Early in October, key stakeholders from the Mushroom Industry gathered at the Northern Ireland Horticulture and Plant Breeding Station, Loughgall to hear the latest results from the Applied Plant Science research and development programme on mushroom compost. The event also heralded the introduction of a new compost analytical service that uses state of the art Near Infra-red Spectroscopy technology as a quality assurance tool for mushroom compost quality.
Welcoming the audience, Dr Mike Camlin, Acting Head of Applied Plant Science, acknowledged the challenging times faced by the sector in recent months and praised the significant work already undertaken in proposals presented on the way forward in the MIANI & ROI Taskforce reviews. Stating that improvements to be made must be based on sound scientific principles he emphasised that high quality compost was an essential key to the profitability of the Industry. In reiterating DARD’s ongoing commitment to R&D in this area, he wished all elements of the Industry represented at the meeting, an afternoon of practical and profitable information exchange.
Four presentations given by researchers from Applied Plant Science followed. Professor Shekhar Sharma outlining the background to the Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIR) highlighted the large volume of samples analysed to ensure accurate calibrations between traditional wet chemistry methods and the novel NIR technology. Dr Gary Lyons then went on to discuss the application of NIR in identifying key quality parameters of the raw materials and phase I, an essential prerequisite of high quality Phase II compost. Outlining the trials undertaken at the Loughgall mushroom growing unit, Mairead Kilpatrick explained how the data generated in comparative compost trials had been correlated with NIR spectra to develop a yield prediction model. This model now allowed compost to be classified according to its potential productivity with poor, medium and high yielding bands currently being defined in consultation with Industry. Finally, Stephen Sturgeon, Laboratory Manager at Loughgall, explained the practical issues of compost sampling procedures and the schedule for the introduction of the new NIRS analytical service.
After a wide and varied question and answer session, the audience divided into groups for a series of practical tours. These included a visit to the new NIR analytical facility, crop demonstrations and practical poster sessions where growers and composters alike were given the opportunity to discuss on a one to one basis the application and implications of the analyses for their own specific business needs.
Concluding the afternoon’s proceedings, the consensus was that NIR analysis ably demonstrated an opportunity where science could move into effective practical application. Gordon Orr (MIANI) congratulated the Science Service team on a positive development in providing quality assurance tools to support the Industry’s primary objective of achieving high quality compost for all.
Further information on the Compost Analytical Service can be obtained by contacting: Stephen Sturgeon, Applied Plant Science, Laboratory Manager, Northern Ireland Horticulture & Plant Breeding Station, Loughgall Tel: 028 38 892306 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org