies.

|Malling Bella raspberry growing at NIAB East Malling

High and consistent plant quality is key to achieving optimum returns and resource use efficiency, and so we will also submit an industry-led proposal to the Defra FIP Small R&D projects call in the autumn using TCEA systems to improve plant quality during propagation, and we will quantify the impact on economic returns under optimal growing conditions at the WET Centre.

In the WET Centre raspberry tunnels, we’re again growing Malling™ Bella for an IUK-funded project on reducing fertiliser inputs and GHG emissions using a combination of Nitrogen-demand modelling, real-time NPK sensing and precision fertigation.

We’re also testing new irrigation technology from Netafim (who continue to invest in the Centre and in East Malling) to see if water and fertilisers can be distributed more evenly throughout the rootzone in a crop where Class 1 yield losses from inadequate fertigation scheduling are common. We also see the same impact of PAR availability on Class 1 yields, and so we’ll incorporate raspberry into the Farming Futures bid.


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