Growers, researchers use new sensor technology to try to boost tomato yields

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Sensors are being installed in tomatoes by growers in the Isle of Wight and Yorkshire as researchers hope to determine the water balance in those plants and the extent of crop losses.

Reseachers and growers, through the Innovative Farmers network, have already started the trials into beef tomato and piccolo. They are continuing this experimentation in cherry tomatoes throughout February, the first time that such an endeavor is being done with sap flow and stem diameter sensors

The hope is that this research will not only gauge potential losses in these plants but to utlilize those efforts in helping protect others such as peppers, cucumbers and soft fruit, and other annual and perennial crops.

So far, the results of the early trials have given some indication of loss and how it might be occurring.

“We've already learnt a lot," said Brian Moralee, field lab coordinator and grower manager at APS Produce. "Just a couple of weeks in, we noticed that removing the night screen too quickly was causing leaf tip scorch – our theory is that the shock of cooler air caused the stomata to close and reduced transpiration. So we slowed down the removal of the screen and are seeing less leaf scorch. If it can work commercially and environmentally, we’ll have a fantastic result.”

The ultimate goal, researchers say, is to understand the extent to which water balance can play a part in improving efficiency. By targeting how and why the water losses happen, they can adjust greenhouse conditions. The network notes the cost of fruit splitting and blossom end rot to be nearly 10% of total yield. Preventing that for APS, could mean improvements in efficiency, as well as the longevity at retail for consumers.

With six growers taking part at three sites, the trial is expected to last until the end of the season in November. Researchers and growers say they plan to share their findings with other growers at industry events and on the Innovative Farmers website.

“By matching the latest monitoring technology with the expert observational knowledge that growers carry with them every day, this research hopes to lead the way in terms of optimising the growing environment for greenhouse plants," said Kate Pressland programme manager. "Working with growers to enable them to use relevant, accessible technologies for supporting their everyday decisions, is a practical way to fast track innovation and increase resilience on-farm.”

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