Tomato growers in the Isle of Wight and Yorkshire hope to considerably reduce crop losses in a new Innovative Farmers field lab project. The research, which has been co-designed from the start by the growers, aims to achieve a detailed understanding of the water balance within plants in order to improve greenhouse efficiency.
According to those involved in the study, this is the first time that sap flow and stem diameter sensors will be trialled in UK tomato production. The knowledge that growers at APS Produce Ltd hope to gain from this farmer led research could significantly reduce tomato losses, improve on-farm efficiency and increase the shelf life of produce.
The growers are installing the sensors in beef, cherry and organic piccolo tomatoes and the data generated will build a continuous picture of water balances within the plants. By identifying when water deficit and excess occurs, they can better target irrigation and adjust other greenhouse conditions like ventilation and heating. This should minimise pre-harvest losses caused by fruit splitting and disorders such as blossom end rot, which can otherwise result in losses of up to 10 per cent of total tomato yield.
Brian Moralee, field lab coordinator and grower manager at APS Produce, comments, “Our data platform provider and the sensor company will help us analyse the results, but we’ve already learnt a lot ourselves. Just a couple of weeks in, we noticed that removing the night screen too quickly was causing leaf tip scorch – our theory is that the shock of cooler air caused the stomata to close and reduced transpiration. So, we slowed down the removal of the screen and are seeing less leaf scorch. If it can work commercially and environmentally, we’ll have a fantastic result.”