The UK agricultural sector is witnessing a significant transformation with the creation of a new network of post-harvest research facilities.
This initiative follows the downsizing of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and the closure of the Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research.
The Crop Storage and Post-harvest Solutions (CSPS) network, spanning three strategic locations, is a collaborative effort involving ADAS, Crop Health and Protection (CHAP), the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) at the University of Greenwich, and the James Hutton Institute (JHI).
Professor Sheryl Hendriks, Director of NRI, emphasised the importance of this development, stating, “In order to protect food supply chains and minimise food waste it is vital that resources for research to improve crop handling and storage are fit for purpose. This cannot be covered by an individual organisation but requires a strong national network.”
The CSPS facilities are equipped to simulate various supply chain environments and precisely control key storage conditions like temperature, humidity, and atmospheric composition. The research will initially focus on areas such as pre- and post-harvest monitoring, supply chain tracking, energy-efficient store management, automation, potato sprout suppressant technologies, and sustainable packaging materials.
Professor Derek Stewart, Director of the Advanced Plant Growth Centre (APGC) at The James Hutton Institute, highlighted the often-overlooked importance of crop storage research, saying, “Crop storage research is always the Cinderella of the food supply chain research portfolio, despite the fact that it underpins the whole thing: we don’t eat all that we harvest immediately and so need to store many crops.”
The CSPS network aims to bolster food supply chain resilience by addressing challenges like food waste reduction, extending shelf-life, and optimising the food value chain from production to retail.
Future research will also delve into developing sensors and bio-indicators for produce quality management, innovative methods for microbial decay control, and understanding the biological factors affecting food storage and shelf-life.