ISCF WAVE 1 AGRI TECH: Low cost sensors to reduce storage losses

Lead Research Organisation: National Inst of Agricultural Botany
Department Name: Centre for Research

Abstract

Onion storage rots in the UK result in annual losses of 20% of the crop, worth approximately £6.5 million based on an average price. Detecting rots effectively while the crop is in store would enable better management decisions to be made and losses reduced. However, detecting incipient rots in a large store environment is problematic and frequently rots will be well advanced before they are noticed and affected crates or boxes removed. Plant material affected by pathogens causing rots emits volatile substances which can be detected and used to indicate that a problem is present. Detection systems are however expensive and difficult to deploy in sufficient numbers in a store environment. In this research project, we will develop a standard pathogen challenged onion material which will feed into the development of a novel printed electronic sensor, and then validate the effectiveness of the sensor in a series of small scale onion storage units where patogens have been deliberately introduced. The sensors have the advantage of being relatively inexpensive, and thus can be massively deployed in commercial storage units for effective and sensitive detection of developing rots.

Technical Summary

Onion storage rots in the UK result in annual losses of 20% of the crop, worth approximately £6.5 million based on an average price. Detecting rots effectively while the crop is in store would enable better management decisions to be made and losses reduced. However, detecting incipient rots in a large store environment is problematic and frequently rots will be well advanced before they are noticed and affected crates or boxes removed. Plant material affected by pathogens causing rots emits volatile substances which can be detected and used to indicate that a problem is present. Detection systems are however expensive and difficult to deploy in sufficient numbers in a store environment. In this research project, we will develop a standard pathogen challenged onion material which will feed into the development of a novel printed electronic sensor, and then validate the effectiveness of the sensor in a series of small scale onion storage units where patogens have been deliberately introduced. The sensors have the advantage of being relatively inexpensive, and thus can be massively deployed in commercial storage units for effective and sensitive detection of developing rots.

Planned Impact

The world population is expected to grow to over 9 billion people by 2040 and food production will need to increase by more than 50% to cope with the expected demand. Improving yields from existing agricultural surface is critical to deliver this deficit as land suitable for conversion to agriculture is dwindling. Although European agriculture is among the most productive and efficient in the world there are areas for improvement particularly in reducing food wastage. In order to allow for continuity in supply apples harvested in September/October are often stored for between 4-12 months, depending on variety. Premature termination of storage is often caused by the onset of storage rots and disorders, causing 3-15% losses on average.

UK agriculture must act now to maintain its technological edge, to continuously develop and use innovative technologies and management techniques in order to stay at the forefront in this strategic area, and improve the competitiveness to capture the significant opportunities within this growing global market. To address new market opportunities novel advanced highly functional sensing systems are required with the following properties: low-cost, simplicity, portability, high sensitivity and specificity, high-speed, and real-time capability. At present sensors for the agricultural sector represent 4.5% of the total global sensor market and this is expected to grow to 9% by 2018. This project is therefore ideally placed to exploit market growth in this area and capture market share.

Publications

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Description Working with other project partners, we have identified several key VOCs that may be related to latent infection of apple fruit by the European apple canker pathogen. These VOCs may be used as a basis for early detection of apple fruit with latent infections. This could lead to optimised post-harvest fruit management, reducing post-harvest losses due to fruit rotting fungi.
Exploitation Route The lead project partner (a commercial company) is currently considering how to take this forward, particularly in terms of whether further research is necessary - as this is an only 18-month early-stage feasibility study.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink