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

Over £1m in funding has been awarded by Growing Kent & Medway to six innovative projects in Kent that will make horticultural and plant-based food and drink production more sustainable.

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.

The collaborative research grants awarded to Kent-based businesses and research organisations are wide-ranging; from increasing vitamin C and iron levels in tomato crops to make them both more nutritious and better able to cope with stress caused by heatwaves, to reducing food waste by growing the best cherries for longer storage.

Dr Nikki Harrison, Programme Director for Growing Kent & Medway, said: “The assessment panel were 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 cutting-edge facilities at research organisations based in the region will not only be of benefit to the local economy, but 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 with 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 at bringing in to 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 from 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 cutting-edge 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 University of Kent, and the Medway Food Innovation Centre at University of Greenwich.

The grants were awarded by Growing Kent & Medway through UK Research and Innovation’s Strength In Places Fund. Proposed projects had to be a collaboration between a business and a Kent-based research organisation. Projects were assessed on evidence they would support their business’ transition to net-zero, and deliver improved productivity and sustainability in food and drink production.

For further information, visit growingkentandmedway.com

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