£5m funding award to modernise our horticultural facilities

A multi-million-pound project to modernise our horticultural facilities has been approved.

The £5.1m upgrade is funded by UKRI-BBSRC. Work will begin in Autumn 2020, and the project set to be completed by March 2021. 

Our Horticultural Services support the world-renowned science of the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory and occupies a large site on the Norwich Research Park.  

A little over £3m of the investment will provide new Controlled Environment Rooms (CERs) for plant and microbial experiments. CER’s offer scientists precise control of environmental factors such as light, temperature and humidity. The upgrade will also improve the containment measures required for experiments that investigate plant pathogens, or for growing genetically modified plants.  

The new infrastructure offers energy efficiency and sustainability gains due to LED lighting, wastewater treatment and rainwater harvesting. The reduction in utility costs from installing these technologies is estimated to be £116,000 per year. 

Further savings will be achieved by more efficient use of glasshouse space (£200,000 per year) and reduced reliance on off-site horticultural facilities (£240,000) per year. 

The current glasshouses (which cover an area of 5,775m2) is mostly single span structures designed and built several decades ago. This investment is the start of a long-term move away from using glasshouses and towards controlled environments which better enable consistency of inputs and experimental results. 

Head of Horticultural Services at the John Innes Centre, John Lord said: “Worldclass science needs worldclass, market-leading technology. This investment is timely because there is a desperate needs for our scientists to work on solutions to the challenges that face us. From understanding pathogens that cause plant diseases, to creating climate-resilient, nutritious crops that feed the world. 

“This investment will bring a much needed upgrade, providing facilities that are relevant and appropriate for the world-leading plant and microbial science that takes place on the Norwich Research Park. It also future proofs the site to fit with longer term ambitions to redevelop the infrastructure here.” 

Features of the new modernisation include 30m2 of large walk-in growth space which offers LED lighting, nutrient enrichment, climate control and state-of-the-art irrigation systems. The spaces will be configurable, it can be divided into multiple layers or used as a large open spaceoffering the next step towards bigger trials for crops.  

The new facility will also benefit from a sustainable water supply, as it will harvest rainwater. The rainwater will be monitored and treated onsite to ensure it is free from phytopathogens, and that it has the correct pHThis soft, nutrient rich harvested rainwater means that scientists will be able to minimise the use of fertilisers, and the consistent, monitored water supply will ensure that scientific experiments are reliable and repeatable.  

This is the start of a wider, long term project to update horticultural services at the John Innes Centre to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of science of today while being flexible enough to meet the needs of tomorrow as problems and new technologies arise,” said John.