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Harnessing Innovation in Horticulture – special issue of TResearch marking new developments at Teagasc Ashtown

Harnessing Innovation in Horticulture - The autumn issue of TResearch, Teagasc’s research and innovation magazine, is dedicated to ‘Harnessing Innovation in Horticulture’ specially produced to mark the relocation of Teagasc’s Horticulture Development Department, to its new state-of-the-art facilities at Teagasc’s Ashtown Research Centre in Dublin. Dermot Callaghan, the newly appointed Head of Teagasc’s Horticulture Development Department: says “This special issue of TResearch focuses on the technologies that will help horticultural businesses to increase scale and efficiency and to overcome the challenges of a highly competitive and complex market place at both national and international level. The Teagasc Horticulture Development Department, which supports the sector, is responding to this more specialised and capital intensive sector through its targeted research activities”.

Advances in mushroom science

The Irish mushroom industry is among the best in the world as it continually strives for excellence and efficiency. However, despite having high levels of production and engineering controls, pathogens can still cause problems. Dr Helen Grogan, Teagasc researcher explains: “Since the late 1990s new virus diseases with serious economic consequences have been a sporadic problem for the mushroom industry across Europe”. Similarly, recent outbreaks of Trichoderma green mould, highlighted gaps in our knowledge on how the mould develops and spreads within modern technologically-advanced systems. Collaborative research across Europe (MushTV) has identified a complex of 19 different mushroom viruses, sixteen of them new to science, as well as identifying how mechanization of compost handling exacerbates Trichoderma green mould. “These important results have advanced our knowledge of potential threats to the sector and have provided the industry with important information to combat them,” she explains.

Integrating crop protection

As of January 2014, all growers are required by law to grow crops in a manner that is complimentary to the principles of integrated pest management (IPM), which means that crop protection decisions should be considered in a prioritised order by examining firstly physical solutions, then cultural, biological and finally chemical. Teagasc researcher Michael Gaffney explains: “In Ireland, the comparative lack of access to plant protection products, coupled with increasing regulation and public opinion has led to innovative practices being developed to combat pest, disease and weed problems”. Many growers now use mesh covers to protect young crops from insect damage, or introduce beneficial insects into glasshouses that prey on undesirable pests such as aphids and whitefly. Michael Gaffney says: “While these systems are robust, there is a continual need to work on integrating them into the entire agronomic strategy”.

Precision irrigation for strawberries

The Irish strawberry sector continues to be one of the most challenging, rewarding and profitable sectors of Irish horticulture. Teagasc’s soft fruit specialist Eamonn Kehoe says: “The industry is continually searching for innovative ways to improve efficiency and productivity on the farm and more precise control systems are being developed with this in mind”. Precision irrigation control systems are a new technology to improve water-use efficiency. They are based on sensors that are wired to a data logger and a portable PC that continually measure moisture levels in the growing substrate, and call for irrigation once the moisture level in the substrate drops to a specific set point. “The use of more powerful algorithms in control systems and the use of ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI) in such systems could become more commonplace in the future,” says Eamonn Kehoe.

Innovative plants for cut foliage

Worldwide demand for cut foliage, the decorative branches cut from a wide variety of trees, shrubs and perennials for use in bouquets and flower arrangements, is increasing and the prospects for continued expansion of the small Irish industry for export markets are very good. Andy Whelton, Teagasc’s ornamentals specialist says: “Buyers and customers are constantly looking for innovative new products displaying different textures, colours and scents for a discerning and competitive market”. Current research involves screening and evaluating a wide range of ornamental plants to identify potentially interesting ‘new’ foliage lines. “The first commercial plantings of a long stemmed scented Rosemary species will take place in 2016 for use in an innovative scented bouquet range” explains Andy Whelton.

The Autumn issue of TResearch is available online at: https://www.teagasc.ie/publications/ and will be officially launched at the All Ireland and UK Mushroom Conference, which takes place on October 15th and 16th at the Hillgrove Hotel in Monaghan.