Horticultural Crop Quality and Food Loss Prevention Network

Lead Research Organisation: Cranfield University
Department Name: School of Water, Energy and Environment

Abstract

Horticultural crops (vegetables, fruit, potatoes, flowers) contribute over £4 Billion to the UK economy per annum, making the sector even more valuable to our national economy than cereal crops such as wheat, barley and oats (worth >£3 Billion; Defra National Statistics 2019). Horticultural crops are major components of a healthy diet, yet the majority of UK citizens fail to consume enough vegetables and fruit. Consumption of a high dietary proportion of vegetables and fruit contributes to the prevention of non-communicable diseases, which themselves cost the NHS substantial amounts of money per annum, lost days at work and poor attendance at school. Potatoes also provide essential dietary nutrients and fibre and are particularly suitable for consumers who do not tolerate gluten. There is therefore a benefit to human health and the economy to developing horticultural crops that have a high concentration of beneficial nutrients, with flavour characteristics enjoyed by consumers and a shelf life that provides more flexibility in meal planning. There are benefits to the environment and the economy from reducing food loss along the supply chain, particularly when standard practices for extending shelf life, such as the use of plastic packaging, are being discouraged and the consumption of UK grown crops is encouraged. These provide their own technical challenges, requiring crops that reach optimal harvest stage over a wider and more predictable seasonal window, that are of consistent and uniform quality, are resilient to bacteria, fungi and biochemical processes that cause spoilage, and which have extended storage life when they reach the consumer.

The sector therefore needs this timely intervention of scientific and technological development to address these challenges and develop more sustainable food systems that have a lower environmental footprint and allow more of the food harvested to reach the table. The Horticulture Quality and Food Loss Network will provide a focal point for industrial and academic practitioners to work together to develop new solutions to improve horticultural crop quality and prevent food loss. The Network will provide small-scale research funding to develop partnerships that can go on to win higher value funding that makes a step change difference to the sector. The Network will facilitate the development of collaborations between business and academia, and of academics from different disciplines. It will have some funding ring-fenced for early career researchers, ensuring that there is a legacy of people developing high quality research in this area, as well as individual projects that will subsequently mature into long term solutions for the sector. The Network will be closely engaged with government policy makers and advisory bodies to ensure that information flow is two way - that researchers and businesses understand the environmental and economic consequences of food loss and quality loss, and also that policy makers understand the benefits of supporting this sector for the economy, environment and public health.

Technical Summary

Horticultural crops (vegetables, fruit, potatoes, flowers) contribute over £4 Billion to the UK economy per annum, and many are major components of a healthy diet. Consumption of at least five portions of vegetables and fruit per day is the minimum UK recommendation, yet the majority of citizens fail to adhere to these guidelines. Consumption of horticultural produce contributes to the prevention of non-communicable diseases, which themselves cost the NHS £billions per annum, plus lost days at work and poor attendance at schools. There is therefore a benefit to human health and the economy to developing horticultural crops that have a high nutritional density, appealing flavour characteristics and an extended shelf life. It is estimated that one third of food produced globally is wasted before it is consumed; for the UK this equates to >15M tonnes of food and drink per year, valued at over £20Bn. Over half of this is wasted before it reaches the consumer home, presenting many opportunities for businesses to seek economic benefits for themselves by developing solutions that prevent food loss and benefits for the environment by developing solutions that enable more sustainable production and food system practices to evolve.

The Network will facilitate collaboration between industrial and academic practitioners, with an emphasis on encouraging early career researchers to work with this sector and for UK world leading scientists to apply their skills to horticultural crops. The Network will provide pump-priming research funding to develop partnerships that will have a legacy of projects that can be transformative for the sector. We will liaise with complementary Networks and policy driving organisations to facilitate multidisciplinary approaches to address strategic priorities. The Network will drive innovation in horticulture and will provide resources to catalyse activity. We request an initial three years of funding to establish the Network.

Planned Impact

The Quality and Food Loss Network will serve as a focal point for the horticulture sector, bringing together businesses and academics interested in the reduction of postharvest food losses and the improvement of fresh produce quality attributes including shelf life, flavour and nutrition. These address BBSRC Strategic Priorities for Agriculture and Food Security, together with Sustainable Development Goal 12.3. The new Network will consolidate and extend the work started by BBSRC HAPI projects, but with a defined post-farm gate focus that addresses the specific need for waste and food loss reduction and improved quality traits in horticultural crops. The Network will encourage new companies and researchers to participate in pump priming projects that will have a requirement to map out plans for project development through subsequent TRLs as part of the application process. Projects funded by the Network will be supported and mentored to further application, with a specific target of increasing responsive mode applications for horticultural projects by 20% from its current baseline. Small grants are supported by Business Interaction Vouchers and Networking Visit Funding to enable the community to develop appropriate partnerships, to allow pilot scale experiments and to focus on areas that will result in step change interventions for both academic and industry partners.

We anticipate impacts that will benefit the economy, environment and society of the UK. The output value (2018) for horticultural crops was £4166Million, making the sector more valuable to the UK economy than cereals (worth £3160Million; Defra National Statistics 2019). The most immediate beneficiaries from the Network will be the small and large businesses that will benefit from the interactions and collaborations with the UK's world leading science base that will be made possible by the Network. We will bring businesses and researchers together around the major challenges defined in the Strategic Priorities and provide funding to develop these new relationships and ideas. We will mandate recipients of Network funds to apply for greater investment and progress their work towards delivering new business opportunities and scientific advances. This will lead to an increased pool of scientific researchers, at all career stages, who are committed to applying their highest quality science towards horticultural problems. This in turn will lead to economic benefits in terms of recapturing the value of food currently lost from the supply chain and an improvement in quality traits. The latter is important since horticultural produce (including potatoes) are a major component of a healthy diet, yet the majority of UK citizens fail to consume enough of it. Consumption of a high dietary proportion of vegetables and fruit contributes to the prevention of non-communicable diseases, which themselves cost the NHS substantial amounts of money per annum, lost days at work and poor attendance at school. Potatoes also provide essential dietary nutrients and fibre and are suitable for consumers who do not tolerate gluten. Provision of horticultural produce that is nutritionally dense when eaten, with flavour characteristics enjoyed by consumers and a postharvest (post-purchase) shelf life that provides more flexibility in meal planning will encourage consumption of horticultural produce and consequent improvement of the nation's health. Reducing food loss along the supply chain is an essential component of sustainability, and currently faces additional challenges driven by the desire to remove plastic packaging from fresh produce that is currently instrumental in extending shelf life and preventing product wastage. The sector therefore needs this timely intervention of scientific and technological development to address these challenges and develop more sustainable food systems that have a lower environmental footprint and allow more of the food harvested to reach the table.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Conference online event - 10&14th February 2022 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Two half-day online conference event for HortQFLNet members to raise awareness of the network and the research work it has funded to date and to facilitate networking and interactions between researchers and industry and to highlight the funding opportunities available through the network. This was aligned with the open funding call for 2022.
The event was strengthened by internationally recognised keynote speakers; Prof. Bart Nikolai, (KU Leuven) and Prof. Jim Giovannoni (Cornell University).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/hortqflnet-conference-feb-2022-tickets-239108218117
 
Description HortQFLN social media engagement 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A Twitter account (@HortQFLNet) was set up for the Network to reach a wider audience. To date the account has 143 followers and is following 181 other accounts.
A LinkedIn account was also set up, targeting a more professional and academic audience. It has to date 57 followers.
Both accounts help increase the visibility of the network activities to academic, industry and national and international bodies and raise awareness of food loss and waste concerns within the UK and wider.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021
URL https://www.linkedin.com/company/horticultural-quality-and-food-loss-network
 
Description HortQFLN website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The website has facilitated proactive advertising of the Network and in particular research funding opportunities and new member recruitment. To date, the website had 7,403 views.
The website also acts as a repository for information including Governance Board members Governance documentation and funding call documents, including application form and call guidance.
All potential funding call applicants had to engage with the website in order to download the application documents.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021
URL http://www.foodlossnetwork.com
 
Description HortQFLNet video produced in conjunction with UKRI 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Prof Carol Wagstaff, Do-Director of HortQFLNet, produced a video in conjunction with UKRI to promote the work of the Network and funding call opportunities
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_FwNBAzx2Q&t=4s
 
Description Keynote presentation at the XXII National Congress of Science and Technology of VII International Congress on Innovation and Trends in Food Processing, June 2021, Mexico 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Prof. LA Terry, Co-Director of HortQFLNet, gave a keynote presentation about the Network at the online XXII National Congress of Science and Technology of VII International Congress on Innovation and Trends in Food Processing in June 2021.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL http://www.fcb.uanl.mx/IDCyTA/templates/congreso.html
 
Description Launch Webinar 
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 The Network officially launched on 20 March 2020 via a live, recorded webinar event attended by over 120 delegates from both academia and the Horticulture industry. In light of the global pandemic situation and guidance from the UK Government, the planned launch event to be held at Cranfield University was postponed and replaced by the live webinar. The webinar recording and slides were made available on the HortQFLN website.
Following the webinar the Network membership increased as awareness of the network broadened.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://foodlossnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Webinar_Slides_20_03_2020.pdf
 
Description Network engagement and awareness campaign 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The Network aims to become the leading collective voice for the UK Horticultural and Postharvest community. It has sought to engage with a diverse audience, targeting relevant academic organisations, national bodies and horticultural industry to raise the profile and purpose of the Network and disseminate information about emerging research funding opportunities to these groups as part of this activity.
As a result of these engagement activities, the network received 30 applications for its first Pump-Priming and Business Interaction Voucher funding call in 2020.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021
 
Description Network members e-Newsletter 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Bimonthly newsletters are sent to all members via Mail Chimp. New members receive a copy of the latest newsletter when they join. Newsletters provide information about the work of the Network including Funding Calls, 'Novel Science' summaries and links from key scientific journals, reports from Governance Board members involvement in conferences/discussion fora, editorial pieces.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021
 
Description Network members e-Newsletter 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Bi-monthly e-Newsletter is distributed to all members which publicises Network events and activities, encourages networking and highlights recent scientific research in the field of horticultural crop quality and postharvest losses.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022
 
Description Participation in Circular Agriculture event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The Network was showcased using a video in the AgriTech E event 'Circular Agriculture', help online on the 8th July 2020.
An online debate through Twitter followed, in which the Network Liaison Manager participated.
The event raised awareness of the newly established network to a wide range of relevant stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.agri-tech-e.co.uk/innovation-insights-for-circular-agriculture-20/
 
Description Participation in external event by Management Board member 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A member of the Network's Management Board who works for WRAP organised a meeting of the Courtauld 2025 Fresh Produce Working Group and used this opportunity to advertise the 1st Funding Call of the Network that was open to applications at that time to an audience of 11-50. Following the meeting, the member provided a summary of the event that was included as a feature in the Network's November 2020 e-newsletter that was sent to Network members. In addition, the funding call information was circulated in the Courtauld 2025 newsletter increasing awareness to 101-500 recipients, who may have cascaded the information further through their organisations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Presentation by Network 2021 cohort at 'Green Porto', University of Porto, Portugal, February 2022 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Estrella Luna-Diez and Katie Stevens (University of Birmingham) presented their research work funded by the HortQFLNet at the University of Porto event 'Green Porto' in February 2022.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Presentation by Network 2021 cohort at outreach event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Estrella Luna-Diez (University of Birmingham) promoted the work of the Network and presented some preliminary data of her research funded by HortQFLNet at an outreach event to commemorate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science organised by the Society of Spanish Researchers in the UK on the 11th February 2022. The event was targeted to early career researchers from different scientific fields.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Sandpit Online event, 18th May 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Online interactive event for HortQFLNet members to network and raise awareness about the open funding call. Connection made during hte event led to the submission of pump--priming grant applications into the funding call, some of which were successfully funded.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/hortqflnet-sandpit-event-registration-152473284699
 
Description Social media engagement - website, Twitter and LinkedIn 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact HortQFLNet membership increased to around 390 active members from academia, industry and other disciplines. The Network is currently followed by 249 people on Twitter and increasing international following and strong presence on LinkedIn. Network Governance Board members and HortQFLNet cohorts actively publicise the network and its activities through these channels.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022
URL https://twitter.com/HortQFLNet
 
Description Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum policy conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Prof Carol Wagstaff (co-Director of HortQFLNet) was invited to speak at the September Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum policy conference on "Next steps for reducing food waste and plastic packaging - innovation and latest initiatives, responsibility and accountability, and priorities for policy.
She took part in a wider debate about plastics, making a the points that packaging has a role to play in reducing food loss and increasing postharvest shelf life and that plastic only really becomes an issue when it becomes litter.
She represented the network in a forum of policy makers, increasing awareness of the importance of postharvest biology when considering new policies on plastic bans.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020