Contract Research

Industry partnered research projects

Sector: Aquaculture,   Crop Science,   Extractive Industries,   Food & Drink,   The Environment

James Hutton Limited works with businesses, organisations and industry groups, collaborating on projects where science and project management are required to create solutions or perhaps support the credibility of developments, provide proof of concept or contribute to feasibility studies.

Many James Hutton Limited managed projects are funded by Innovate UK, involving James Hutton Institute scientists who have a wealth of research on hand to  apply to real world situations and problems.  

Current Commercial Projects 

integrated pest management solutionsMACHINE-CAST 

A scalable machine learning framework for forecasting risk of crop pests and pathogens 

Innovate project number 10005703

PARTNERS: Climate Edge, James Hutton Institute, James Hutton Limited 

This project is building a novel pest/disease forecasting service that uses machine learning 'ensemble' techniques to imbue highly localised predictive power and wide pest-crop-geography application potential. 


This broad spectrum approach to forecasting is highly innovative and has the potential to drive synergistic improvements in the usage of inputs across all of the UKs most important crops; reductions in agro-chem usage, increase in crop yields and reduction of the carbon footprint of UK agriculture. 



Raspberry Auxin Soil/Substrate Protectant

Innovate project number 48163

PARTNERS: Thomas Thomson, Westland Horticulture, James Hutton Institute, James Hutton Limited

raspberry root rot resistantPhytophthora infestans is the pathogen that caused the Great Irish Potato Famine.  Today, over 170 described species of Phytophthora cause crop disease on a global scale, costing commercial crop industries billions of dollars. 

The UK fruit industry and raspberry particularly has been decimated by Phytophthora root rot (PRR) with an 80% reduction in field production leading to a smaller pot based short term industry supported by extensive fruit imports. Methods to control infection and spread are limited by current legislation that limit the use of prophylactic fungicides and increase the importance of novel control methods based on host resistance, growing media and watering. 

Phytophthora rubi and P. fragariae are PRRs which spread through plant propagation, growth media and water flow in plantations. Manipulating the physical, chemical and biological properties of the growth medium has the potential to play a key role in inhibiting PRR. Commercial plant growth substrates can be designed specifically to meet a crops individual needs with regards to nutrient requirement, water management and grower preferences. Manipulating the growing media's physical, chemical and biological properties can lead to a stronger healthier root and plant system, while also limiting and actively suppressing the growth and spread of harmful root pathogens, such as PRR. Specific additives have previously been incorporated into growing media to control and prevent other root pathogens and pests such as Vine Weevil, Fusarium spp. and Pythium spp. 

A recent JHI study identified multiple responses triggered in a PRR resistant raspberry plant upon challenge with P. rubi, including a mechanism, which has the potential to improve a plants resistance to PRR. The growth medium can be improved by the manipulation of these plant-derived chemical signals that are normally induced upon pathogen challenge in resistant cultivars, to boost the immune capabilities of susceptible cultivars. 

Using molecular methods such as gene expression, genetic markers and fluorescent pathogen cultures we can track disease development in the root-zone environment in different growing media substrate formulations. The innovative range of growth substrate additives developed in this project will stimulate raspberry root growth signal to improve the root system under a controlled irrigation regime and secondly actively inhibit the growth and spread of root pathogens. 

Establishment of optimal raspberry growing conditions integrated with early pathogen detection and control of PRR spread will transform raspberry agronomy, maximising yield and securing the UK soft fruit industry with application to other crops worldwide.

Dr Eleanor Gilroy is the James Hutton Institute, project lead. 

Past Commercial Projects

Developing genetic resources in blueberries

Project partners; James Hutton Limited, James Hutton Institute, Totalworldfresh,  S & A Produce (UK) Limited, AHDB

Innovate UK project 131889


There has been increased demand for blueberries in recent years fuelled in part because of their many recognised health benefits. Development of new blueberry cultivars with high fruit and nutritional quality combined with early and late ripening and appropriate climatic adaptation is needed. With the availability of more genomic resources, marker-assisted breeding could be used in cultivar development to more efficiently combine traits for fruit and nutritional quality specific to UK climatic adaptation. This project would therefore develop pre-breeding populations and a high resolution GbS linkage map to allow the UK to develop adapted blueberry cultivars efficiently, cost effectively and in a shorter time frame than would be feasible by traditional breeding means. This would allow the UK to produce more home grown fruit for consumption to increase from the 5% UK fruit currently available. 

Using genomics technologies to determine the mechanism of resistance to phytophthora root rot in raspberry for future breeding applications to raspberry and other crops

Project partners; James Hutton Limited, James Hutton Institute, Total World Fresh, Thomas Thomson Limited, M&S Plc, S&A Produce (UK) Limited, AHDB, Berry Gardens Limited

Innovate UK project 131890


In the Northern Hemisphere with damper conditions, Phytophthora root rot is causing a rapid decline in raspberry plantations grown in soil and also greatly decreasing the life span of production of raspberries grown in substrate with negative environmental consequenses. 
Plant based resistance is the only way forward and limited material exists that consistently withstands infection with little/no symptom production. The development of gene based techniques offers an opportunity to identify genes that have a significant role in this plant-pathogen interaction to determine the mechanisms of resistance and develop novel strategies of protection including breeding. How both resistant and susceptible varieties respond at the level of gene expression and how the pathogen responds to the differing phenotypes will identify gene markers and allow strategies for control to be developed.  

Imaging sensor solutions in the soft fruit industry for high throughput phenotyping and monitoring of abiotic and biotic stresses for premium variety production and maximised yields

Project partners: James Hutton Limited, James Hutton Institute, AHDB, Total Worldfresh, Soil Essentials, Thomas Thomson Ltd

Innovate UK Project 101819


New crop varieties that can tolerate abiotic/biotic stresses are essential for maintaining crop productivity in current and future growing environments. Breeding stress-tolerant crop varieties, however, is limited by the precision and throughput of plant phenotyping. This project will develop and apply a novel tractor-mounted platform for precise and high throughput field phenotyping of plant stress responses of soft fruit crops using IRT and hyperspectral imaging. It is proposed also to assess the value of canopy imaging as an indirect indicator of abiotic and biotic root stresses. Soft fruit crops such as raspberry can experience multiple stresses in field conditions, including poor soil conditions, variable water availability, and attack by root rot pathogens and root-feeding vine weevil larvae. Phenotyping data will be linked to genetic markers to facilitate breeding of productive, stress-resistant soft fruit varieties. This novel high-throughput phenotyping platform will accelerate the development and release of productive high quality soft fruit varieties that perform well in sustainable reduced input cropping and is expected to be valuable for routine monitoring of crops and stress diagnosis. 

Strategies to reduce waste due to greening in potato tubers

Project partners; Branston Limited, Amcor Flexibles UK Limited, James Hutton Limited, Tesco Plc, James Hutton Institute, University of Southampton, Waitrose Limited

Innovate UK Project 132342


In the UK, tuber greening is directly linked to 116,000 tonnes of household potato waste each year with an associated estimated loss of £60m p.a. to UK retailers. In field losses due to tuber greening also cost the industry £37m p.a. Greening is a significantly negative factor in consumer purchases where a 1% increase in sales is worth £3m p.a. to producers. This project brings together partners that span the food chain from production, through packaging, to major supermarkets who will work with academic researchers to develop solutions to reduce tuber greening. Photobiological experiments will identify the conditions and target genes for light-induced tuber greening informing the design of prototype packaging film to reduce greening during storage and in store. Recently developed potato genetic approaches will be used to identify markers for genes associated with reduced greening providing the foundation of a longer term strategy to produce new non-greening potato varieties. 

TuberZone – Development of an innovative spatial crop model and decision support system for improved potato agronomy

Project partners; Soil Essentials Ltd, Newcastle University, James Hutton Limited, Grimme UK Limited, McCain Foods (GB) Limited

Innovate UK project 102125


The potato industry has witnessed a 10-year long yield stagnation; coupled with increasingly stringent demands on potato quality, there is a compelling need for farmers to increase marketable yield. This project aims to develop an innovative spatial crop model & integrated decision support system for improved variable rate seed planting, fertiliser use & irrigation scheduling to increase productivity of the potato value chain. Converging the multi-disciplinary expertise of Soil Essentials (SE), Newcastle University (NU), Mylnefield Research Services (MRS), Grimme (GR), & McCain (MC), we will build upon the MAPP point model (Management Advisory Package for Potatoes) by taking a holistic approach & considering the spatial variability of tuber size distribution to inform a new & improved adaptive spatial meta-model.  The resulting spatial decision support system is cross-sectorial & has the potential to transform in-field decision-making, not just for potato farming but also for other root & arable crops.

Tayberry Seedling

Project partners; Snook, The James Hutton Institute

Innovate UK project 133145


Access to a healthy nutritious meal is not available to all members of society. 
Since 2009 across the UK there has been a staggering increase of > 4500% in the use of food banks (Trussell Trust, 2017). In England, 26% of the population were defined as inactive with obesity prevalence at 27% (NHS England, 2017) mostly driven by disadvantaged sectors of society. Furthermore, c. 45% of adults in England ate fewer than 3 portions of fruit and vegetables daily. In areas of Scotland this figure is worse. 
Using Dundee as a model, this is a city scale project of growing soft fruit (raspberry & blueberry) in urban areas for the provision of healthy nutritious food that leads to physical activity; additionally with the potential to increase green space known to have a positive impact on mental health. 

Optimising oat yield and quality to deliver sustainable production and economic impact (Opti-Oat)

Project partners; PepsiCo International Limited, URSULA Agriculture Limited, James Hutton Limited, Aberystwyth University, NIAB, James Hutton Institute

Innovate UK project 102128


This project will provide UK oat producers with world leading agronomic ‘tools’ to maximise grower returns and capitalise on the increasing demand for food grade oats.  The objectives are 1) Develop and validate algorithms for translating visual / spectral sensor data from Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into quantifiable crop parameters to enable growers to optimise management for yield and quality across fields; 2) develop an Oat Crop Model and associated decision support tools; 3) develop an Oat Growth Guide which will provide a reference to assess crops status against key development bench-marks.  Focused dissemination of these innovative tools will increase average yields by at least 1t/ha (equivalent to a ~£15M uplift p.a. in output from the existing oat land base), contribute to sustainable intensification, reduce supply risk for millers, reduce imports, catalyse product innovation & consumer access to healthy grains and stimulate milled product export. 

Assessment of SOIL quality using a BIOindicator (SoilBio)

Project partners; SoilEssentials, the James Hutton Institute, James Hutton Limited, SRUC, Barfoots

Innovate UK project 102272


Providing sufficient food to feed an increasing global population is challenging given limited resources. Soil is a key component of food production providing nutrition and organic matter. However, modern methods of crop production have resulted in degraded soil leading to reduced yields. This contributes to the so-called yield gap, the difference between yield in optimal conditions to that actually achieved.  This project focusses on developing a test for soil quality that uses measures of soil biology, chemistry and physics. We profile soil nematode community DNA, similar to genetic fingerprinting, to inform the status of soil quality. Whereas soil chemical and physical measures are snapshot measures in time e.g. hours, nematode data is a reflection of weeks/months. The consortium partners will develop a tool for farmers to be used in a precision agriculture framework to identify fields in need of soil quality improvement.   

Breeding for Durable Resistance to RhynchosporiUM (DRRUM)

Project partners: KWS UK Ltd, James Hutton Institute, James Hutton Limited

Innovate UK project 102278


Leaf scald, caused by the fungal pathogen Rhynchosporium commune is one of the most damaging diseases of UK barley.  Current control strategies rely heavily on fungicides, but the most effective and sustainable way to protect crops is to develop new cultivars that incorporate and express effective built-in resistance.  In order to do this we need to simultaneously introduce multiple, complementary resistance genes, into a single line.  This is extremely hard to do if traditional selection methods are used. This project will translate cutting edge advances in barley genetics to deliver innovative breeding methods along with DNA markers that are needed to achieve this objective.  These resources and knowledge will be used by the commercial partner (KWS UK Ltd) to produce the next generation of highly resistant barley varieties that will protect yield and quality for growers and end users of barley grain.

In-field optical detection of potato disease (Poptical)

Project partners; Manor Fresh, James Hutton Limited, Agrii, James Hutton Institute

Innovate UK project 102105


The withdrawal of numerous pesticides under Directive 91/414/EEC and subsequent amendments is central to promoting low pesticide-input farming in EU Member States. Furthermore, EU-wide standards for Integrated Pest Management (IPM) are being developed that will become mandatory from 2014 relying on adoption of alternative methods to control pests and diseases. The UK potato industry is particularly vulnerable to a reduction of pesticide use with a likely loss of production across market sectors valued at > £520M. Thus new and novel methods of disease management need to be developed and integrated into IPM strategies. In this project, we wish to explore whether using cutting edge unmanned aerial vehicle optical platforms it is possible to identify a number of diseases in potato before visual symptoms occur in the field. If successful, this will allow accurate mapping of disease in the field thus allowing targeted application of pesticide or equivalent to manage disease at an early stage. Consequently, this will yield a more efficient production process with fewer inputs resulting in significant environmental benefits and a reduction in production wastage due to disease pressure. 

BLIGHTSENSE - Development of a rapid biosensor system for in-field detection of potato late blight pathogens

Project partners; Soil Essentials Limited, University of Cambridge, James Hutton Limited, James Hutton Institute, Syngenta Crop Protection UK Limited

Innovate UK project 102084


Potato late blight is one of the world's most destructive crop diseases, with £3.5Bn annual losses globally in an industry suffering stagnant yields for the last decade. This project will develop a rapid acoustic biosensor device for in-field identification of air-borne sporangia of Phytophthora Infestans (causal agent of late blight), to meet the compelling need for improved disease management & control. Soil Essentials (SE), a precision-farming SME, together with University of Cambridge (UC), the James Hutton Institute (JHI), Mylnefield Research Services (MRS) & Syngenta (SG), will develop an integrated diagnostic tool for early pathogen detection, by coupling low-cost, antibody-coated acoustic sensing consumables with a proven spore-trap. The proposed innovation, enabled only by the interdisciplinary convergence of state-of-the art acousto-electronics, smart materials, biochemistry, late blight epidemiology, advanced ICT & precision agriculture, will enable optimised disease control, reducing potato crop waste & fungicide costs, improving marketable yield & quality. As a platform technology, it can be easily adapted to detect other crop & livestock pathogens for wider agricultural impact. 

Optimised Detection and Control of Potato Blight: Sensing Pathogens to Inform Smart Spray Decisions

Project partners;  The James Hutton Institute, Rothamsted Research,  Burkard Manufacturing Ltd, Velcourt Group plc, Spearhead International, Frontier Agriculture Ltd, James Hutton Limited, G’s Fresh Limited

Innovate UK project 102084


The maintenance of global food security, mediated by sustainable intensification of agriculture, is a recognised global issue and the effective management of plant disease is critical to productive cropping of agricultural land. Potato is the third most important food crop globally, with late blight control being a major challenge estimated to cost £3.5billion in losses per annum. In the UK, disease control alone costs £55M per annum on average to the industry. This project seeks to demonstrate a new prototype device that will sample airborne spores of P. infestans (the cause of late blight) and Alternaria species (the cause of early blight) in the field, automatically process the sample, quantify DNA by fluorescence and relay results by mobile phone text message. The aim is to improve current weather-based disease risk models and predictions for late blight, resulting in enhanced decision making ability for growers with respect to fungicide choice and application and therefore more efficient resource use. 

Improving yield stability in UK blueberry production

Project partners; James Hutton Limited, Castleton Fruit Limited, Thomas Thomson Limited, AHDB, James Hutton Institute, Delta T, S & A Produce (UK) Limited, M&S Plc, Soil Essentials

Innovate UK project 102130


Yield instability negatively impacts UK soft fruit growers, preventing accurate profit prediction and maximisation, causing volatility of UK supply. The problem is now well recognised within industry, though the causes of significant season to season yield variation are unknown. This proposal aims to identify the physiological and biochemical processes underlying yield limitations, thereby identifying causes of the yield volatility phenotype. An examination of the impact of growing environment and management practices on yield will be undertaken to allow development of predictive yield maps & models that provide frameworks for yield optimisation in the short to medium term. This knowledge of  availabletools to assist management will be transferred to growers and also used to develop molecular markers for yield stability allowing long-term solutions to the problem, thereby future proofing the UK soft fruit industry, particularly blueberry crops with application to other fruit crops. 

Feasibility of developing a novel breeding methodology to improve berry flavour

Project partners; S & A Produce (UK) Limited, Total Worldfresh, James Hutton Limited, James Hutton Institute

Innovate UK project 132845


Flavour is a complex trait under large environmental and seasonal effects which already poses a challenge to breeders, and will be more problematic with extreme weather events and climate change.

Conventional breeding and selection techniques are slow and hindered by seasonal and environmental variation with QTL mapping also varying with the environment. Recent omics tools have been developed (genome scaffolds, gene expression & metabolomics data, correlation networks) that will allow us to investigate and validate links between berry flavour and its controlling factors (metabolites, genes, environment) to develop a useful model. This feasibility study aims to improve raspberry flavour by utilising omics data alongside historic genotype, phenotype, met & QTL data with novel flavour profiling research to develop new breeding models.  

Enhancing plant establishment in commercial blueberries using symbiotic fungi

Project partners; James Hutton Limited, James Hutton Institute, Thomas Thomson 

Innovate UK project 132851

There is a need to develop a greater understanding of factors affecting the speed and proficiency of blueberry plant establishment and thereafter maintenance of yield.

Bushes do not become fully productive until they are between five and seven years old, requiring a significant financial layout from growers before any expected return to profit. A significant knowledge gap exists regarding the inter-relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and plant establishment of naturally occurring and commercially grown Vaccinium species.

This project aims to identify species - specific fungal communities to assess their ability to colonise a range of highbush blueberry cultivars and their affect on establishment and plant productivity. This project is the first step in developing a commercial product based on symbiotic fungal isolates for the propagation industry and growers, which would enhance establishment and growth of blueberry plants.

Nanocell PPE - Novel nanocellulosic composites as antivirals and antimicrobials for new PPE materials

Project Partners; James Hutton Limited, James Hutton Institute, CelluComp Ltd and Halley Stevensons

Innovate UK project 79541

Nanocell PPE brought together Hutton researchers and industry partners CelluComp Ltd and Halley Stevensons with funding from Innovate UK to support the development of completely new PPE materials which will offer improved safety and comfort by being highly absorbent, breathable and able to actively kill viruses and bacteria.  The new materials will also be multiuse, washable and environmentally friendly.

Most PPE is single use, contains plastics, is not easily recyclable and generally is disposed of via landfill or discarded into the environment. It is estimated that if each person in the UK uses a single disposable mask each day for a year this would result in 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste (which would be a reservoir of infection) and have ten-fold more of a climate change impact than reusable masks. Interestingly, most of these materials are prone to "wetting out" and are poorly absorbant which raises transmission risks, and moreover they lack the requisite antiviral/antibacterial activities required for robust protection. There are however very few antiviral PPE technologies readily available in the public domain and those that are suffer from complex manufacturing methods, high expense, poor reusability, poor washability and rapidly lose their antiviral activities. 

This project will produce unrivalled novel ISO validated multiuse, washable, environmentally friendly PPE materials which have potent antiviral activities, while also considering antibacterial properties.

Further funding is being sought to further develop the technology and the uses for it. 

CherryBerry - Plant Sensing to Determine Environmental Impacts on Developmental Processes Leading to Crop Yield

The Cherry Berry project used a field-based plant and environmental monitoring approach to develop environmental models of blueberry bud initiation and cherry June Drop, attempting to identify signals that arise from the plants short-term responses to environmental conditions ('sensing'), to identify the point(s) at which the plant's development leads to the unwanted phenotype (excessive June Drop or excessive vegetative bud development). 

RESOLVE - Development & Assessment Of Nematode Resistant Potato Cultivars For East Africa (Kenya)

Innovate project number 105653

PARTNERS: IITA, James Hutton Institute, James Hutton Limited

Potato is the second most important crop in Kenya, grown for food, and as a source of income.

The vast majority of growers in Kenya are smallholder farmers. Pests and diseases cause huge losses to their crop production. Potato production in Kenya is being seriously impacted by the Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN), an emerging, introduced pathogen. 

This proof of concept project aimed to demonstrate that potato cultivars combining the agronomic traits favoured by Kenyan growers (yield, size, market etc), the traits sought by the women responsible for the majority of food preparation in rural Kenya (market, flavour, colour etc), along with resistance to the predominant PCN species, represent a valid target for breeding programmes and subsequent commercialisation.

Project News

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A round-up of one of our latest Innovate UK funded projects. 

Case Studies

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Diagnostic testing for Free-Living Nemataodes.

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