Set up in 2017, and part funded by AHDB since 2019, the Water Efficient Technologies (WET) Centre demonstrates the results of AHDB-funded research in a commercially relevant production system. Run by NIAB EMR at their East Malling site, the centre showcases the latest research on strawberry crops, including precision approaches to pest and disease control.
Early trials identified that significant savings in both water and fertiliser use could be made in soilless substrate production when employing innovative technology and an increasing number of growers are now employing the systems on show at the Centre, helping them to use water and fertiliser more efficiently while improving the yield and quality of their strawberry crops.
In 2020, four new automated venting polytunnels were erected at the Centre and now house Malling Bella and Malling Charm – two new raspberry releases from the East Malling Rubus breeding programme. Precision irrigation is being deployed to optimise coir moisture content, average daily irrigation run-off, and coir pore E.C., whilst minimising emissions to ground air and water.
A five-year Integrated Pest and Disease Management project (SF 157) on strawberry diseases showed that the number of applications of conventional fungicides to control strawberry powdery mildew could significantly be reduced using a risk prediction model. Trials on a commercial strawberry farm near Evesham have taken this work further and demonstrated the potential to reduce conventional fungicide use and employ biofungicides when the risk is low.
The WET Centre continues to grow and opportunities are being explored to extend the Centre to include blueberry. Plans are also in place at NIAB EMR to extend both the numbers and type of demonstrations of new technology being run each year.