Over the last couple of years, we have been involved with a research project that focuses on improving storage conditions for potatoes in terms of energy use and the evenness of airflow within the crop for the distribution of anti-sprouting agents. With this in mind, we attended the Postharvest Showcase event hosted by AHDB Potatoes in Sutton Bridge on 27th July, where speakers talked about developments affecting the potato industry. Dr James Covington from the University of Warwick presented his research on the use of sensors to monitor the quality of stored crops.
Electronic sensors can be used for disease detection, offering a distinct advantage over what humans can perceive. Once a crop is showing visible signs of deterioration, it is already too late to do anything about it. Similarly, by the time the human nose can detect any smells given off by infected produce, the problem has already set in and could be spreading throughout the whole crop. This is where an electronic ‘nose’ can come into its own. Able to detect small changes in the composition of the gases emitted by a respiring crop, an infection can be caught early before there are any obvious signs. Potentially, this early warning could allow store managers to isolate an infection, preventing it from spreading.
The sophisticated technology that makes electronic sensing possible has been around for a number of years. Up to now, complex gas analysers have been confined to laboratory use due to their physical size and high costs. Going forward, however, Dr Covington indicated this need not necessarily be the case, as accurate sensors are available relatively cheaply. He intends to trial some portable prototype units measuring, among other things, CO2, temperature, humidity and light.
If the technology can prove itself as a viable method of accurately monitoring stored crop quality, the benefits to the industry could be big: with annual losses estimated at £50m for stored potato crop in the UK, a relatively small investment in equipment could realise considerable savings over the years.
If you are interested in finding out more about the IUK project or how we can help you improve conditions in your potato store, call me (Ed) on 024 7669 8887.