The two Strategic Centres for ornamental crops act as an umbrella for a range of near market projects, decided upon by the grower steering group of each project. The centres host a range of small-scale trials along with extensive knowledge exchange programmes including open days, workshops, study tours, publications and website and social media output. They act as a hub for industry to facilitate networking and encourage best practice.
Cut Flower Centre (CFC)
New product development (NPD) in terms of new plant species with potential as UK-grown seasonal cut flowers has been a key part of the CFC programme remit since its inception, and over the years a wide range of plant species have been investigated in an attempt to identify new seasonal products. NPD involves discussion with industry and reviews of published work to ascertain plant species with potential, trialling at the CFC with feedback from growers, and product submission to packers for assessment and evaluation. From this work a number of species have shown promise including hardy cut foliage (a group of different hardy plant species grown for stems, leaves and berries), ornamental grasses, seed-raised fillers (including species such as Ammi majus and A. visnaga, Anthriscus sylvestris, Bupleurum, Carthamus, Cosmos, Dill, Euphorbia and Ridolfia) and Scabious.
Another CFC success story was the work on downy mildew on column stocks. Following widespread incidences of the disease in the UK and Europe, growers were finding the disease problematic to control. Following a series of sensitivity tests on various fungicides, it was found that the pathogen was tolerant to products containing metalaxyl-M, and spray programmes were adjusted accordingly via detailed recommendations within ‘Maintaining successful control of downy mildew in protected crops of cut flower column stocks’. Growers have since brought the disease back under control.
Work has been ongoing for many years to resolve the issue of Fusarium in column stocks. The disease can cause severe crop losses and soil steam sterilisation used to control it is expensive. Several approaches have been taken, including assessing a wide range of column stocks varieties for their susceptibility to the disease, soil treatments with physical ameliorants and biopesticides and even the more extreme approach of assessing the potential of growing crops out of the soil. Unfortunately a resolution hasn’t been found yet, but as it’s a key crop for UK growers work continues.
Evaluation work over several years has assessed new herbicide products in the cultivation of China aster, gladioli, larkspur, peony and sweet william, and new herbicide products and tank mixes have been identified.
Bedding and Pot Plant Centre (BPPC)
Recent work at the BPPC and in other AHDB funded projects has centred on growth control in crops. Several plant growth regulator products commonly used by industry have now been withdrawn or their approvals amended to reduce rates or the frequency of application. To address this issue in the short term, trials have been undertaken on bedding plants and poinsettias to identify other potential products which can be used, highlighting the product Terpal (ethephon + mepiquat chloride) when applied as spray to crops.
Longer term, work is being carried out on regulated deficit irrigation (PO 022), a technique to manage the level of irrigation applied to a crop, to create a controlled stress and manage crop growth. Work is determining when and for how long to apply the stress, pulling together the necessary equipment and procedures to monitor moisture levels in substrate to provide practical guidance to make the technique work in commercial crops.
Phytotoxicity trials, linked to the work within SCEPTREplus, have evaluated the safety of five fungicide (Frupica FC, Karma, Reflect, Sercadis and Topas), each having recently obtained an EAMU for use on ornamental crops, over five different bedding plant species, to provide confidence in their use in commercial crops.
To exploit potential marketing windows during March and early April, work was carried out to force a number of herbaceous species into flower early to generate impulse sales as pack or 9cm pot product. Blueprint programmes were designed to bring plants into flower with the minimum of inputs (either heat or cold storage) and success was achieved with a number including Campanula, Geum, Scabiosa and Silene.