The AHDB Horticulture Soft Fruit Panel is responsible for determining research priorities and strategy for UK grown soft fruit crops, which includes strawberries, raspberries and other Rubus, blackcurrants and other Ribes, blueberries and rhubarb. Research on blackcurrants is managed in collaboration with the Blackcurrant Growers' Association – see the separate blackcurrant priorities. Research is funded directly through the Panel budget or through cross sector funds disbursed by AHDB Horticulture centrally. The Panel aims to identify key challenges facing Horticulture levy payers which can be ameliorated through research and its translation into practice on farms.
The objectives of the soft fruit sector strategy link with two of the five core priorities in the AHDB Corporate Business Plan 2015-2018:
- To improve productivity and cost management (resource management, climate change, soils and water, managing market volatility);
- To prevent and manage disease (NB: in this context disease covers all crop protection).
The three objectives of the soft fruit sector strategy are to:
- Improve crop quality and consistency of supply;
- Develop integrated management of pests, diseases and weeds;
- Improve production efficiency and minimize costs.
The long term measurable goals for each objective are:
- World-leading high-yielding top quality crops with extended seasons;
- Integrated programmes of pest, disease and weed management (IPM) for each crop type enabling zero or reduced chemical residues in produce;
- A sustained competitive position for UK growers of all soft fruit crops.
Through building on existing research projects, developing expertise amongst research scientists and identifying longer term integrated packages of research the Soft Fruit Panel hopes to foster a sustainable research base of both people and facilities, which the industry can turn to for solutions and which provides value for money to levy payers.
The Panel has agreed five research themes which relate to the ‘Fit for the Future’ strategy published in 2013:
- Crop protection;
- Genetics and varietal development;
- Crop production systems;
- Resource use;
- Phenology and quality.
This is a major priority area given the potential for ruinous crop losses, legislation reducing the availability of approved controls, the uncertainty of the consequences of climate change, the increasing risk from alien pests and diseases and finally, increasing consumer interest in the provenance of their food. It is essential that carefully targeted work is undertaken within an integrated programme so that growers and propagators can control the key pests, weeds and diseases of fruit crops with minimal environmental impact.
The research programme for this theme will focus on facilitating effective crop protection programmes using new conventional and biological controls, monitoring, forecasting and prediction techniques. Crucially, the Soft Fruit Panel will also continue to support growers via its programme to obtain Extensions of Approval for Minor Use (EAMU). New crop protection programmes have been commissioned in 2015 for strawberry pests, strawberry diseases and cane fruit pests and diseases.
Genetics and varietal development
New varieties offer many potential benefits to growers and consumers, including increased yield, quality, flavour, shelf-life, season extension and resistance to pests and diseases. In addition, well-presented fruit with low waste levels can assist harvesting efficiency and may offer the potential to increase mechanisation. The Soft Fruit Panel has agreed integrated crop-specific research programmes for breeding, variety trialling and the use of novel technologies such as developing and implementing the use of genetic markers. Although restricted to funding work on strawberries and raspberries at present the panel does not rule out extending work to other soft fruit crops in the future.
Crop production systems
A source of considerable innovation on farm, this area requires close liaison between applied scientists and growers to ensure that research programmes are adapted to the most efficient, accessible and contemporary crop production systems used by growers to increase yields and efficiencies. In turn it invites novel approaches to issues such as labour productivity, planting or training systems and soil/substrate management.
More efficient use of inputs including water, fertilisers, heat and light are vital to the sustainability and future success of the industry. The programme will focus on the physiological and environmental factors affecting resource use by fruit plants and how growers can apply inputs more precisely to match the crop’s needs.
Phenology and quality
As well as addressing costs, efficiencies and sustainability, growers can also develop a competitive advantage by adding value to soft fruit crops through enhanced quality, flavour and shelf life. An integrated programme aimed at minimising waste and enhancing quality will focus on both pre- and post-harvest processes.
Translating research results into on-farm applications, and identifying and passing on best practice is the major focus of the Soft Fruit communication and knowledge transfer programme. In turn, good communication between research scientists and growers ensures that the research programme is relevant as well as ground-breaking.
When commissioning research, AHDB Horticulture will require applicants to submit tenders in response to calls for integrated programmes of work focused on making a real difference at farm level, within these five themes. These tenders should be visionary, with realistic timescales and with costings which reflect the true cost of doing world-class applied research. The integrated programmes must be led, managed and delivered by skilled teams from institutions able to commit to a long term programme of work, in return for the security of funding offered by the Panel. Collaboration between research providers will be expected and encouraged where appropriate.
Some areas and proposals will be more appropriately funded centrally by AHDB Horticulture or collaboratively with other crop panels. Progress within each integrated programme of research will be reviewed annually by its specific programme management group (PMG) in the light of results gained and new challenges which may have arisen.
Shorter term projects tackling specific problems in innovative ways may still be considered on an annual basis but must sit within an overall integrated programme so that results are built upon and followed through to an on-farm application. Additionally, unforeseen emergency issues will always be considered.
Calls for tender
No calls for tender will be launched during summer 2015 but calls for new work programmes will be announced in subsequent years. These are likely to be on:
- Blueberry crop protection
- Resource use efficiency
- Efficient crop production
- Breeding and varietal development
- Phenology and quality, particularly eating quality
With the current emphasis on spotted wing drosophila and the new crop protection programmes there will not be a call for concept notes and potentially subsequent proposals during 2015. However, concept notes addressing unforeseen emergency issues will be considered at the first winter 2015 meeting of the Panel.
The submission deadline date for any such concept notes for this meeting will be announced on this website and in the weekly email.
Grower Association Research Priorities:
The documents listed below have been written in collaboration with AHDB Horticulture whose aim is to help British horticulture become more efficient, competitive, resilient and sustainable through the funding of applied research & knowledge exchange.
Levy investment utilises a strategic approach that concentrates on six broad programmes of activity – Crop protection [pest, disease, weeds], Inputs [energy, nutrition, water], Soil & Substrates [soil health & fertility, growing media], Cropping systems [engineering, smart technology & tools, production systems], Genetics [crop improvement, novel crops], and Utilisation & Value [cooling, storage, packing, supply chains, markets etc.]
Allocation of funding by AHDB Horticulture’s Soft Fruit Panel addressing these key overarching areas follows the Panel Strategy as above, which are informed by the individual grower groups who own and develop their own priority or strategy documents as below: