STRAWBERRIES and cream are synonymous with sunny summer days, but all that could change thanks to research being carried out at a science centre near Selby.

A project investigating the potential for year round strawberry crops with the use of LED lighting is being undertaken at Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC) in Cawood.

The centre was approached by supermarket giant Sainsbury’s in its quest to offer customers British strawberries throughout the year, as opposed to the fruit’s current April to November shelf life.

The experts are now half way through developing LED lighting growth strategies which fool strawberry plants into thinking it’s spring.

Martin McPherson, science director at STC, said: “I had an idea about using LED lighting in horticulture.

“Globally we need to increase food production considerably.

“At the same time we have got increased urbanisation, and we have got to do this at a time of increase risk of climate disruption.

“The industry is having more and more difficulty in production and making it efficient. It occurred to me if we use LED lighting we can extend the growing season and move out of a glass house environment and into warehouses.

“As part of that work Sainsbury’s approached us and asked us to look at season extension for strawberries and how we can improve production.

“We have done one season of work and so far it’s looking very promising. There is a lot of work being done and it’s shaping up to be very exciting.

“The thousand-dollar question now is what are the economics behind it?

“It is quite expensive technology at the moment, however energy prices are continuing to rise so energy- efficient lighting is becoming more popular. Climate change will continue to affect us too.

“A number of factors will make this method of growing more attractive over time. We need to investigate the science behind it so when the economics are right we will have the science there ready to go.”

Sainsbury’s hopes to double sales of food sourced in Britain in the next seven years after its researchers found that 80 per cent of its customers preferred to buy UK-grown products, up from 55 per cent six years ago.