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 fo 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

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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 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 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