NIAB research at its internationally renowned site in Kent, focuses on horticultural crops, with particular emphasis on perennial and clonally propagated fruits. Its highly qualified multi-disciplinary team of plant scientists have been supporting the fruit and horticultural industry for over 100 years, providing solutions to production problems, allowing growers to remain profitable and compete on the world stage.
Primary Contact: Scott Raffle (Knowledge Exchange Manager)
Following investment from The East Malling Trust, Growing Kent & Medway and Kent County Council, the site has new state-of-the-art research facilities including glasshouses, growth rooms, laboratories and a winery, allowing NIAB to undertake cutting edge research which is relevant to the most progressive fruit and horticultural businesses.
The research and industry support is delivered through four disciplines including ‘Plant Genetics, ‘Crop Science and Production Systems’, ‘Pest and Pathogen Ecology’, and ‘Growing Kent & Medway’. The majority of the work focuses on improving food security, adapting to climate change, developing precision technology to reduce waste, and achieving circularity and self-sufficiency. Above all the research aims to develop sustainable fruit and horticultural crop production in ways that are sympathetic to the environmental problems growers face today.
Our Plant Genetics department deploys modern genetic research techniques to support breeding programmes for strawberry, raspberry, cherry, apple, and apple and pear rootstocks. The aim is to produce high yielding varieties producing high quality fruit with a high grade of Class 1, allowing commercial growers to remain profitable. They must enhance the sustainability of production, through adaptation to climate change, an ability to produce high quality fruit with lower inputs, and offer genetic resistance to diseases and insect pests.
The Crop Science and Production Systems research seeks to improve resource use efficiency in fruit and horticultural crop production. It employs precision horticulture to investigate ways of growing higher yields with reduced water and fertiliser input, whilst understanding how to match resource demand with supply, thereby reducing waste and improving sustainability. It also studies ways of manipulating the growing environment to maximise crop yield potential. This includes researching forms of Total Controlled Environment Agriculture using the very newest glasshouse and growth room facilities.
The main focus of our Pest and Pathogen Ecology research is to develop novel approaches to protecting crops from diseases and insect pests whilst relying less on the use of chemical spray products. Any new crop protection techniques developed must fit into existing ‘Integrated Crop Management’ systems employed by growers and where possible, harness existing farm ecosystems to provide natural control.
The Growing Kent & Medway initiative works with its research partners at The Universities of Greenwich, Kent and Canterbury Christ Church to support and develop the horticultural, food and drinks industries in Kent and Medway. Funded through the UK Government’s ‘Strength in Places’ budget, Growing Kent & Medway has helped to develop modern research facilities and support collaborative research projects between our research and industry partners that seek to develop solutions to pressing production problems. The project also administers and manages a series of projects that support and reward innovative business ideas that improve sustainable production, reduce waste and develop circularity within production processes.
The NIAB strawberry breeding programme bred varieties such as the June bearer MallingTM Centenary and the very high yielding ever bearers MallingTM Champion and MallingTM Ace. Apart from their high yields, they provide very high percentages of Class 1 fruit, thereby reducing fruit waste. Their plant architecture ensures that the fruit is well presented to pickers, thereby reducing labour costs. All three varieties have been adopted widely by the industry. The raspberry breeding programme produced the primocane variety MallingTM Bella with high yields of large berries that are well presented to pickers. This too was widely adopted by commercial raspberry growers in the UK.
Water use efficiency in strawberry and raspberry has been widely investigated at East Malling, demonstrating that UK growers can safely reduce water use by a third without compromising yields and fruit quality. This has been demonstrated in practice at the NIAB WET (Water Efficient Technologies) Centre, where further research and demonstration of best practice in precision irrigation, nutrition and crop management are ongoing. NIAB research has successfully matched the supply of nitrogen with crop demand in the raspberry MallingTM Bella, whilst also successfully reducing cane growth and subsequent cane management costs.
NIAB’s Pest and Pathogen Ecology department identified sex pheromones of a range of fruit insect pests through a collaboration with the University of Greenwich, then utilised these in monitoring traps to identify periods of pest activity, allowing control measures to be implemented at the optimum time. This technology has been combined with the use of insect repellents to push the pest out of a crop and pull it into the traps around the perimeter of the crop. The research also seeks to understand more about how to enhance biodiversity on farms, whilst harnessing natural ecosystems to provide natural disease and pest control. NIAB was also involved in an EU funded project called ‘BEESPOKE’ designed to arrest the decline in pollinating insects by enhancing biodiversity on farms. Specific wildflower seed mixes have been developed for each of the commercially grown fruit crops in the UK, to attract pollinating insects.