Sustainable Intensification of UK plum production

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

Abstract

The food retail industry is experiencing increasing demand from consumers for UK grown fresh produce and would like to substitute imports with home produce. The demand for home grown plums cannot currently be met due to unreliable and
inefficient cropping systems. This collaborative project will develop integrated new technologies that will address the major existing production problems and limitations for fresh plums. The sustainable intensification of this horticultural crop will be achieved through integration of a high-density growing system with new rootstocks, varieties and manipulation of tree architecture for increased yield, coupled with protected cropping regimes and component technologies that will regulate crop load, fruit ripening and give significant season extension. This intensive and profitable growing system will enable UK growers to confidently invest in plum production, delivering substantial economic impact (>£10 m/yr) to the UK horticulture industry.

Technical Summary

The food retail industry is experiencing increasing demand from consumers for UK grown fresh produce and would like to substitute imports with home produce. The demand for home grown plums cannot currently be met due to unreliable and
inefficient cropping systems. This collaborative project will develop integrated new technologies that will address the major existing production problems and limitations for fresh plums. The sustainable intensification of this horticultural crop will be achieved through integration of a high-density growing system with new rootstocks, varieties and manipulation of tree architecture for increased yield, coupled with protected cropping regimes and component technologies that will regulate crop load, fruit ripening and give significant season extension. This intensive and profitable growing system will enable UK growers to confidently invest in plum production, delivering substantial economic impact (>£10 m/yr) to the UK horticulture industry.

Planned Impact

Beneficiaries of the outputs of this research will be the growers of tree fruit crops in the UK, the Producer and Marketing Organisations they supply and retailers and the UK economy as a whole. The UK plum industry is currently too small and in steep decline because of poor productivity and low profitability. This proposed project addresses the important UK horticulture industry challenge of making the profitability of UK plum production competitive with that of other tree fruit production systems so that the decline can be reversed and the UK industry can expand. Approximately 80,000 tonnes of plums valued at £60m are consumed annually in the UK, only about 15% of which are produced nationally. The UK market is undersupplied with UK produced fruit even in the main season (August-September) and there is considerable scope for import substitution. Some 20 years ago, national self-sufficiency was more than double the current level. The main underlying cause of the decline is the low returns UK growers obtain because of inadequate duration and lack of continuity of supply and variable, often poor, fruit quality, coupled with very variable and often low productivity of orchards. Good apple and cherry orchards return >£20,000/ha/annum, typically plums return < £3000/ha/season and often zero. Thus there is little incentive for UK growers to invest in new plum orchards because the vital tools for profitable plum production have not been developed. Moreover, UK plums are regarded by markets and consumers as a low value crop typically sold for £1-3/kg. Yet the UK plum can be a delicious eating experience, as good as or better than cherry (typically sold for £4-6/kg). Market and consumer perception of plum as a low value/low price crop is because of unreliable and variable taste and texture. In this project we will develop new intensive systems of plum production that will be financially attractive for UK growers to invest in. The aim will be to increase yields by >2 fold by optimised planting and tree management. We will develop integrated methods to regulate fruit load (frost protection, thinning) so that a larger fruit size can be guaranteed and bienniality reduced. We will extend the season so that the market is continually supplied with fresh product for 4 months rather than the current 2 months (August-September) and improve the uniformity of product size and eating quality, hence increasing the average selling price. Together these improvements will lead to a step change in the profitability of UK plum growing and incentivise the industry to expand. Our aim is to revitalise the UK plum industry in the same way. All the key weaknesses of current production methods will be addressed including short season, poor continuity of supply, variable cropping due to frosts or variable fruit set, low productivity, inadequate fruit size and variable fruit quality. There has been little planting of new plum orchards in the UK in the last 10-20 years. A high proportion of the current UK plum crop is produced in old orchards including many that are semi-abandoned. The variety Victoria predominates which floods the market for 2 weeks in August. There is no incentive for UK growers to plant plum orchards because they are far less profitable than those for other crops such as Gala apples and cherry. This research will create a new and expanding plum industry for the UK based on reliably supplying the market with high quality, higher value product for double the length of season. The productivity and profitability of plum production will be transformed and the sharp decline in the area of UK plum production reversed. Beyond the project, the leading innovator businesses in this project consortium will spearhead a larger profitable UK plum industry. In the medium to long term, we consider that the UK plum industry will be able to largely supply the UK market for up to 4 months per year and that >30% of plums sold nationally will be home produced.

Publications

10 25 50

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
BB/M028178/1 01/02/2015 31/01/2016 £696,005
BB/M028178/2 Transfer BB/M028178/1 01/02/2016 30/04/2019 £574,688
 
Description The food retail industry is experiencing increasing demand from consumers for UK grown fresh produce and would like to substitute imports with home produce. The demand for home grown plums cannot currently be met due to unreliable and inefficient cropping systems. This collaborative project developed integrated new technologies to address the major existing production problems and limitations for fresh plums. The sustainable intensification of this horticultural crop was achieved through integration of a high-density growing system with new rootstocks, varieties and manipulation of tree architecture for increased yield, coupled with protected cropping regimes and component technologies that will regulate crop load, fruit ripening and give significant season extension. This intensive and profitable growing system will enable UK growers to confidently invest in plum production, delivering substantial economic impact (>£10 m/yr) to the UK horticulture industry. A wide range of new horticultural methods for intensive, sustainable production of plum crops of high quality over a greatly extended season from early July to early October have been developed in the project. If these methods are implemented in commercial practice by UK tree fruit growers they will result in much more profitable plum production than existing methods. Existing methods have hitherto given at best marginal profitability resulting in a steeply declining UK industry which currently only produces about 14% of UK consumption with virtually no exports. The new methods are expected to lead to a turn-around in UK plum production which is likely to increase significantly. Key outputs/achievements of the project include:- • A new comprehensive data base of 23 plum varieties suitable for continuous, extended season cropping with varieties with peak production every week from early July to mid-October including cropping, growth and fruit quality attributes. New data on taste panel evaluation and chemical analyses of aroma and taste profiles and susceptibility to bacterial canker, a very
important disease of plum, resulting from work in the project is provided. • Two new high quality early season plum varieties fruiting the 1st and 2nd quarters of July, suitable for very early season production are being commercially released from the NIAB EMR breeding programme • New intensive production systems that are substantially more productive and profitable than existing methods including economic analyses of their performance in comparison to

standard production systems and how it affected by changes to inputs. The new production systems comprise the combined use of a more dwarfing rootstock(Wavit) (which does not adversely affect fruit size), intensive planting systems (>2500 trees per ha)narrow, tall tree architectures which maximise light interception and optimal agrochemical inputs and methods of tree management • An economic evaluation of the new intensive plum production systems in comparison with existing systems which shows a gross margin increase from £1250-7500/ha/yr . • An evaluation of winter chill requirements required to break dormancy, which showed that plums have lower winter chill requirements, and of spray treatments to alleviate it if required. • A temperature sum model to predict flowering of the most widely planted UK plum variety Victoria • An evaluation and appraisal of methods of blossom and fruitlet thinning, which are essential to reliable and profitable production • Methods of root pruning and the use of Plant Growth Regulators to manage tree vigour and orchard productivity • The use of protected
cropping to reduce frost damage, extend the season and reduce the incidence of important and highly damaging diseases including bacterial canker and brown and blossom rot. • The use of hyperspectral imaging to non- destructively determine fruit quality close to harvest has been developed, though not yet implemented into commercial practice.:
Exploitation Route The new methods have been made available to the UK growers though a comprehensive UK Plum Best Practice Guide (published on the NIAB EMR and AHDB website) integrating new improved horticultural methods develop in the project with existing best practice. The guide includes a data base of 23 high fruit quality varieties providing a variety with peak production for each week of an extended season (early July - mid-October) (including two new exceptionally early varieties being released from the NIAB EMR breeding programme as a result of the project), new intensive higher yielding and more profitable intensive orchard systems comprising new planting systems, tree architectures, utilising a less vigorous rootstock (which does not result in reduced fruit size), methods of tree training and management, blossom and fruit thinning, nutrition and disease management and economic analysis of plum orchard performance developed in the project. In addition, three new commercial research orchards, one on each of three commercial farms, each of >1 ha in area and two under protection, have been established in the last 6 months of the project one on each of the farms of the three grower partners in the project. These will allow ongoing research by growers and researchers beyond the project on three key aspects of UK plum production: 1) very early season production by using very early varieties grown under protection 2) the use of horticultural techniques (root pruning, PGRs) to induce more reliable cropping of very high fruit quality varieties which hitherto have not been profitable because of unreliability 3) very late season production in September and October, including the use of polytunnel protection to protect the fruit and reduce disease incidence. Additionally, a new research and demonstration orchard at NIAB EMR including a replicated comparison trial of the 23 preferred UK varieties, the two newly released very early varieties from the NIAB EMR breeding programme, the use of polytunnels to reduce disease incidence, a rootstock comparison trial and a strategic planting for demonstration of latest plum growing technologies. The AHDB Tree Fruit panel has agreed to support both logistically and financially an ongoing programme of research and technology transfer to UK growers beyond the project which will include visits by growers and agronomists to the commercial research orchards and regular presentations by host growers and scientists on the ongoing research and performance of the new research orchards. The best practice guide will be
updated regularly and financial support provided to assess the variety, tree architecture and protected cropping trials.

Strong external relationships with key UK growers in the plum industry and with RTO FAST have developed. New opportunities for future collaboration beyond the project are already in progress (3 new commercial research orchards, research/demonstration orchard at NIAB EMR, support from AHDB) as described above. The best practice guide and regular KT activities to be organised by AHDB over the next 5 or more years will be important drivers for exploitation.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

URL http://www.emr.ac.uk/projects/best-practice-guide-to-uk-plum-production/
 
Description New methods for intensive extended season UK plum production have been made available to the UK growers though a comprehensive UK Plum Best Practice Guide (published on the NIAB EMR website http://www.emr.ac.uk/projects/best-practice-guide-to-uk-plum-production/) integrating new improved horticultural methods develop in the project with existing best practice. The guide includes a data base of 23 high fruit quality varieties providing a variety with peak production for each week of an extended season (early July - mid-October) (including two new exceptionally early varieties being released from the NIAB EMR breeding programme as a result of the project), new intensive higher yielding and more profitable intensive orchard systems comprising new planting systems, tree architectures, utilising a less vigorous rootstock (which does not result in reduced fruit size), methods of tree training and management, blossom and fruit thinning, nutrition and disease management and economic analysis of plum orchard performance developed in the project. In addition, three new commercial research orchards, one on each of three commercial farms, each of >1 ha in area and two under protection, have been established in the last 6 months of the project one on each of the farms of the three grower partners in the project. These will allow ongoing research by growers and researchers beyond the project on three key aspects of UK plum production: 1) very early season production by using very early varieties grown under protection 2) the use of horticultural techniques (root pruning, PGRs) to induce more reliable cropping of very high fruit quality varieties which hitherto have not been profitable because of unreliability 3) very late season production in September and October, including the use of polytunnel protection to protect the fruit and reduce disease incidence. Additionally, a new research and demonstration orchard at NIAB EMR including a replicated comparison trial of the 23 preferred UK varieties, the two newly released very early varieties from the NIAB EMR breeding programme, the use of polytunnels to reduce disease incidence, a rootstock comparison trial and a strategic planting for demonstration of latest plum growing technologies. The AHDB Tree Fruit panel has agreed to support both logistically and financially an ongoing programme of research and technology transfer to UK growers beyond the project which will include visits by growers and agronomists to the commercial research orchards and regular presentations by host growers and scientists on the ongoing research and performance of the new research orchards. The best practice guide will be updated regularly and financial support provided to assess the variety, tree architecture and protected cropping trials. NIAB EMR has strengthened external relationships with key UK growers in the plum industry and with RTO FAST have developed. New opportunities for future collaboration beyond the project are already in progress (3 new commercial research orchards, research/demonstration orchard at NIAB EMR, support from AHDB) as described above. The best practice guide and regular KT activities to be organised by AHDB over the next 5 or more years will be important drivers for exploitation.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Economic

 
Description Innovate UK plum intensification Q13 consortium meeting 9 May 18 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Experimental investigation of varieties for extended season, tree architecture, management, rootstocks, varieties, protection, thinning, plant growth regulation, nutrition on plum productivity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Innovate UK plum intensification Q14 consortium meeting 8 Aug 18 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Experimental investigation of varieties for extended season, tree architecture, management, rootstocks, varieties, protection, thinning, plant growth regulation, nutrition on plum productivity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Innovate UK plum intensification Q15 consortium meeting 20 Nov 18 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Experimental investigation of varieties for extended season, tree architecture, management, rootstocks, varieties, protection, thinning, plant growth regulation, nutrition on plum productivity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Innovate UK plum intensification Q16 consortium meeting 19 Feb 19 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Experimental investigation of varieties for extended season, tree architecture, management, rootstocks, varieties, protection, thinning, plant growth regulation, nutrition on plum productivity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Innovate UK plum intensification project Business, Success and Growth meeting 14 May 19 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Business, Success and Growth meeting

Programme

Welcome and introductions (Dr Oliver Doubleday)
State of the UK plum industry including SWOT analysis (Tom Hulme)
Innovate UK call, project mission and objectives (Prof. Jerry Cross)
WP1: Tree architecture manipulation to maximise light interception and increase yield (Dr Julien Lecourt)
WP2: Preferred Varieties (Prof. Jerry Cross)
WP3: Component integrated methods
Frost protection, protected cropping (Dr Julien Lecourt)
Thinning (Dr Flora O'Brien)
Growth control (Tim Biddlecombe)
Non-destructive fruit quality assessment by hyperspectral imaging (Dr Bo Li)
Bacterial canker susceptibility (Dr Flora O'Brien)
WP4: Integrated extended-season, sustainable production (Prof. Jerry Cross)
WP5: Exploitation plans for improved plum production
Economic analysis (Tim Biddlecombe)
Best Practice Guide (Prof. Jerry Cross)
Ongoing R&D and KE beyond the project (Prof. Jerry Cross)
Overview of accomplished mission and thanks (Dr Oliver Doubleday)
Monitoring Officer's report and discussion

Visits to research orchards
Tree architecture/rootstocks trial, FAST, Brogdale Farm
Research orchard, G H Dean, Hempstead Farm, Bapchild, ME9 9BH
Research orchard A C Hulme, Hoaden Court, Ash, CT3 2LG
Research orchard S W Highwood, Sheerland Farm, Pluckley, TN27 0PN
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Plum intensification Q10 consortium meeting 12 July 17 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Experimental investigation of tree architecture, management, rootstocks, varieties, protection, thinning, plant growth regulation, nutrition on plum productivity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Plum intensification Q11 consortium meeting 16 Nov 17 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Experimental investigation of tree architecture, management, rootstocks, varieties, protection, thinning, plant growth regulation, nutrition on plum productivity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Plum intensification Q12 consortium meeting 29 Jan 18 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Experimental investigation of tree architecture, management, rootstocks, varieties, protection, thinning, plant growth regulation, nutrition on plum productivity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Plum intensification Q5 consortium meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Experimental investigation of tree architecture, management, rootstocks, varieties, protection, thinning, plant growth regulation, nutrition on plum productivity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Plum intensification Q6 consortium meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Experimental investigation of tree architecture, management, rootstocks, varieties, protection, thinning, plant growth regulation, nutrition on plum productivity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Plum intensification Q7 consortium meeting 24 Nov 16 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Experimental investigation of tree architecture, management, rootstocks, varieties, protection, thinning, plant growth regulation, nutrition on plum productivity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Plum intensification Q8 consortium meeting 20 Feb 17 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Experimental investigation of tree architecture, management, rootstocks, varieties, protection, thinning, plant growth regulation, nutrition on plum productivity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Plum intensification Q9 consortium meeting 8 May 17 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Experimental investigation of tree architecture, management, rootstocks, varieties, protection, thinning, plant growth regulation, nutrition on plum productivity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017