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CleanFruit - Standardisation of innovative pest control strategies to produce zero residue fruit for baby food and other fruit produce

CleanFruit - Standardisation of innovative pest control strategies to produce zero residue fruit for baby food and other fruit produce

Fruit crop protection is heavily dependent on chemical pesticides but consumers and fruit processors are increasingly interested residue-free fruit. 

Fruit crop protection is heavily reliant on synthetic chemical pesticides, which can have unwanted side effects on the environment and can leave residues that are perceived to have potential health risks for the producers and consumers. Fruit quality and safety could therefore benefit from crop protection strategies that result in pesticide-free produce.

The CleanFruit project aims to design and promote a crop protection strategy to produce zero-residue (ZeR) fruit. The strategy is based on using new and existing biological pesticides (i.e. beneficials and microbials), commercial pollinators, and innovative pest detection tools.  A holistic approach permits the evaluation of the impact of innovative and sustainable crop protection strategies on pest control, pollination, yield, costs, post-harvest quality and health of fruit, storage and processing. During 2020, sustainable and innovative prevention, monitoring and control tools are being trialled in commercial fields of strawberry and apple in Italy and Spain.  These will be repeated in 2021 along with field trials in the UK and the Netherlands.

Farmer acceptance of the new technologies and the consumer acceptance of both the technologies and zero residue fruit will be analysed. The results of the study will be disseminated to farmers, consumers and other stakeholders of the fruit value-chain. Intended outcomes include a standardised but flexible pest control package that supports zero-residue crop production, which has been tested for delivery of clean crops, grower and consumer acceptance and wider ecological, economic and social benefits.

CleanFruit Project

Development of CleanFruit strategy protocols

The CleanFruit research team includes partners from Italy, Spain, Netherlands and the UK.

The group includes researchers from the University of Torino, Italy, and the University of Reading, UK, providing scientific support and expertise in plant pathology, entomology, crop protection, pollination and consumer and farmer acceptance. Koppert develops and supplies sustainable strategies and products for crop protection that will be used in strawberry and apple production.

Also involved are growers of apple and strawberry crops, and the processors of the fruit. Grupo AN is trialling the CleanFruit approaches in its own orchards. There are also farmers in Italy taking part in 2020, who will be joined by those from the UK and the Netherlands in 2021. Companies Döhler and Givaudan process fruit and produce strawberry- and apple-based juices, flavours and aromas, free from pesticide residues, and they will conduct tests to evaluate the quality of the fruit from this research.

The CleanFruit approach is to bring the knowledge of these diverse groups together to work on a set of protocols which are flexible, sustainable and environmentally friendly. They will provide an effective crop protection strategy to monitor pests and diseases, putting effective natural controls in place, and provide good pollination services to produce quality fruit with zero residues (ZeR).

Pilot field testing

Pilot farms have been identified in Italy, Spain, UK and the Netherlands. Trials were due to begin at locations within each country in 2020, but due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, the trials have been limited. Field tests started in Italy and Spain​ during 2020 on both strawberries and apples, and in 2021 these will be repeated in Italy as well as trialled in the UK and the Netherlands.

Strawberry field trials have taken place in polytunnels in Italy for 2020. Plant pathogens and arthropods have been monitored at regular intervals throughout the fruit growing seasons, identifying diseases such as botrytis fruit rot, and any pest outbreaks including spider mite and aphids. Within the CleanFruit strategy test plots the growers were provided with appropriate biological control products. Control polytunnels were also in place, where fruit was grown using conventional methods, including synthetic chemical sprays. Meteorological data and phenological development stages of the crop were assessed when products were applied.

Strawberry polytunnel Botrytis on Strawberry

Apple trials have also been taking place throughout the year in Italy and Spain, and will be repeated in Italy, UK and the Netherlands in 2021. Similar measures to those in strawberries have been taken to reduce effects of apple pests and diseases within those orchards, with direct comparisons to be made between the CleanFruit strategy trial plots and conventional orchards. On apple, the CleanFruit strategy is also compared with an organic approach.

Fruit processing and quality​

When the strawberries are harvested, yield (e.g. mass and size) is compared between the conventional and Cleanfruit strategy study plots. Fruit quality from both treatments in the strawberry trials is tested, including acidity levels, sugar content, fruit firmness, and post-harvest rot, plus storage quality and processing effects. Strawberries harvested in Italy in 2020 were sent to Givaudan for analysis, and Strawberry puree will be generated for sensory, analytical quality and pesticide residue analysis to compare results between the two different treatments.

Acidity testing in strawberries

Apple harvest occurs later in the year, but similar tests will be done on the different treatments to compare quality and yield.

Sustainability performance and farmer take up

Sustainable means for pest and crop disease protection should have a reduced impact on humans, beneficial organisms and ecosystems, with zero pesticide residues in the fruit.

Economic sustainability and acceptability will be quantified using online surveys for growers and consumers, and telephone interviews with growers participating in the field trials. A shortened survey will be sent to a wider group of growers, including those participating in virtual open days, to assess the attitudes in the wider community. These surveys will help to evaluate the acceptability of the CleanFruit strategy to growers and consumers.

Project impact

Therefore, CleanFruit should provide;

  • A sustainable way to grow fruit without relying on pesticides
  •  Fruit production with a reduced environmental impact
  •  Fruit free from pesticides for the consumer

Grower Guides: Apples

As part of our research project, we are conducting growers’ trials of apple production systems that leave zero pesticide residues, by controlling pests and diseases using biological pesticides and innovative pest detection tools. We would like to invite you to our free Virtual Open Day for Growers on Thursday 15th October 2020. We will present the strategies being used and growers’ experiences so far, with a question and answer session at the end. 

Virtual Open Day – 15th October 2020

Are you interested in growing apples without resorting to use of synthetic chemicals to control pests and diseases? Do you want to find out more?

Sign up for our FREE Virtual Open Day, taking part on 15th October 2020 to hear more about this innovative project and how it could help you. There will be a selection of presentations to listen to that will explain the strategy this project is developing, and a question and answer session at the end.

The session will be in English. It will be approximately 2 hours long and will begin at 9:30am (UK time) 10:30 CEST.

Follow this link to sign up for the day https://forms.gle/kfE4ijciRJE45fjT8

We will be in touch nearer to the day to confirm more details.

Grower Survey

Part of our project is to better understand growers’ interest and attitudes towards pest management methods that leave zero pesticide residues on fruit. Would you be willing to complete a short questionnaire (10-15 minutes) on your experiences and attitudes towards pest management? This would help us with our research.

You can find the online questionnaire at the following link: Survey: Fruit Grower Attitudes Towards Zero Residue Pest Management Approaches

Grower Guides: Strawberries

As part of our research project, we are conducting growers’ trials of strawberry production systems that leave zero pesticide residues, by controlling pests and diseases using biological pesticides and innovative pest detection tools. We would like to invite you to our free Virtual Open Day for Growers on Thursday 15th October 2020. We will present the strategies being used and growers’ experiences so far, with a question and answer session at the end. 

Virtual Open Day – 15th October 2020

Are you interested in growing strawberries without resorting to use of synthetic chemicals to control pests and diseases? Do you want to find out more?

Sign up for our FREE Virtual Open Day, taking part on 15th October 2020 to hear more about this innovative project and how it could help you. There will be a selection of presentations to listen to that will explain the strategy this project is developing, and a question and answer session at the end.

The session will be in English. It will be approximately 2 hours long and will begin at 9:30am (UK time) 10:30 CEST.

Follow this link to sign up for the day https://forms.gle/kfE4ijciRJE45fjT8

We will be in touch nearer to the day to confirm more details.

Grower Survey

Part of our project is to better understand growers’ interest and attitudes towards pest management methods that leave zero pesticide residues on fruit. Would you be willing to complete a short questionnaire (10-15 minutes) on your experiences and attitudes towards pest management? This would help us with our research.

You can find the online questionnaire at the following link: Survey: Fruit Grower Attitudes Towards Zero Residue Pest Management Approaches

Project Background

Conventional approaches to the protection of fruit from pests are heavily reliant on synthetic chemical pesticides, which can have unwanted side effects on the environment (e.g. surface and ground water contamination, adverse effects on soil fertility and contamination of air, soil and non-target vegetation and organisms), and leave residues on the fruits that present potential or perceived health risks for producers and consumers. Today’s consumers are becoming more vocal about their desire for sustainable means of pest control that maintains a healthy and productive agriculture system.

Integrated pest management (IPM) and organic agriculture use pest management strategies to reduce synthetic pesticide use and their negative side effects. IPM employs the use of all appropriate pest management options (biological, cultural and mechanical techniques), to try to minimise the use of synthetic pesticides. Whilst organic food production relies on many of the same techniques to prevent crop losses, it restricts the use of pesticides to those that are produced from natural sources, as opposed to synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.  Both IPM and organic agriculture can significantly decrease the levels of synthetic pesticide residues on or in food products, while maintaining crop yield and profitability.

Consumers are calling for “cleaner” foods without pesticide residues, especially in more sensitive products such as baby food. In the European market most crop products from conventional farming systems contain measurable residues of at least one synthetic pesticide. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) 77.4% of strawberries and 63.5% of apples tested in 2016 contained residues of at least one pesticide. Multiple residues were found in 67.7% of strawberries and 41.8% of apples. Whilst organic crops offer lower residue levels, these are still frequently detected on a significant proportion of organic products. For example, in 2016 EFSA reported that residues were found on 16.9% of organic produce. Certified organic produce is experiencing growing demand, but remains a luxury, excluding large parts of the population due to high product prices. Additionally, the organic certification covers additional factors that a consumer driven by a desire to buy residue-free produce might not be willing or able to pay for (e.g. responsible use of energy and natural resources, maintenance of biodiversity, enhancement of soil fertility, maintenance of water quality and animal welfare).

The CleanFruit approach uses a combination of IPM and organic agriculture practices, with the aim of reducing pesticide residue levels in the crops below the level of detection by the end of the growing season. This includes the use of cultural & biological pesticides and other non-conventional methods instead, alongside minimal early season use of non-synthetic chemical pesticides to protect the plants from pests and diseases during crop development. Key features of this system include the implementation of a management program, alongside rigorous and constant crop monitoring. Biological control is a central element in IPM and ZeR strategies which helps to reduce or eliminate pesticide residues by controlling pests and plant diseases using other organisms.

Strawberry harvest Apples

Partners

The following partners are involved in the project

University of Turin
KOPPERT
University of Reading
DOEHLER
Grupo AN S.Coop
Givaudan

Project Lead

Davide Carmelo Spadaro
Institution

University of Turin

Contact details

davide.spadaro@unito.it

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