Tomato growers across the UK are collaborating with researchers to explore new sensor technology which could significantly boost yields.
The research aims to achieve a detailed understanding of the water balance within plants in order to improve greenhouse efficiency. This is the first time sap flow and stem diameter sensors will be trialled in UK tomato production.
The knowledge that growers at APS Produce Ltd hope to gain could significantly reduce tomato losses, improve on-farm efficiency and increase the shelf life of produce. They are installing the sensors in beef, cherry and organic piccolo tomatoes and the data generated will build a continuous picture of water balances within the plants.
By identifying when water deficit and excess occurs, they can better target irrigation and adjust other greenhouse conditions like ventilation and heating.
Researchers say this should minimise pre-harvest losses caused by fruit splitting and disorders such as blossom end rot, which can otherwise result in losses of up to 10% of total tomato yield. If these initial trials prove to be successful, researchers say the findings can be applied to many other protected crops including peppers, cucumbers and soft fruit, as well as outdoor annual and perennial crops.