A WORLD-famous jam producer whose history dates back centuries is using 21st century cutting edge technology to improve its crops.

Wilkin & Sons will work with scientists at Essex University on the project which aims to prevent their strawberry crops becoming diseased.

The firm, which has farmed in Tiptree for nearly 300 years, won funding as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership, a UK Government-led scheme helping businesses and universities collaborate.

The funding will help Wilkin & Sons and the university combine research on plant disease using techniques to capture strawberry crop disease by using drones and artificial intelligence.

It ultimately hopes to reduce the amount of disease and improve yield.

The project will see wireless sensor networks and computer vision used to predict disease outbreaks and target infected crops quickly should diseases like botrytis and mildew arise.

Computer vision is a form of artificial intelligence which trains computers to interpret and understand the visual world.

Chris Newenham, joint managing director at Wilkin & Sons, said: “Innovation is key to business growth whether it’s on our farm, in our factory, or the way that we treat people and adapt our products.

“We continue to explore ways to improve the management and sustainability of our farm.

“We value the expertise of Essex University and look forward to working with them to improve the yield of our strawberry plants and reduce our inputs.” Dr Hossein Anisi, from the university’s school of computer science, added: “This interdisciplinary project on precision agriculture gives us the opportunity to implement the latest techniques.

“Wilkin & Sons have a unique business challenge and deploying a solution via the integration of computer vision offers the academic team novel research applications for this expertise.”

A full-time Knowledge Transfer Partnership associate will be based at the Tiptree farm to lead the research.

They will be working with the farm’s general manager to develop the disease monitoring and predication system.