The WET Centre

Mark Else
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About The WET Centre

  • The Water Efficient Technologies (WET) Centre was set up by NIAB EMR at their East Malling site in Kent in 2017 
  • It demonstrates results of AHDB-funded research, including precision approaches to pest and disease control
  • The centre showcases work on strawberry crops 

The WET Centre demonstrates ‘Best Practice’ in irrigation and fertigation technology in substrate-grown strawberry and raspberry. Much of the technology on show has been developed in projects funded by the AHDB, Berry Gardens and Innovate UK, the aims of which are to improve resource use efficiency, crop productivity, and berry quality whilst reducing waste and lowering emissions in bag-grown strawberry and container-grown raspberry. AHDB is one of a number of part-funders of the WET Centre.

The Centre also includes other outputs from on-going research programmes across the three science departments at NIAB EMR. This allows AHDB to demonstrate some of its other research on strawberry and raspberry in a commercial cropping situation.

Each year, the WET Centre funders work closely with Dr Mark Else and his team at NIAB EMR to develop a work programme for the season, selecting specific technologies and approaches to demonstrate and compare in a range of growing systems. The plans and thinking behind the comparisons made in 2020 are set out below:

Demonstrating Malling Champion

We’re growing Malling™ Champion, an everbearer released in 2019 from the East Malling Strawberry Breeding Club, which is part-funded by AHDB.

Comparing white cocogreen bags with black cocogreen bags

We’re investigating the cause of the 10% yield increase seen in 2018 when using white Cocogreen bags compared to black Cocogreen bags. We’ll be measuring reflected photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), root zone temperatures and night-time respiration rates.

Comparing Lumitect plastic with standard Visqueen film

We’ll be covering four of the eight strawberry tunnels with the new Lumitect plastic and comparing effects on plant physiology, Class 1 yields and berry quality with that obtained from standard Visqueen film.

Predicting harvest dates and yields

We’re developing variety-specific mathematical models using thermal time and photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) as variables to predict harvest dates and yields of Class 1 fruit.

Understanding zonal phytoclimates within polytunnels

We’re very interested in understanding how to monitor, map and manage the different zonal phytoclimates within the polytunnel, and to understand how plant productivity and berry quality is influenced by row position. To that end, we’ll investigate the spatial variability in berry size, number, rate of ripening and quality throughout the WET Centre.

Predicting mildew and Botrytis risk

We’ll use calculated vapour pressure deficits (VPD) in the polytunnel to estimate the daily risk of mildew and botrytis infection using models developed at NIAB EMR and part-funded by AHDB. We’ll also test whether using site-specific predictions of VPD allows us to provide a 5-day risk profile to help growers to target mitigation strategies more effectively.

Introducing raspberries to the WET Centre

The four new automated venting polytunnels will house Malling™ Bella and Malling™ Charm – two new raspberry releases from the East Malling Rubus breeding programme. We’ll deploy precision irrigation to optimise coir moisture content, average daily run-off, and coir pore E.C., whilst minimising emissions to ground air and water.

Estimating coir N, P and K availability

We’ll also demonstrate a prototype “AI-based NKP sensor” that utilises a form of artificial intelligence called “fuzzy logic” to estimate coir NPK availabilities in real time so that we can target fertiliser applications more effectively. The aim in the longer-term is to be able adjust individual fertiliser inputs automatically on a regular basis (weekly, daily) to match crop demand with supply.

Rainwater harvesting and smart venting

We’ll continue to assess the potential of using rainwater harvesting to improve local water security, and we’re also interested in developing smart venting control to optimise the phytoclimate within different sections of the polytunnel.

Further activity

We continue to hold discussions with potential new partners and we will provide updates on additional members and new activities throughout the 2020 growing season.

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