Meet the grant winners
£1m research grants awarded to six local businesses
Growing Kent & Medway has awarded funding of over £1m to six innovative projects in Kent that will make horticultural and plant-based food and drink production more sustainable.

A longer season for British cherries

Norton Folgate and University of Greenwich

In the UK, we are reliant on imported cherries following the relatively short British harvest. By growing and selecting the strongest cherries at the right time during harvest, we could extend the British season. This would not only enable more UK-grown produce to be sold, but also help to reduce costs and reduce the amount of food waste lost in storage.

“We have done some initial research looking at different air mixtures to see if we could achieve longer-term storage with the Produce Quality Centre at University of Greenwich. We had some interesting outcomes, so this grant is a great opportunity for us to prove the concept and take this through to industry-scale at the end of the trial.” Bruch McGlashan, Head of Technical, Norton Folgate

Norton Folgate is a fruit marketing business and part of the Orchard Fruit company. Based in Sittingbourne, it markets both UK and imported fruit.

Project: Extending the season for Kentish cherries

Total project cost: £209,346

Using biochar from farm waste to lock carbon into soils

Re-generation Earth and University of Kent

Biochar is an ancient technology that this project is looking to bring into the 21st Century. Instead of burning farm waste, such as hedge clippings or tree prunings, we can turn this into biochar. The biochar is a pure form of carbon that can be applied to the land and improve soil health. This research will examine both the impact on the carbon locked into soils and improvements to soil fertility.

“We tapped into the Growing Kent & Medway funding because we wanted to build an alliance with the University of Kent. We have some good practical ideas we want to develop and demonstrate, but we really want to add the academic verification to that.” Doug Wanstall, Advisor, Re-generation Earth.

Re-generation Earth works with landowners to develop projects using their natural assets, like soils, waterways or hedgerows, to identify where they can capture more C0² and increase biodiversity commercially. They are based in Sittingbourne.

Project: The role of biochar in increasing crop land productivity and the removal of atmospheric greenhouse gases

Total project cost: £427,802

Identifying strawberries and raspberries with resistance to spotted wing drosophila 

Asplins Producer Organisation and NIAB

Spotted wing drosophila is the biggest pest for soft fruit and stone fruit growers, and is expensive to control. Traditional ways to manage the pest include netting and physical traps, as well as using pesticides as a last resort.

If we can find accessions of strawberry and raspberry that have resistance to spotted wing drosophila and put them into a breeding programme, it would allow the industry to move away from other costly control options.

“We need funding for all sorts of research projects; Growing Kent & Medway seems to be a really useful route to be able to find research grants that will benefit growers in Kent.” Chris Rose, Commercial Controller, Asplins PO

Based in Faversham, Asplins Producer Organisation has 11 growers in their cooperative and sell over £100m of fruit annually.

Project: Screening for resistance to spotted wing drosophila in strawberry and raspberry accessions

Total project cost: £149,730

Finding a cure for apple canker

Avalon Fresh and NIAB

Can we find a cure for apple canker? With the ability to affect up to 50% of orchards, this disease is a major problem for the apple industry. It is particularly prevalent in west Kent where there can be poor drainage. Current control methods can be expensive and time consuming for growers.  This project is hoping to find new ways to control this disease, which will enable UK producers to reduce their losses, increase the volume of fruit available for market and improve profitability.

“It’s important to have the best specialists involved in a project like this. The Growing Kent & Medway grant allows us to tap into the best scientists based at East Malling,” Nigel Jenner, Chief Technical Officer, Avalon Fresh

Avalon Fresh is a marketing group based in Maidstone with over 30 top fruit growers, supplying most of the major supermarkets.

Project: Enhancing orchard ecology for improved resilience to climate change and apple canker disease

Total project cost: £205,583

Using technology to make young salad leaves more nutritious

Evogro and NIAB

Growing food where it will be eaten, and only growing the amount of food you need, could help to reduce both food waste and emissions. Vertical farming technology, such as growing with LEDs and hydroponics, integrated with machine learning and image processing, could help to improve indoor growing systems. This project will explore new technologies to move to net-zero food production. It will also investigate how new technology can help to grow young brassica crops with higher nutritional value to support healthy diets.

“We’re looking forward to getting to know the other businesses, research organisations and academic institutions, which are part of the Growing Kent & Medway community.” Jason Hirst

Evogro make personal vertical farms for hospitality operators and homes. They use the same technologies as industrial vertical farms, but scaled down to appliance size. Based in East Malling, the business provides an integrated system and support service so their customers can grow high-quality crops without needing horticultural expertise.

Project: Maximising nutritional value in young brassicas with distributed intelligent growing systems

Total project cost: £421,197

Increasing ascorbic acid and iron levels in tomatoes to enhance human nutrition and plant abiotic stress tolerance

Thanet Earth Ltd and NIAB

The predicted increase of global warming poses a large risk for crop productivity, even in protected cropping systems. Tomatoes have a narrow range of optimal growing temperatures and heat stress can limit fruit yield as well as affect fruit development.

Fluctuations of yields caused by unpredictable heatwaves have an impact on the food supply chain, as over- estimation of UK supply necessitates costly imports.

Studies have shown that even modest increases in vitamin C content and iron levels can help tomato crops cope better with these stresses.

Iron is a key trace-element essential for human health, however in the UK, the average iron in-take levels in females are below the recommended levels.

By combining vitamin C and iron biofortification, this project hopes to result in the production of nutrient-dense tomatoes and enhance iron bioavailability for healthy diets. All while improving the productivity and sustainability of UK tomato production and lowering emissions and reducing waste.

Thanet Earth are one of the leading UK producers of salad crops. Their glasshouse complex is located in East Kent. These enormous glasshouses are estimated to produce around 400 million tomatoes, 30 million cucumbers and 24 million peppers each year.

Total project cost: £574,246

About UKRI Strength in Places Fund

Growing Kent & Medway is supported by the Strength in Places Fund. Led by UK Research and Innovation, Strength in Places Fund is a competitive funding scheme that takes a place-based approach to research and innovation funding, to support significant local economic growth.

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