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agrifood, cakes

Our success stories

We have been awarding pump priming grants to colleagues across the University since 2017. You can find out more about these projects here.

Toward an integrated approach for salt intrusion and salinization management in soil [...]

Toward an integrated approach for salt intrusion and salinization management in soil and aquifers for sustainable agriculture

Dr Nima Shokri, School of Chemical Engineering & Analytical Science

River deltas are among the most fertile areas on the planet, and support much of the world's fisheries, and agriculture. Salt intrusion and soil salinization have been causing land degradation and compromising food production in many deltas worldwide. Numerical models at the scale of river deltas have been used to reproduce salt distribution in these environments but they neglect processes occurring at the pore-scale and how features such as soil characteristics and water content dynamics influence salt intrusion and salinization at the large-scale.

This project aims at developing the tools for coupling of the large-scale frameworks used by ocean scientists with the pore-scale and physically-based models utilized by soil physicists and chemical engineers. Research outputs will help to inform local communities in deltas region about sustainable levels of groundwater extraction and the risk for food production under different land uses and climate scenarios.

3D Ultra-High Precision Agriculture: Exemplification against weed management

Prof Alexander Lanzon, School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering

This project builds upon a body of research from the University of York that uses permanently fixed 4- or 3-pole tethers and winches to position an environmental sensor system in 3D space over a field or aquatic system to within +/-2mm (NERC funded). This work will extend the existing concept and dynamic control systems to a buoyant UAV (unmanned air vehicle) which may be transported to, and set up as required to provide positioning with similar accuracy above a commercial agricultural, livestock or field-phenotyping facility. By removing the dependence upon expensive and difficult to manage installations, the proposed system will become applicable to investigations into automation of: seed drilling; direct application of treatments to plant, soil or animal; selective harvesting; or close-proximity monitoring. The system will be tested against precision weed control, using protocols developed at Manchester within the Innovate-UK Hyperweeding project with Syngenta & G’s-Fresh Produce (project partners).

Developing and testing sustainable horticultural growing media for food crops

Prof David Johnson, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Peat has been the main growing medium for the horticultural industry for decades because its unique properties provide optimum plant growth at minimal economic cost. However, the environmental costs of peat extraction are considerable, and there is now both a high demand and urgent need to develop new sustainable growing media mixtures based on reduced-peat and peat-free materials. There is a lack of information on the biophysical and chemical characteristics of recently developed peat-free media that prevents the optimization of mixtures. Additionally, we must identify new alternative sustainably-sourced materials to secure the supply of consistent growing media to the professional agri-food and horticultural industry. In this translational research proposal, we will establish a new industrial collaboration to generate critical data on the biophysical properties of several emerging peat-free substrates to pave the way for funding applications for the development of a predictive model to aid design of peat-free media.

Remote canopy measurement for precision agroforestry and phenotyping in orchard crops

Dr Joseph Fennel, Physics and Astronomy

Apple orchards are a high value part of the UK food production network, however the industry faces increasing pressure to reduce costs while producing a higher quality, sustainable crop with fewer pesticides. Understanding the structure of the fruit trees can provide plant growers and breeding nurseries with real benefits. Knowing where blossom forms, the size and shape of the canopy and the pattern of branches can help growers make decisions about how much water to supply, which products to apply to the crop and when to harvest. Using high precision laser devices, drone cameras and satellites allows different properties to be measured at different levels of precision. We are interested in understanding how we can combine these different techniques to provide growers with the information they need to produce better crops with less environmental impact.

Evaluation of community junk food cafés’ impact on food supply chains and public health [...]

Evaluation of community junk food cafés’ impact on food supply chains, public health, deprived communities and reducing food waste in the North West.

Arpana Verma, School of Health Sciences

The project is looking to learn what added value is provided by the Junk Food Café in Skelmersdale, West Lancashire compared to other similar café projects throughout the North West. The Skelmersdale Junk Food Café gives people in a deprived community the opportunity to have healthy meals for as much or as little as they can afford. The meals are created from produce that is going out of date and donated by supermarkets and therefore reduces food waste. The café is run by people with mental health problems who are looking to improve their mental wellbeing through work and interacting with other people. This project will find out what added impacts are gained from the Skelmersdale version of the café and look at how this work can be rolled-out in other areas. We will also be looking at the evidence behind similar projects to find out what works best.

So you think you can cook? [...]

So you think you can cook? Unpacking the personal and political potential of cookery classes in low-income communities, Manchester

Dr Sarah Hall, Geography, School of Environment, Education and Development; Manchester Urban Institute

Being taught cookery skills can empower individuals to be imaginative, resourceful and healthy in their food creations, although limited research explores the material, social and relational benefits. Taking the case of community cooking classes, this project unpacks the impacts and potential of social cooking for those from low-income backgrounds. Partnered with Cracking Good Food (CGF) Manchester, and a novel interdisciplinary team across three N8 institutions (Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield), the project is based in two of Manchester's most deprived areas – Moston and Old Moat.

Piloting methods of ethnographic cook-alongs and food-for-thoughts, alongside analysis of existing CGF data, we develop rich mixed-methods to measure the social, financial, nutritional, and environmental potential of cookery classes, for participants, their families and wider communities. Exploring food stuffs, stories and sociality, the project shifts the focus from stigmatising discourses of (un)healthiness, (in)convenience and (mis)education, towards exploring long-term personal and political capacities of community cooking and collaboration. 

Real-time imaging and motion tracking of pollinating insects in field conditions

Prof Patrick Gaydecki, School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering

Tracking the migration patterns of insects is of central importance to understanding their spatial population dynamics and in analysing such diverse effects as the impact of insecticides (such as the newer neonicotinoids) on honeybee and bumblebee populations, crop pollination activity and optimisation of hedgerows and set-aside field margins as feeding and breeding sites for pollinators. Such tracking could also play a key role in pest management strategies and infestation prediction including large-scale locust movement. The purpose of this project was to investigate the feasibility of the developing a basic system for daytime imaging and motion tracking of pollinating species in field conditions, with cameras located up to 200 m from the insects. The instrumentation system so far constructed comprises a pulsed infrared illumination source, synchronization electronics, detector filter and high-speed camera, together with analysis software.

The function of the pulsed illumination source is to out-compete the effect of the sun, so a portion of the spectrum is chosen in which daylight at ground level is deficient – approximately 750 nm upwards. By exploiting forward scattering – in which the light source is located in front of the camera, the insect wings are efficiently illuminated, much like raindrops caught in the headlights of a car at night. The video camera records the tracks of the flying bees, which appear as bright points of light moving against a dark background, and software calculates statistics of the trajectories, including speeds, accelerations and angular velocities.

Restoration of ecosystem services in degraded grasslands: a global assessment

Prof Richard Bardgett, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

A quarter of the Earth’s land surface is covered with grasslands that play a major role in the provision of food and ecosystem services in developing countries, largely through traditional livestock grazing, but also as a source of biological resources critical to conventional and traditional medicine. However, grassland degradation, caused mostly by overgrazing and climate change, presents a serious threat to food security, economic development, and human wellbeing and is plunging millions into hunger and poverty. Despite this, there is much uncertainty regarding the most suitable approaches to grassland restoration and of the socio-ecological trade-offs and barriers that result from potential interventions. Here, we are carrying out a series of workshops that bring together an already established network of soil, plant and agricultural scientists, including partners from N8, to conduct the first global assessment of the extent and causes of grassland degradation, and of potential interventions for their restoration in order to deliver food and ecosystem services in a sustainable way.

An integrated farm retailer supply chain. A scoping study.

Prof, John Gray, School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering

To undertake a scoping study that would identify the challenges and opportunities of developing a fully integrated digital supply chain that would link primary food production through factory processing to retailer supply. The aim will be to generate industrial interest in the concept, organise an industrial led working group to identify the challenges and opportunities, liaise with solution providers from industry and academia as well as cross sectoral support from the Northern Robotics Network and elsewhere The final objective will be to organise  an industrial led consortium which would prepare and submit  a significant funding proposal to establish a pilot scheme to demonstrate the feasibility of the concept for at least one product or commodity.

GasLab - in situ quantification of grassland C and N cycling [...]

GasLab - in situ quantification of grassland C and N cycling with a new mobile isotope and trace gas laboratory

Prof David Johnson School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Greenhouse gases, such carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, are emitted to the atmosphere from soil surfaces, and contribute substantially to global climate change. We therefore need to understand the factors that affect greenhouse gas production. One major factor is the way we manage land for agriculture. Grasslands, for example, are grazed for livestock production, and sometimes fertilised and reseeded. This project will use a state-of-the-art mobile greenhouse gas laboratory to quantify how grassland management affects greenhouse gas production across a network of farms managed by the N8 Agrifood consortium. The mobile laboratory will provide data on fluxes of greenhouse gases at very fine spatial and temporal scales, and will provide valuable data to facilitate unification of the N8 network of experimental farms to facilitate additional funding applications across the consortium.


Soil biochemistry dictates the “global phosphorus use efficiency” in crop production systems

Dr Vahid Niasar, School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science

Global food security, while reconciling environmental concerns, is one of the grand challenges that civilisations will face in next few decades. Global food demand is on a trajectory to increase by 70% in 2050. However, this trajectory is much worse in SSA as stated by FAO; “Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region of the world where hunger is projected to worsen over the next two decades” due to serious yield gap. Sustainable food supply in SSA is challenged by the availability of natural resources and poor soil fertility influenced by poverty, poor agricultural management, and water and nutrient limitations, among which inorganic phosphorus is our target nutrient in this research. Recent research urge for “a more integrated and effective approach to the management of the phosphorus cycle” and agricultural policy continues to shift towards the adoption of more sustainable management practices that provide a greater degree of food security with reduced environmental impact. Clearly, it is urgently needed to develop management strategies that are more effective at using native P, especially in those soils where inorganic P limits or co-limits plant productivity. 

Our research tackles the fundamental mechanisms through which crops in SSA acquire P and addresses potential contribution of improved nutrient management to fill the yield gap in SSA using a modelling-based approach. This study employs an integrated approach that covers various aspects of the problem including soil chemistry (pH, mineralogy, ion exchange capacity, P cycle in soils), soil biology (arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi), soil-crop interaction, 2050 sustainability scenario, and modelling-based decision-making support system.

We address the complex interaction between AMF, organic and inorganic P, and indigenous SSA soils to develop a strategy to maximise crop production using optimised P use management.   

This research is carried out in collaboration with University of Manchester, University of Lancaster, Lincoln University and Wageningen University.

Biocontrol of aflatoxin production in maize

Dr Michael Bromley Division of Infection, Immunity & Respiratory Medicine

Fungal contamination leading to reduced harvest and post-harvest food spoilage accounts for the loss of between 10% and 20% of food production worldwide. As such fungi represent a major factor that undermines food supply. A major aspect is loss of food production due to contamination with mycotoxins and in particular aflatoxins, which are potent carcinogens and causes severe liver damage. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, 25 percent of food crops are affected worldwide. The focus of the project is directed at combating the loss of food production due to fungal contamination and toxicity, resulting from aflatoxin producing Aspergilli. The aim is to identify natural isolates and construct genetically modified strains of Aspergillus Section Flavi that are non-toxigenic and assess their potential use as natural competitors to combat food spoilage and improve harvest.


Volatile-triggered release of crop protection agents

Dr Chris Blanford, School of Materials

The goal of the project is to create a proof-of-principle electrochemical device to demonstrate the feasibility of a triggered-release system based on graphene that responds selectively to plant-defence volatiles. A system such as this could delay the onset of pesticide resistance by releasing crop-protection agents only as required. This project built on IP-protected technology developed by Dr Blanford and his colleagues at The University of Manchester, and research in plant signalling at the University of Sheffield. The focus of the project was a system designed for parasitoid attack on brassicas, including the economically important oilseed rape.

The physiological effects of non-nutritive sweeteners in humans: a pilot randomized trial

Prof John Mclaughlin, Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology & Gastroenterology, School of Social Sciences

On-going debate concerns non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) and their effects on metabolism. Although NNS contain zero calories, their use has been associated with being overweight. However these observational studies are largely retrospective and cannot show whether their use leads to weight gain, or whether people with elevated weights subsequently become more likely to use NNS. It is possible that overcompensation occurs at the next meal and more food is consumed, perhaps because sweetness without calories ‘fools’ the metabolic processes. Few studies have studied the long-term effect on NNS consumption on metabolism, in particular on glucose response. In this project we aim to study the chronic effects of NNS consumption on glucose tolerance in healthy volunteers. Pump-priming funding is required for the conduction of a pilot randomized controlled clinical trial which will help us evaluate any long-term effects of NNS consumption on glucose homeostasis and control of food intake in general.

Mastitis Detection by Non-Contact Magnetic Induction Spectroscopy

Dr Frank Podd, School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering

Mastitis, the infection of the cow’s udder, is one of the key diseases limiting dairy production. The cow’s udder is split into four sections, and often only one of these sections will be infected. The milk from the four sections of the udder is combined into one stream and then tested for signs of mastitis using a conductivity meter. However, at this point, it is no longer possible to detect which section of the cow’s udder is infected and all of the combined milk is wasted.

This project aims to, for the first time in agriculture, detect mastitis by measuring impedance across the mammary gland during the milking process before milk has left the gland. Automated early detection of mastitis, preferably before the milk is removed from the udder, would prevent contamination of the milking system with bacteria, allow prompt treatment or monitoring and ensure the bacterial quality of the milk.  


Strategic N8 Pump Priming Projects awarded to Manchester Researchers

Building resilience capacity of smallholder coffee farmers [...]

Building resilience capacity of smallholder coffee farmers and their communities: innovation across three continents

Prof Bruce Grieve - School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering

This novel project involves senior scholars collaborating as an interdisciplinary team spanning Biology, Management, Environment/Geography and Engineering across Newcastle, Manchester and York. 

Grieve and Doherty have been working on different parts of the coffee supply chain independently via respective Newton Fund projects and other team members have complementary expertise in areas such as plant genetics and rural entrepreneurship. This bid will bring together this team for the first time to map out a programme of work to add significant economic, social and environmental value to smallholder highland communities in the South who are faced with increasing pressures. Embedded in the bid are Universities in ODA-listed countries, smallholder coffee organisations, industry organisations plus government representatives.

Improved tools for investigating the intestinal uptake [...]

Improved tools for investigating the intestinal uptake and subsequent immune and endocrine responses to novel dietary proteins

Prof Clare Mills - Division of Infection, Immunity & Respiratory Medicine, Manchester Institute of Biotechnology

There is an urgent need to identify alternative sustainable sources of dietary protein in order to meet the demands of the world’s growing population. Such new protein sources may modulate gut hormonal and mucosal functioning in an unpredictable manner, and have unintended metabolic and immunological effects, such as introducing novel food allergens into the diet. Effective in vitro gut models are lacking but would facilitate mechanistic studies on these effects and provide much needed tools to allow screening for beneficial/adverse effects of novel proteins. Pump-priming funding is required to undertake feasibility studies to obtain the preliminary data required to make credible joint multidisciplinary multi-centre applications for funding which will meet the emerging research and innovation priorities of UKRI. Industry collaboration is embedded from the outset, demonstrating the capacity of the consortium as a whole to work together and ensure effective and rapid adoption of new technology as set out in the Green paper on industrial strategy.