The AHDB Horticulture Tree Fruit Panel is responsible for determining research priorities and strategy for UK grown tree fruit crops, which includes apples, pears, plums, cherries, nuts and novel crops such as apricots. Research is funded directly through the Panel budget or through cross sector funds disbursed by the 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 tree 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 tree fruit sector strategy are to:
- Improve crop quality and consistency of supply;
- Develop integrated management of pests, diseases and weeds;
- Improve production efficiency and minimise costs.
Through building on existing research projects, developing and fostering expertise amongst research scientists and identifying longer term integrated packages of research the Tree 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 strategy involves 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 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 can control the key pests, weeds and diseases of tree 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 Tree Fruit Panel will also continue to support growers via its programme to obtain Extensions of Approval for Minor Use (EAMU). A new crop protection programme has been commissioned in 2015 for tree fruit pests and diseases.
Breeding and development
New rootstocks offer many potential benefits to growers and consumers, including increased yield, improved quality and resistance to pests and diseases. The Tree Fruit Panel continues to support a research programme for breeding and trialling new rootstocks for apple and pear. Although restricted to funding work on rootstocks at present the Panel does not rule out supporting similar work on stone fruit crops in the future. A new breeding and trials programme has been commissioned in 2015 merging the existing breeding project with the two rootstock trial projects for improved efficiency.
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 management.
More efficient use of inputs including water, fertilisers, light labour and mechanisation 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 tree fruit crops through enhanced quality, flavour and shelf life. An integrated programme aimed at minimising waste and enhancing quality should 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 AHDB Horticulture's Tree 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 will normally be expected to run for 5 years, so 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 2015
One call for tender is being launched during 2015. Wherever possible, current work will be integrated into these new programmes to provide a coherent approach. Each R&D programme will aim to build on previous and contemporary findings.
Improving quality in stored apples – 2016-21
Improving the quality of stored apples and extending storage duration is an important priority area to help give UK growers a competitive edge over produce from other European countries during the main marketing season and Southern Hemisphere producers in the early part of their season. The key objectives of the research programme on improving quality in stored apples are to:
- Determine the optimum fruit quality and storability parameters for apples;
- Refine pre- and post-harvest techniques to enable growers to optimize fruit quality and storability.
Further calls for new work programmes will be announced in subsequent years. These are likely to be on:
- Resource use efficiency
With the emphasis on calls for tender 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.