Bathing leafy vegetables, herbs and fruits in ultraviolet light when they are young can prepare them for the ordeals of life out in the fields, research at Massey University has found.
Now the scientist who has led the research, Jason Wargent, is starting a company to sell devices that can deliver what he describes as "precise light treatment from different parts of the light spectrum for different reasons to different crops".
"It's like inoculating a child," he said.
"You give the plants a dose of what they're likely to encounter so they can cope when they do hit adverse conditions."
Half of the world's crops were grown from seed under cover before being transplanted outside where they were then at the mercy of harsh light and weather, causing damage, disease and pests.
Wargent said his research had shown how plants responded to certain light.
The aim was to produce "recipes" for growers and offer affordable devices and systems to apply them. They would govern pest and disease resistance and also colour, taste and shelf life.
Taste was a big part.
"Among the things plants do when exposed to light is to alter the chemistry in their leaves and that affects taste.
"This could heighten the taste of herbs, for example," Wargent said.
Improving plant hardiness would open markets for such produce as leafy salads beyond the Asian rim and out into the Pacific.
It could also mean growing more plants indoors and relieving pressure on horticulture land.
The new company, to be started by Massey, had already been promised $100,000 from a new Central Energy Trust business seeding fund. Wargent said he was talking to private investors and seeking government funding to raise $500,000.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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