IMPROVING ENERGY EFFICIENCY IN PROTECTED CROPPING BY EXPLOITING PLANT RESPONSES TO SOLAR ULTRAVIOLET RADIATION

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Lancaster Environment Centre

Abstract

Horticulture, the production of fresh fruit, vegetables, salads etc, is often overlooked in discussions of food security yet is vital to avoid hidden hunger due to shortage of micro-nutrients. Delivering a year-round supply of fresh produce for N Europe involves local crops produced in heated glasshouses, or crops imported from the Mediterranean basin and beyond. In either case, energy is a major commercial constraint (costs and C footprint) and any technology that reduces energy use is immediately attractive, commercially and environmentally. This project addresses this energy challenge in protected cropping by delivering fundamental insights into a newly recognized crop response to the ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight.

Previous research at Lancaster contributed to the development of new UV-transparent (UV-T) crop-covers used in protected crops. Growers using UV-T cladding report that crops mature earlier than under conventional cladding, and they attribute this to the crop being warmer under UV-T covers. We have tested this and shown for the first time that additional UV exposure within a physiologically relevant range results in small but significant increases (0.5-1.7C) in leaf temperature. This is caused by UV decreasing stomatal conductance and transpirational cooling, thereby warming the leaves. This CASE studentship will investigate this effect of UV on crop temperature in a range of commercial protected crops, both fruit crops (e.g. strawberry, tomato, pepper, cucumber) and leafy crops (e.g. basil, coriander, lettuce, rocket). The student will go on to investigate in selected crops whether UV during the day also affects crop temperature at night, and whether effects are confined to leaves, or also occur in other tissues.

Arid's commercial assessment is that objective scientific evidence that UV-T covers leads to increased crop temperature would be highly attractive to growers, especially for early and late crops in the Mediterranean rim. The new understanding obtained through the project will also inform the design of new energy saving claddings. In the longer term, this understanding may also allow improved energy use in crops lit by LEDs.

The project will start at Lancaster (Years 1 & 2) studying temperature and physiological responses in a range of crops (as above). During Years 3 or 4 the student will spend at least six months placement at Arid's base in Antalya, Turkey. We believe an international dimension is essential for understanding the complexities of modern commercial protected crop management. Also, the impact from this project will most likely be applied most quickly in the environments like Turkey, where any temperature benefit would be a major commercial advantage for UK-manufactured UV-transparent plastics.

This collaboration between Arid Agritec and LEC provides an immediate opportunity to field test academic findings at commercial field sites. The collaboration also provide the student with a unique opportunity to undertaken research across the range of scales (laboratory, glasshouse, field) and different research environments, and with an obvious, immediate route to exploitation.

The student will have contact with a range of agri-business professionals, including growers, technicians, consultants and supply chain personnel. Such interactions will ensure the student understands the needs of the industry, and provide training in business strategy. That understanding will be underpinned at Lancaster by formal skills training consistent with the Researcher Development Statement developed by Vitae. The student will also benefit from a supervisory team (Prof Nigel Paul and Dr Ian Dodd at Lancaster, Dr Jason Moore at Arid) with a total of 60 years research experience in plant science across the academic-commercial spectrum. These are important contexts for the development of the student's wider skills base as well as for the successful commercialization of their research.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M017109/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2019
1653788 Studentship BB/M017109/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2019 Tom Williams