14TSB_ATC_IR: Use of AMF and PGPR in soil-less substrate strawberry production to increase resource use efficiency and fruit quality

Lead Research Organisation: East Malling Research
Department Name: Science

Abstract

This proposal focuses on increasing the yield and ensuring fruit supply from strawberry production. To avoid soil borne diseases, nearly 40% of strawberry production (ca. £90M in values) is grown in soil-less substrate under protection where nutrients and water are better controlled according to the crop requirement. This proposal addresses the efficient use of such resources, the management of which is recognised as one key driver in the delivery of sustainable intensive agriculture. Recent evidence suggests that under a substrate production system with standard fertigation, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) can increase strawberry yield. The present proposal investigates whether application of AMF and PGPR (plant growth promoting rhizobacteria) products in commercial substrates will result in increased resource use efficiency, fruit quality, and tolerance to powdery mildew over different combinations of cultivars.

Technical Summary

This proposal focuses on increasing the yield and ensuring fruit supply from substrate strawberry production. To avoid soil borne diseases, nearly 40% of strawberry production is grown in soil-less substrate under protection where nutrient and water are better controlled according to the crop requirement.

Past research on AMF and PGPR has focused on their ecological function in soil. However, application of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and plant growth promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) products directly into soil is open to debate because there are already resident AMF and PGPR populations present. The positive effect of AMF is usually explained in terms of increased nutrient (particularly P) and water uptake. However, recent unpublished data at East Malling Research suggested AMF can improve strawberry yield in coir substrate under conditions where its perceived role in nutrient and water uptake is not likely to explain their effect. If the positive effect on fruit yield and quality is confirmed on a range of strawberry cultivars and substrate types, AMF and PGPR products may be considered as an essential part of substrate production where their application is easier than under field cropping systems.

This proposal will develop new biological products based on AMF and PGPR to amend the substrate in order to improve resource use efficiency, as one of key drivers in the delivery of sustainable intensive agriculture. Specifically, EMR will conduct experiments to (1) determine whether AMF and PGPR could improve fruit production and quality, and increase plant tolerance to powdery mildew on a range of strawberry cultivars and substrate types, (2) determine (and quantify) the nature (synergistic, additive or competitive) of interaction between AMF and PGPR products in affecting strawberry production in substrate, and (3) elucidate possible biological mechanisms that underpin the effects of AMF and PGPR on strawberry in substrate production.

Planned Impact

Strawberries are an economically important soft fruit with many health benefits, representing a successful and expanding industry worth £220M per annum in the UK (ca. two thirds of the total UK consumption). To eliminate the risk of Verticillium wilt in soil production and to extend season, nearly 40% of strawberry is now produced in substrate (such as coir) under protection where irrigation and fertilizer input is well controlled. The main challenge in such a production system is how to improve resource use efficiency (water and fertiliser) while maintaining, or even increasing, yield and quality. As a consequence of production under protection, powdery mildew becomes the number one disease, necessitating frequent interventions (often fungicides).
This project will provide practical solutions to increase resource use efficiency in substrate strawberry production. A key outcome of the project will be commercialised AMF and PGPR products for use in substrate strawberry production. An increase 10-15% of fruit yield as observed in preliminary trials would result in fruit production equivalent to £22M to £33M, which is very important for the UK since home production only accounts for two-thirds of the national consumption. Furthermore, the project results will also lead to increased resource (water, fertiliser and fungicide) efficiency - a key driver for sustainable intensive agriculture.
In addition to products/knowledge that are directly exploitable in commercial horticulture, this project will generate basic/strategic knowledge underpinning the use of these products in practice and may lead to future research and development opportunities. In parallel to AMF and PGPR product development and trialling, further research will be conducted at EMR to understand the physiological basis of increased plant growth and yield due to AMF and PGPR applications in substrate through genomics study (RNA-seq) and profiling of plant hormones. Such knowledge may assist us in (1) dloping new AMF and PGPR products, (2) assessing potential benefits of these products in other crops in substrate in relation to specific conditions (or stress factors), and (3) understanding possible interaction of these products with other husbandry practices.
In summary, the project will deliver technology that will be highly welcome by the industry because it will increase strawberry production efficiency and contribute to sustainable intensive agriculture. An understanding of AMF and PGPR in affecting plant growth in a substrate production system will also help us to extrapolate the project results to other similar cropping systems, including tomato and cucumber.

Publications

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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
BB/M011313/1 01/11/2014 31/01/2016 £277,504
BB/M011313/2 Transfer BB/M011313/1 01/02/2016 31/10/2017 £169,052
 
Description For the first time, we demonstrated that AMF structures in strawberry grown in coir substrate differ from those in strawberry plants grown in soil. We have demonstrated a new AMF species/strain is better than commercial strains in promoting strawberry, coriander and basal development. Furthermore, the performance of AMF in improving strawberry growth is not consistent among trials. In a third of the trial, the use of AMF resulted in significant improvement of strawberry yield; whereas for the remaining trials, its effect was not statistically significant.
Exploitation Route We have submitted a paper describing the results; the manuscript is accepted subjected to satisfactory revisions. The new strain has been now commercially propagated and formulated as a new product. Furthermore, the project results suggested that a better route to exploit AMF in substrate strawberry production is to incorporate AMF at the nursery propagation phase - ensuring colonisation of planting materials at the nursery stage before transplanting.
The two industry partners are conducting large scale trials to evaluate the effect of AMF colonisation of strawberry plants at the nursery stage.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description We have demonstrated a new AMF species/strain is better than commercial strains in promoting strawberry, coriander and basal development. The new strain has been now commercially propagated and formulated as a new product and will be tested in other crop species. Furthermore, the project results suggested that a better route to exploit AMF in substrate strawberry production is to incorporate AMF at the nursery propagation phase - ensuring colonisation of planting materials at the nursery stage before transplanting. Currently, the two industry partners are studying this use fo AMF in strawberry with their own funding.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Economic

 
Description EU Interreg (2 Seas) - Extending the lifespan of coir substrate
Amount £90,000 (GBP)
Funding ID Horti-BlueC 
Organisation European Commission 
Department Interreg : European Territorial Co-operation
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 03/2018 
End 02/2021
 
Description EU Interreg (2 Seas): use of biostimulants for strawberry and raspberry production in coir substrate
Amount £160,000 (GBP)
Funding ID Bio4Save 
Organisation European Commission 
Department Interreg : European Territorial Co-operation
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 08/2017 
End 06/2021
 
Description Promoting the use of beneficial microbes in substrate strawberry production 
Organisation Agrovista UK Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We provided the overall research lead in evaluating the use of AMF and PGPR in substrate strawberry production (coir), including experimental design and data analysis. Furthermore, we conducted RNA-seq analysis to understand whether (and how) AMF alter plant transcriptome.
Collaborator Contribution Plantworks provided expertise in formulating AMF and PGPR products and supplied products and support for the field evaluation. Both BGG and Agrivista provide commercial sites to conduct the evaluation as well as their commercial knowledge in developing exploitation plan.
Impact The evaluation data suggest that AMF benefit to strawberry production is significant only in 30-40% of the trials and non-significant in other trials
Start Year 2014
 
Description Promoting the use of beneficial microbes in substrate strawberry production 
Organisation Berry Gardens Growers Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We provided the overall research lead in evaluating the use of AMF and PGPR in substrate strawberry production (coir), including experimental design and data analysis. Furthermore, we conducted RNA-seq analysis to understand whether (and how) AMF alter plant transcriptome.
Collaborator Contribution Plantworks provided expertise in formulating AMF and PGPR products and supplied products and support for the field evaluation. Both BGG and Agrivista provide commercial sites to conduct the evaluation as well as their commercial knowledge in developing exploitation plan.
Impact The evaluation data suggest that AMF benefit to strawberry production is significant only in 30-40% of the trials and non-significant in other trials
Start Year 2014
 
Description Promoting the use of beneficial microbes in substrate strawberry production 
Organisation Plantworks Ltd UK
PI Contribution We provided the overall research lead in evaluating the use of AMF and PGPR in substrate strawberry production (coir), including experimental design and data analysis. Furthermore, we conducted RNA-seq analysis to understand whether (and how) AMF alter plant transcriptome.
Collaborator Contribution Plantworks provided expertise in formulating AMF and PGPR products and supplied products and support for the field evaluation. Both BGG and Agrivista provide commercial sites to conduct the evaluation as well as their commercial knowledge in developing exploitation plan.
Impact The evaluation data suggest that AMF benefit to strawberry production is significant only in 30-40% of the trials and non-significant in other trials
Start Year 2014
 
Description Attending international workshop on improving crop resiliency 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Prof Xu participated in an international workshop held in Denmark as an invited international expert. The workshop discussed how to improve crop resiliency, focusing on the interaction between plants and soil microbes. In the meeting, we developed three research proposals and intend to submit by late this year.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
 
Description Attending the 8th International Conference on Mycorrhiza (Arizona) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This is the largest gathering of Mycorrhiza-related research, including researchers, policy-makers and manufacturers. We were able to discuss with fellow researchers about our latest research on the use of AMF in substrate strawberry production.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Give several presentations to Chinese University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact NIAB researchers visited Norwest A&F University and gave several presentations to researchers and postgraduate students:
(1) Use of beneficial microbes in horticulture
(2) Understanding strawberry resistance to Phytophthora pathogens
(3) Modern genomics tools in horticultural research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://ppc.nwafu.edu.cn/xzbg/402848.htm
 
Description Poster presentation at an international meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Aug 2017 ICOM 9 Prague, Czech Republic. Around 200 international delegates attended this conference. We presented a talk on the use of AMF in all horticulture systems in the UK and gave a poster entitled 'the use of AMF to improve commercial horticulture substrate growing systems'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://mycorrhizas.org/home/events/
 
Description Poster presentation at an international meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We presented a poster on the use of AMF in horticulture
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.isme-microbes.org/isme16
 
Description Presentation at an industry meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We presented the research and development work on the use of beneficial microbes to the association of vegetable growers on 26th Feb 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation at an industry meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We presented a talk to growers, industry representatives and members of the East Kent Fruit Society (EKFS) about soil microbes and how to best use them in commercial top fruit.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation at an industry meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We presented a talk on the use of microbes as soil amendments in the field and the nursery at the Agrovista tree fruit day, Kent. Circa 100 top fruit growers, nurserymen and industry representatives attended the conference. Outcomes were that the Agrovista top fruit team increased sales in the 2016/2017 planting period and growers were better educated in how to use microbes commercially.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation in a conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This event was organised by soil scientist and landscape consultant Tim O'Hare, and participants mainly came from landscape architects, contractors, garden designers, developers, topsoil manufacturers and other industry professionals. We presented the general use of beneficial microbes to improve soil health
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentation in a science and industry workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Feb 2016 KTN in Sheffield. We presented a talk about the use of microbes in substrate growing systems. ~ 80 participants attended the workshop including academics (national and international) members of the KTN, and industry representatives linked to substrate growing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016