If a crop has too few assimilates (i.e., sugars and starch) available, this has negative effects on quality and production. If too many assimilates are available, this is a waste of the energy that a grower applies to the crop. It is, therefore important to find the right assimilate balance. The Greenhouse Horticulture and Flower Bulbs Business Unit of Wageningen University & Research is looking for a method that will give a grower quick clarity about that balance so that the right cultivation measures can be taken quickly.
Measuring the sugar content of a crop is possible, but the result says little about the balance between the production and use of sugars. While that balance is essential for the production and quality of the crop. For example, a lack of sugars can cause fruits to die or the crop to produce fewer flowers. A surplus of sugars can cause the crop to put a lot of energy into producing a thick stem, for example.
WUR is therefore looking for indicators that provide insight into the assimilate balance and rapid tests to measure it accurately. One of the possibilities is to measure gene expression. This checks whether a specific gene of the crop is 'on,' for example, a 'hunger gene.' This could be measured, for example, with a PCR test. Another possibility is measuring the content of specific proteins: for example, the production of some enzymes tells a lot about the assimilate balance. In addition, WUR is investigating whether the balance can be measured with a so-called hyperspectral camera.
The first inventory of possible rapid tests started at the end of 2022 and will be ready in the course of 2023. The research will show which method is most promising for use by crop growers or consultants. This method can then be further developed in a subsequent phase. The inventory is financed by the Kas als Energiebron program.