AHDB News Winter 2018

FOR THE HORTICULTURAL INDUSTRY GrowSave News Winter 2018 The latest chapter in Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC) history was officially opened on 10 October 2018; the event saw both the Advanced Glasshouse Facility and the Vertical Farm Development Centre showcased to key industry figures. Both these facilities have been established to provide commercial research work for the UK horticultural industry within the bounds of a well-respected and established R&D organisation. Funded by Innovate UK through the Crop Health and Protection (CHaP) programme, both facilities have been built in a very short timeframe to meet stringent funding requirements. The Vertical Farm Development Centre is a rebuild of an existing building whilst the glasshouse occupies a small patch of previously unused ground around other similar trials houses. STC, which was established on its 200 acre site in 1949, seems a natural home to play a part in the future direction of UK Horticulture, acting as it does for farmers and growers, AHDB, Horizon 2020 and universities alike. The vertical farming facility has 500m 2 of benching in five layers, lit by GE LED lights. However, STC staff insists that although this is an evolution of the LED4Crops facility, the newly built centre is about much more than the lighting: it’s about proving all aspects of vertical farming including climate control, minimising disease and, of course, reducing energy costs. Unsurprisingly, energy costs are high for this type of production, with some 40% of operational costs attributable to heat and light. One of the main focuses of the staff running the centre will be to optimise production whilst minimising energy costs through manipulation of the climate control system. A baseline trial of basil occupied the benches at the time of the visit so that staff can gauge the performance of the system and benchmark future crops when employing the techniques they have learnt. The advanced glasshouse has two sets of three climate areas; this allows a three-way trial design, which is especially important when comparing controls of pests and diseases. Trials, for example, will be able to compare biological control with conventional products to help develop improved integrated pest management strategies. Because the facility and therefore trial areas are small in comparison to conventional greenhouses, there was a challenge in design to ensure that these replicated commercial glasshouses in their climate and control; however, the designers and installers appear to have succeeded. STC is aiming to occupy both facilities with commercial trials work. A big day for horticultural research James Bean of Crystal Heart Salad Company, who attended the event said: “STC has already invested five years in establishing the science behind vertical farming and the use of LED lighting for a wide range of crops. The new VFDC unit will take this a step further and help to put vertical farming onto a sound commercial footing. This is very timely, as we are starting to see a number of significant commercial VF ventures emerging in the UK. Similarly, the new glasshouse unit will enable STC to provide valuable support to the horticultural industry in determining best practice in the application of biopesticides, another important frontier in the development of sustainable horticulture.”