The majority (70%) of roses sold in the UK are grown in Kenya – as it has the perfect climate for rose production. Recent studies show that roses grown in Kenya and air-freighted to the UK in fact have a lower carbon footprint than roses grown in Europe.

To further improve the sustainability credentials of Kenyan-grown roses, scientists at East Malling Research (EMR) are replicating Kenyan winter-growing conditions in glasshouses in an attempt to ensure that the roses can still be cultivated when water shortages occur in the sub-Saharan country.

Researchers are using precision monitoring and controlled water application to reduce the amount of water needed to irrigate the crops.

EMR Crop scientist Dr Mark Else said: “By using water in the most efficient manner, if shortages should arise in Kenya, crops can still be grown when water is prioritised for both people and the environment. This project is helping to make rose production ever more sustainable and to protect the livelihoods of the people of Kenya.”

Preliminary results show that 80% water savings are possible under controlled conditions in some crops, with 30-40% savings under field production.

Researchers at EMR have a strong track record in developing precision irrigation strategies that are now being rolled-out to the horticultural sector.

The results of one project enabled strawberry growers to reduce on-farm water and fertiliser inputs by 30-40% while yields and quality were maintained or even increased.

The UK horticultural sector views this science as a way that high-value crops will need to be grown in the future as water and resource security around the world moves higher up the agenda.

Conor McGlone

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