Higher yields targeted in soil-less strawberries

Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and plant growth promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) in soil-less strawberry production can boost yields while consuming fewer resources, according to a three-year Innovate UK-funded research project underway at Kent's East Malling Research.

The study is being led by post-doctoral researcher Dr Louisa Robinson-Boyer, who also works for Kent-based PlantWorks, manufacturer of the AMF-based product Rootgrow. She told the Agrovista Fruit Seminar in Kent earlier his year that earlier trials showed AMF inoculation benefited strawberry plants' growth, yield and drought tolerance, saying "an average 10-20 per cent increase in class one fruit in coir substrate, using commercial fertigation", has been observed, while previous trials have also shown that crops also require 40 per cent less irrigation.

Until recently, PlantWorks had mainly supplied the home gardening market, but now commercial growers are noting the benefits of AMF and industry trials are under way. Researchers at the University of Sheffield are working with drinks industry partners Heineken and the National Association of Cider Makers to find out how microbial diversity in the soil affects apple production, using an orchard established for the purpose.

However, studies showing increased vigour from AMF in apple tree rootstocks go back to the 1990s, said Robinson-Boyer. She told cider apple growers at a second Agrovista event in Herefordshire: "A mature apple tree can have five miles (8km) of roots and you can increase the active area 700 times with AMF." She added: They also provide stabilisation and can help with waterlogging. You can post-inoculate with AMF, but it's better to do it at planting."

Agrovista senior fruit agronomist Paul Bennett said: "It's worth re-applying at planting even if it's on the tree's roots from the nursery. It's not expensive and very easy to use, and you get really good results." Robinson-Boyer added: "You can't overdose the tree."


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