A more sustainable and eco-conscious method of treating vegetable seeds is the focus of a multi-partner research project involving one of the UK’s largest seed producers and Bangor University.
Tozer Seeds have linked up with the University’s Biocomposites Centre to develop alternative seed treatments which are aiming to control disease as well as improve suitable characteristics for germination and crop establishment.
The 18-month project, funded via the UK Government’s Farming Innovation Pathways programme, will see celery, parsnip, and coriander seeds treated with lasers and natural bioactive compounds.
The strategies are aiming to not only disinfect seeds of disease-causing pathogens, which can lead to large volumes of wasted crops, but improve the rate of germination, seeding establishment, growth rate, and crop yield.
Bangor University’s Biocomposites Centre has assisted the development of the proposed treatments, with an initial focus on optimising the strength of the bioactive compound and the power and treatment time of the laser. The laser seed treatment work is led by Dr Zengbo Wang's team at the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering.
The first round of testing and laboratory work is currently underway, with the most promising seed treatments to be evaluated by grower partners which form part of Surrey-based Tozer Seeds’ supply chain.
Producers Medwyn’s of Anglesey, G’s Group, and Strawsons will contribute to the initiative, providing industry knowledge and growing space.
Group research and development manager at Tozer Seeds Dr Matthew Walker said:
“A plant is at its most vulnerable during the early stages of its development, and the application of an approved pesticide to the seed helps it through the germination process and can lead to a good seedling establishment and ultimately a higher crop yield.
“We are testing new methods of treating seeds, which can both improve plant growth and remove seed-borne diseases as well as having the potential to reduce our reliance on conventional pesticides.
“We look forward to working alongside Bangor University and the rest of our supply chain to ensure these innovations can be implemented across the board.”
The treating of seeds, often utilising pesticides, is a common practice in commercial agriculture due to its effectiveness in fending off early-stage diseases and insects.
While the research is focusing initially on three crops, it is expected that if the treatment is successful, it may also be applicable to other seeds.
As part of the project, Bangor University has also worked with Medwyn’s of Anglesey to gain access to additional research and development resources as part of the BEACON programme.
The initiative links Welsh universities with Welsh industry to develop a more sustainable Wales through the development of bio-focused products, services and technologies and is funded from the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.
Director of Bangor University’s Biocomposites centre Dr Rob Elias said: “This is a project which needs every single link of the supply chain to pitch in; working alongside established industrial growers and producers to bring this to a reality is incredibly exciting.
“Increasing access to research and development for business is also really important for this sector, particularly in Wales, and we are thrilled to have helped support this through BEACON to further back the bioeconomy sector and local producers.
“Identifying new methods of treating seeds will prove useful in the changing landscape of farming, as more resilient seeds will allow for a higher crop yield and growth rate.
“The work has the potential to help drive down production costs of crops over the long term and allow growers to get more usage out of their fields thanks to a reduced risk of environmental harm which stem from common commercial treatments.
“This means growers will be able to produce a greater quantity of vegetables in a smaller timeframe, which will also have the added benefit of reducing potential supply issues for shoppers.
“The information and industry knowledge Tozer Seeds and other partners is providing is vital to help ensure the research we undertake into these new treatments will not only be effective in the lab, but beneficial to the growers planting these crops in the first instance.”