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Teagasc publishes latest horticulture research

Teagasc research publication highlights work being done on mushrooms, strawberries, integrated crop protection and cut foliage

Teagasc has published the latest issue of TResearch which highlighted recent research in the horticulture sector



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18 October 2015


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”.

Four key areas examined in the publication include: mushrooms, strawberries, integrated crop protection and cut foliage. 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”.

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”.

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.

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.

According to Teagasc scientific research will be one of the key drivers of the knowledge-based economy in Ireland in the future. The need for effective communication of research and the promotion of science is more important than ever, if young people are to be attracted to study science and to pursue a career in research. TResearch aims to disseminate to a wider audience some of the important scientific work being undertaken in Teagasc and in other collaborating research institutions.

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