£150k potato storage fellowship cultivates fruit research

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Capitalising on work from the horticulture sector, Dr Richard Colgan, leading post-harvest physiologist at the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), aims to improve the delivery timing of potato crops into the UK retail and processing sector in one of three AHDB Potatoes awarded fellowships.

“Storage is key to potato production in Great Britain. Over 3.25 million tonnes are stored every year and crops can spend as long in the store as they do in the ground,” explained Dr Colgan. “It is therefore critical to ensure that the storage phase is cost-effective for businesses and delivers the quality that markets and consumers demand, at the right time.”

Using innovative apparatus and expertise from the fruit sector, the three year programme will investigate the effects of mineral nutrition on the storage behaviour of tubers. Specifically, the work will examine resistance to senescent and low temperature sweetening, alongside the impact of respiration and diffusion characteristics on the long-term storage potential of tubers. The study hopes to improve the assessment of tuber maturity at the point of harvest, which will enable better forward planning for delivery of stored potato crops into the retail and processing sectors.

“Another important aspect of the work will be securing a UK community of fresh produce storage research skills for the future,” noted Dr Colgan. “So naturally I’m thrilled to be awarded this fellowship giving me the chance to invest my knowledge of potato post-harvest physiology and biochemistry, starting with early career scientist Cláudia Gonçalves da Silva Carvalho.”

Currently completing her AHDB funded PhD thesis on ‘Senescent Sweetening of Potatoes’ , Ms Carvalho, already with strong links across the UK potato sector, will initially undertake short placements within industry before commencing an 18 month postdoctoral position in the second half of the Fellowship.

Maximising the value of collaboration in science, Dr Colgan, of the Produce Quality Centre (an NRI partnership with East Malling Research), will also receive support from AHDB Potatoes and their dedicated research and advisory facility, Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research (SBCSR).

Expert inputs will come from SBCSR’s specialist team members Dr Glyn Harper and Adrian Briddon, along with Adrian Cunnington, head of the Sutton Bridge facility. “Storage needs to be viable, efficient and cost-effective,” said Mr Cunnington. “We should take advantage of the opportunities for cross-over of experience and techniques utilised between the top-fruit sector and the potato industry.

On how the project will deliver to the industry, Mr Cunnington added, “Potatoes coming out of storage have to meet specific customer quality levels or else be threatened with rejection. Having the ability to identify and assess threats and predict what happens next in storage helps growers to make the right choices to keep tuber quality consistent; and this project will bring forward the ability to make those decisions.”

Building on his work to date around apples in stores and finalising the network of expertise, Dr Colgan announced, “We will be collaborating with ICA Ltd, UK-based experts in cold store facilities, testing a novel piece of equipment, the SafePod. Primarily designed for apples in Controlled Atmosphere (CA) storage, we’re confident it can be applied to study tuber respiration in stores and will be a valuable tool in our programme of research.”

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