Sainsbury’s awarded two of its six annual R&D grants to fresh produce projects in the top fruit and vining pea industries.
Kent top-fruit supplier AC Goatham was awarded funding to look at simplifying packaging and improving presentation in the top fruit category. The project aims to answer the question ‘Is there is a packaging solution that looks good, increases volume and is flexible yet resilient enough to enable utilising the crop within the quality tiers?'.
Frozen pea producer Pinguin and precision agronomy company AgSpace Agriculture won the second produce grant, with a project that will use data from 10 Lincolnshire pea growers to assess soil type and stone risk, to reduce crop damage using biomass imagery.
Data will be fed into an app, which will then provide information to growers to allow a proactive crop damage programme, yield forecasting and interaction between growers.
The grants were announced at Sainsbury’s Farming Conference 2014, held in Bedfordshire on Friday (5 December).
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the applications from our farmers and growers,” said Sainsbury’s head of agriculture, Sue Lockhart. “It shows that British farming is thriving with ideas. As we work towards a more sustainable and efficient agricultural industry in the UK we anticipate the big data projects will support everyone from farmers to customers by offering insight and ideas.”
The event on Friday 5 December also included an update on the Research and Development projects that were awarded funding last year and in 2012.
An audience of around 650 Sainsbury's suppliers also heard from one of last year’s R&D grant winners, Brian Edwards of Berries Direct, who received funding from the Agri Tech Strategy, as well as Sainsbury’s, to look at varietal selection to better match substrate growing systems.
“This is the first time we’ve tried to find a variety to suit the substrate we are using. Over four years it will cost £1million – commercial partners are putting in £250,000 and Agri Tech is investing £750,000, so it’s a sizeable commitment to a very innovative project.,” he said.
Edwards said one of the key benefits of receiving the Sainsbury’s support is to give the project credibility, which in turn gave it enough prominence to gain public agri tech funding.
New scholarship programme for all ages
Sainsbury’s has unveiled a new scholarship programme for anyone within the agri industries, and which will be delivered in conjunction with Imperial College.
The scheme, which is now open for entries and is designed for applicants of any age, has the theme ‘Soil health and management’.
Applications close at the end of January and the course is due to start by Easter 2015.
Sainsbury’s launched its pilot apprenticeship scheme last year with its first intake of eight apprentices placed in seven of the retailer’s fresh produce suppliers.