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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Greenwich
Department Name: Natural Resources Institute, FES


Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.

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. European agriculture is one of the most efficient worldwide but further progress in yield and productivity are critical to meet the immediate challenges of this century. The minimization of agricultural losses for crops that require extended storage such as onions and potatatoes is one approach to improve productivity and the development of distributed sensor systems is crucial to detect diseases at an early stage and enable effective intervention.

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.


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Description A number of ester volatiles associated with a host-plant defence mechanisms and other volatiles synthesised by the pathogen have been identified in rotting apples infected with Neonectria gallegina. The bouquet of host plant defence volatiles changes over time and are higher where infections have occurred early in the storage season where fruits remain metabolically active. The amount of volatile produced are a combination of the capacity of fruits to synthesise volatiles due to fruit age and the size of the infection, while disease progression increases with time the capacity of the fuit to generate host-plant volatiles declines with length of storage, and therefore a dynamic interaction between the health of fruit and the level of infection has to be realised in relating the volatile present in the headspace of the storage environment and the level of disease present in apples.
Exploitation Route This was a short-term early stage Innovate grant which has manages to generate sufficent data to warrant a longer-term more in depth study which is required to fully evaluate the potential of this technology.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

Description The development of a sensor that can detect the onset of Neonectria galligena in apple during storage has a commercial impact and will provide apple growers and store managers the opportunity to have a greater understanding of the quality of fruit inside their controlled Atmosphere stores,whereby the stores are sealed at harvest and cannot be broken until the fruit is ready for marketing. Gala apples can be stored for up to 9 months and whereby the incidence of disease development increases as storage progresses. With average losses of 3-5% representing 3-5 tonnes of fruit with a value of~£3-5K in lost revenue per store. In situations where fruit destined for long-term storage starts to develop a significant volatile signal associated with fruit infection growers will be mnded to earmark such stores for earlier opening to reduce losses.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Economic

Title development of a method to detect volatiles in freeze dried apple tissue 
Description A method to develop sample tissue preparation and process it through freeze drying to stabilise samples prior to shipment for analysis. Moreover a method for reconstitution to generate a volatile headspace for analysis and use in training sensors. 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The method has helped to prepare material for training sensors and allow samples to be stabilised for use in a number of other labs. 
Description Cambridge Display Technology 
Organisation Cambridge Display Technology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Certain aspects of this project have been continued with the Industrial partner for 6 months after the project end
Collaborator Contribution They have tested prototypes of their sensors in our facilities
Impact None
Start Year 2019
Description A talk to apple growers and agronomists on the use of sensors to detect changes in fruit quality 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact NIAB-EMR Tree fruit day which givea an opportunity for scientist to show cse aspects of their work to fruit growers, agronomists, technology providers, horticultural students and PhD students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
Description Dicussion with Barfoots in the use of electronic sensors to detect diseases in stored sweet potato and asparagus/beans/sugar snap peas. where the level of losses can be over 20% having a method of picking up diseases at harvest or in storage prior to shipment would provide a good indicator of which consignments to pack and ship 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was part of an innovate/Difid workshop for networking and developing consortia
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Discussions with an expert group of end users on potential impact of the technology 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A series of dialogues were undertaken with key members of the apple industry to determine their interest in the outputs of the project and likelie uptake of the technology
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Sensors for the Detection of Diseases and Disorders of Stored Produce 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A' Tree fruit Day' workshop organised by NIAB showcasing R&D projects related to apple/Pear/cherry and plum projects underatken by researcherin the UK
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Visit by Horticultual Scientists 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A visit by a group of Horticultural Scientist to visit our Post-Harvest facilities and as part of the tour I was able to describe the outlines of the project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Visity Indian Horticultural State Ministers and members of the Dept for International Trade 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A visit from a delegation organised by the Dept of International Trade UK and India and Horticultural Scientists/miniters from Haryana State, India- investigating collaborations with the UK on Post-Harvest Science.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019