Editor's comment - Sustainable story behind polytunnels still needs to be told

The crucial role that polytunnels have played in turning the soft fruit sector into not just a production horticulture success story but a UK-wide business success story is reasonably well understood now outside horticulture.

But less well publicised outside the industry is the role they are playing in aiding more sustainable production practices - a role that continues to grow thanks to innovations being driven forward by suppliers. Grower of the Year Awards edibles winner LM Porter is a case in point. The farm, based in Arbroath on the exposed east coast of Scotland, trialled and developed its own tunnel system, enabling it to significantly extend the strawberry and raspberry growing seasons. Importantly, it also gave the business the ability to manage the growing environment, allowing new reduced pesticide and pesticide-free techniques to be introduced for the production of its Good Natured Fruit - now branded and released onto supermarket shelves as well as participating in environmental schemes.

Meanwhile, as we report in our look at developments in polytunnel technology on page 29, thanks to significant advances in areas such as polymer research, there are many more benefits that have come on stream - or are on the horizon - with film's optical characteristics of particular interest.

Research is about to start looking at the affect of ultraviolet light in degrading pesticide residues. Meanwhile, film that blocks UV light rather than allowing it through fully is already being used in pest control because some insects avoid UV-blocked environments. Other developments already available include the use of a polymer that alters the ratio of red to far red light, removing the mechanism that can promote elongation and hence reducing or eliminating the need for chemical growth regulators.

Regular Grower kit writer Roger Cheshire concludes: "There would therefore seem to be an exciting future for 'green horticulture' using polymers." As that future unfolds, alongside other innovations in the field, we must ensure that the sustainability story of polytunnel technology is one that is being told just as frequently as polytunnels' impact on the production cycle.

Kate Lowe, editor. Email: kate.lowe@haymarket.com

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