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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.

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.

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
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