15AGRITECHCAT4: Third Generation Polyethylene Greenhouse Cladding Materials

Lead Research Organisation: University of Lincoln
Department Name: National Centre for Food Manufacturing

Abstract

This project will develop a third generation of polyethylene cladding materials for use in greenhouses. The project exploits our fundamental understanding of the interactions between plants and light. Here we will optically modify the light incident upon a crop to drive commercial and environmental benefits to greenhouse producers. We will scatter ultra violet (UV) light to improve crop quality and minimise pest incidence, develop materials with directional photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) scattering to drive yield and reflect near infra red (NIR) radiation to control solar gain. These materials are low cost and could provide significant advantages to global greenhouse producers
This is a multi disciplinary project engaging industry (British Polythene Industries plc, Haygrove Ltd, Finlays Ltd, Berry Garden Ltd and A Schulman Ltd) and academic partners (University of Reading (UoR), Chemistry and Agriculture, University of Lincoln (UoL), NCFM, Engineering and Architecture and the research organisation East Malling Research, (EMR)). The project has been divided into 5 operational work packages (WP), plus an additional management WP.
WP1 will focus on material science and development. The UoR Chem will lead research to develop novel materials that scatter UV, have defined PAR angular scattering patterns and reflect NIR. Prototype materials will be scaled up using mini extruders at A. Schulmans and the full manufacturing facilities of BPI plc. Highly innovative research will be required to develop NIR reflecting materials, though recent developments in material science suggests there may be novel approaches via the use of defined nano particulates.
The UoL will conduct WP2. Here models will be developed (either physical / physiological or functional / structural, 3D CAD) to describe the interaction between material scattering pattern and crop light interception. These models will be validated in scale models of greenhouses and under commercial conditions. The model will inform WP1 and also be used to determine optimal greenhouse shapes in relation to specific materials.
WP3 will be conducted at UoR Agri and EMR and will be highly focussed experiments to determine the impact of UV, diffuse PAR and NIR on whole crops of strawberry. The trials will be fully replicated and conducted on the key strawberry crop. UoR will focus on crop responses and EMR will conduct studies on insect behaviour and will include high replication experiments with controlled insect release.
In WP4 and WP5 Berry Gardens, Haygrove and Finlays will test the most promising materials under real commercial conditions. This will include experiments on 4 BG soft fruit sites through the UK, trials in Australia and RSA facilitated by Haygrove (high solar conditions to test the NIR materials and in Kenya on cut roses (Finlays).
The materials developed within the project will be exploitable within one year of the end of the project. We anticipate opportunities for further research, in particular more detailed studies on crop light interactions and applied work to understand the impact of the materials on a wider range of crops and geographic regions.

Technical Summary

This project will develop a third generation of polyethylene cladding materials for use in greenhouses. The project exploits our fundamental understanding of the interactions between plants and light. Here we will optically modify the light incident upon a crop to drive commercial and environmental benefits to greenhouse producers. We will scatter ultra violet (UV) light to improve crop quality and minimise pest incidence, develop materials with directional photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) scattering to drive yield and reflect near infra red (NIR) radiation to control solar gain. These materials are low cost and could provide significant advantages to global greenhouse producers
This is a multi-disciplinary project engaging industry (British Polythene Industries plc, Haygrove Ltd, Finlays Ltd, Berry Garden Ltd and A Schulman Ltd) and academic partners (University of Reading (UoR), Chemistry and Agriculture, University of Lincoln (UoL), NCFM, Engineering and Architecture and the research organisation East Malling Research, (EMR)).
The UoR Chem will lead research to develop novel materials that scatter UV, have defined PAR angular scattering patterns and reflect NIR.
The UoL will develop models (either physical / physiological or functional / structural, 3D CAD) to describe the interaction between material scattering pattern and crop light interception.
The UoR Agri and EMR will conduct experiments to determine the impact of UV, diffuse PAR and NIR on whole crops of strawberry. UoR will focus on crop responses and EMR will conduct studies on insect behaviour and will include high replication experiments with controlled insect release.
Berry Gardens, Haygrove and Finlays will test the most promising materials under commercial conditions. The materials developed within the project will be exploitable within one year of the end of the project.

Planned Impact

The major output of this project will be improved films and polyethylene clad tunnels for food production, with the threat of climate change and population increase, these are major challenges for the world community. Driving productivity within the existing international greenhouse estate will play a key role in driving the sustainable intensification of agriculture. These films will be particularly applicable in areas such as Spain and North Africa where heat and moisture loss are an issue, and such improvements will further engender employment opportunities in some of the less economically developed communities. The development of these films may open up additional areas for cultivation and through heat control and reduced pesticide use improve the conditions of agricultural workers.

The immediate beneficiaries of this research will be the companies directly involved in this research. The development of these new materials will allow BPI to improve their market share by 15% pa; the projected increase in sales will amount to some £37 million over the year 5 period (after deducting general market growth). Haygrove will exploit the IP on greenhouse design and the primary producers will benefit from the yield and quality gains derived by the materials. To facilitate uptake, reward development support and help create an industry market pull, BPI is developing an incentivisation package to support Berry Gardens and Finlays in purchasing the product post project completion. Yield gains from PAR diffusion could be in the order of 5% (7 to 10% were demonstrated on tomato, Deuck et al 2012) and there will be significant benefits from higher quality and reduced pest incidence. High levels of labour are required to manually ventilate Spanish tunnels and NIR technology has potential to reduce these costs by substantial temperature reductions . Thus based on the products developed in this project, commercial growers in the UK and elsewhere will see an increase in profitability and reliability with the potential for a reduction in pesticide use. The consortium see significant potential to drive export sales, this will be developed using existing market infrastructure, and license agreements. BPI currently export to three key segments, UK and Ireland, Europe and North America. Importantly, the group already has manufacturing capacity in China, although this is not currently for wide films, the outcomes from this projectmay enable ready access into the World's largest wide film market.
The use of these films in developing countries is an area we particularly intend to explore via our interaction with Kenyan Rose growers, (as UV in particular my effect flower quality, particularly colour) and we envisage future interactions with other growers (for example essential oil production may be highly dependent on light quality) which might also be of interest to the Department for International Development (DFID) in terms of sustainable development
Finally, the improvements to food quality and yield that these films offer are expected to have considerable impact on the retail sector in terms of improving produce quality and through lower unit costs via increased yields. Reduced pesticide use will be attractive to consumers, who will also be beneficiaries in terms of improved food colour and flavour and reduced prices.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We have shown how to develop a new generation of greenhouse cladding materials which filters UV light and thereby potentially reduce insect pest infestation in crops and increase the yield of strawberries, a key UK crop. We have also modelled how greenhouse cladding materials can be used to scatter light within greenhouses, thereby increasing the uniformity of the light environment.

This has now led onto the development of a highly novel new greenhouse material that could have significant impact since it not only reduces the incidences of critical soft fruit pests but our research has also shown it increases yield. Onward research is now progressing to develop new greenhouse structures that create a more improves light uniformity in greenhouse structures.
Exploitation Route It can be used to develop a new generation of greenhouse cladding materials. These could be used globally by all greenhouse producers.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

 
Description The research has shown how new greenhouse cladding materials could reduce insect pest pressure and also potentially increase the yield of strawberries. This will reduce pesticide use and provides a novel approach to control insect pests as part of an integrated system A patent has now been registered and is subject to approval. This shows a new technique to reduce soft fruit pests and diseases. This patent is now being finalised and the consortium are planning to launch new materials to industry in summer 2020
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description The development of novel plastic film cladding materials for poly-tunnels
Amount £245,649 (GBP)
Organisation Agri-tech East 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2019 
End 03/2021
 
Description BBSRC Seeding Catalyst Award 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have received a BBSRC Seeding Catalyst Award to design and construct a novel greenhouse structure
Collaborator Contribution The partner financed the project and the award was made by competitive tendering.
Impact We will construct a highly novel greenhouse design. This will improve light uniformity and greenhouse and will be publishable
Start Year 2019
 
Title Polymeric Film 
Description A new way to modify polythene greenhouse covered to control insect pests on fruit crops, 
IP Reference WO2019197805A1 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2020
Licensed Commercial In Confidence
Impact A new technique to control insect pests on fruit crops without the use of pesticides
 
Description Berry Gardens UK Fruit Conference 
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 the results of our work to the BGG National Fruit conference which includes 50% of all UK soft fruit growers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018