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Supporting cucumber growing in the UK

Anchor Nurseries Ltd is a fourth-generation family business, based in Woodmansey, East Yorkshire. They have been growing cucumbers there for over 60 years and pride themselves on growing quality Yorkshire produce.

Under the leadership of James Broekhuizen, Nursery Manager, the business is continuing to innovate and modernize. As well as running the family business, James is also the current Chair of the Cucumber Growers Association (CGA).

Here, James explains how he has used AHDB’s products and services to support the business and ensure it will continue to supply British cucumbers for years to come. 

Tackling pests and diseases in cucumbers
As with most horticultural crops, controlling pest and diseases with a dwindling choice of plant protection products is challenging for cucumber growers. The main threats for the industry are diseases such as gummy stem blight (Mycosphaerella melonis) and Pythium root rot, as well as pests including glasshouse potato aphid (Aulacorthum solani) and southern green shieldbug (Nezara Viridula).  

AHDB works closely with the CGA and industry representatives to research and develop integrated pest management (IPM) strategies to tackle these key pests and diseases.

“We have worked alongside AHDB for a number of years to help tackle some of the wider industry problems that we do not have the resource to tackle by ourselves. AHDB has the resources and intellect to be able to pool information together to help improve the industry and our processes,” said James. 

One example of this work is the development of a lateral flow device, similar to a pregnancy test, to detect gummy stem blight (Mycosphaerella) in cucumber crops. This tool was the culmination of projects which demonstrated that understanding the risk of infection, by collecting spores in the glasshouse, could help growers make useful management decisions.

Initial work involved laboratory testing of samples, whereas the lateral flow device gives growers the ability to test themselves and get results in less than 30 minutes.

As Cathryn Lambourne, Crop Protection Senior Scientist at AHDB, said: “This work helped identify the spread of infection within nurseries and led us to develop hygiene protocol recommendations that could help to reduce crop loss by 40%.”

James added, “AHDB helped create a study into Mycosphaerella, a fungus responsible for a large proportion of crop losses in the UK. They helped us identify, understand and better treat the disease to ensure our crops are healthier and more robust to deal with the disease.

“AHDB, alongside the CGA, helped create a factsheet showing the hygiene and climate strategies that need to be followed to keep the disease at bay.”

Securing new plant protection products
The SCEPTREplus programme has been running trials into some of the key pests and diseases for cucumbers to identify and test novel and alternative plant protection products for the crop.

For glasshouse potato aphid, seven products were tested that were either new to the crop or new near-market products. Two of these products led to 99% control of the pest during the trial and applications are being made to secure authorisations for these.

We also work closely with the CGA and plant protection companies to submit applications to CRD for Extensions of Authorisation for Minor Use (EAMUs). Recent successes for cucumbers to control key pests include Azatin, Decis Protech and Floramite 240 SC.

“EAMUs have had the largest impact for ourselves as a business and for myself as the CGA chair. With the withdrawal of many active ingredients, cucumber growing in the UK has become a lot more difficult and costly,” commented James.   

He added, “We rely on AHDB to help fight the removal of certain chemicals, as well as to fight for the equal right to use chemicals that are also used in EU countries. The EAMU scheme helps the UK industry stay profitable and legal.”

Reducing energy costs
Energy costs for growers of crops in glasshouses can be significant. The AHDB ‘GrowSave’ programme aims to help growers find ways to save costs through improving efficiencies while still producing quality yields.

“I sit on the GrowSave steering committee and see the great work AHDB is doing to help growers with their energy needs. The GrowSave platform has helped push people into Next Generation Growing, as well as look at RHI benefits of biomass boilers or heat pumps,” said James.

The goal of Next Generation Growing (NGG) is to optimise the growth of the crop, while also saving energy and reducing costs. The techniques create an environment in which the plant thrives, so photosynthesis is maximised in the given light levels. Pioneered by Dutch growers, NGG is a set of techniques that increases the efficiency of glasshouse production. If implemented well, it can also lead to a 20% reduction in heat use. 

Through GrowSave, AHDB invited five growers to participate in a NGG study group with the support of a dedicated consultant to trial the techniques over a year. The group have reported improved crop quality and reduced losses.

“GrowSave has also presented at the annual CGA conference on numerous occasions. The regular GrowSave updates in The Grower are always a handy reminder of what technology is currently out there, and whether we should be looking at making any changes to how things run on-site,” added James.

Skills and labour
Another challenging area that unites all horticulture growers is sustaining and growing businesses with a difficult labour market.

James remarked, “As ‘good’ labour is getting harder and harder to source, we need more information and training in how better to recruit, motivate and manage our future employees.”

SmartHort has been set up to help upskill the horticulture industry in labour management and efficiencies. Many protected cropping businesses have taken part in workshops to help find, and importantly retain, the best workers.

AHDB’s Skills team also run a 14-month formal qualification programme – Professional Manager Development Scheme (PMDS). It supports managers within the farming industry to make positive changes in their business.

“On a personal note, I was lucky enough to gain a place on the 2019/20 PMDS course run by AHDB. This management course allowed me to network with many other managers from different fields through our course, and all help each other understand our business problems, from issues with staff retention to productivity," said James.

“It also taught me some very good management theory applicable to our industry rather than simply aimed at the more corporate/office-based business world.”

The future
As AHDB plans to publish its new five-year strategy in December 2020, James was asked what he would like to see from AHDB in the future:

“Further research into leaf miner control and Pythium control. These are the UK’s two biggest issues currently in terms of direct crop losses for cucumber."

“Future work on all forms of labour would certainly be beneficial to UK growers. In addition, it is vital that the EAMU scheme is protected, and that new approvals are constantly pushed to the forefront to ensure our growers have the tools they need to do their jobs effectively and profitably. Any further research on new chemicals to help support the industry would be hugely welcomed.” 

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