Net-zero horticultural food production gets £1m research funding boost

Over £1m in funding has been awarded by Growing Kent & Medway to six projects in Kent that aim to make horticultural and plant-based food and drink production more sustainable. The collaborative research grants awarded to Kent-based businesses and research organizations range from increasing vitamin C and iron levels in tomato crops, to reducing food waste by growing cherries for longer storage.

The projects will not only help the industry reduce its impact on climate change, helping to reduce carbon emissions, cut food waste or improve the efficiency of resources such as water and energy, but also enable food crops to be more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Dr. Nikki Harrison, Program Director for Growing Kent & Medway, said: “The assessment panel was impressed with the innovative ideas proposed to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing producers; from controlling significant pest and diseases like spotted wing drosophila and apple canker without pesticides to using new technologies to improve the nutritional value of baby leaf salad crops.

“Collaboration between innovative businesses and the expertise and  facilities at research organizations based in the region will benefit the local economy and will have a significant impact on the UK’s ability to produce food and drink sustainably.”

Doug Wanstall, Re-generation Earth, awarded a joint grant by the University of Kent, said: “Our project will turn farm waste, such as hedge clippings and tree prunings, into biochar - a stable form of carbon that can be incorporated into soils. This has two benefits; to create carbon offsets that can be sold for additional income and to increase soil fertility.

“Biochar is an ancient technology that we’re looking to bring into the 21st century. The benefit for the wider industry will be healthier soils, reducing greenhouse gases, and financial resilience for businesses.”

The research projects will start in May 2022 and run for up to 36 months. A second wave of funding will be made available later this year. The projects will make use of three new research facilities in Kent, part-funded through Growing Kent & Medway; The GreenTech Hub for Advanced Horticulture at NIAB’s East Malling site, The Biotechnology Hub at the University of Kent, and the Medway Food Innovation Centre at the University of Greenwich.

For more information:
Growing Kent and Medway  

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