Thermal Pest Control technology is currently being trialled at a number of British farms on strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and apples. As well as dramatically reducing or potentially eliminating pesticide use, the process is said to produce better fruit with a longer shelf life.
The process sees a high-velocity stream of 100C air applied to the crop and surrounding micro-environment, reducing the incidence of micro-organisms and insect development and so reducing disease.
Plants treated under the system frequently produced higher yields and quality, earlier harvests and extended shelf life compared with conventional pesticides, said manufacturer Lazo TPC Global. Plants treated all season were greener, larger and had higher levels of photosynthesis, it added.
Initially created for use on grapes, the technique is also suitable for soft, top and stone fruit and could have potential applications in field-grown tomato, salad and vegetable production. The machine can cover between 100 and 300 acres a season, depending on the type of crop.
The technology, already in use in Chile, Australia, the US and South Africa, among other countries, has not previously been adopted in Europe. But UK growers Gaskain and Fruition both bought machines this month. "Given EU requirements for reduced residues, TPC offers a unique process to greatly reduce or eliminate entirely pesticide use thereby assuring lower residue levels on produce or processed foods," said Lazo president Marty Fischer.
The technology has received the backing of M&S, whose category manager for berries, The Summerfruit Company, supplies Gaskain's fruit. That could lead to fruit produced using the method appearing on shelves this summer. "[This] could lead to cleaner punneted fruit with a longer shelf life," said M&S fresh produce technologist Sam Franklin.