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The University of Reading's Crop Research Unit (CRU) undertakes research on all aspects of arable, soft fruit and forage crop production.

Located at our Sonning Farm, approximately four kilometres north-east of the Whiteknights campus, the CRU occupies approximately 15 hectares of the University's most uniform soil.

A large polytunnel containing some crops.


Research at CRU investigates the interaction of crops with the environment and the impact of farming on biodiversity. Our facilities include rain-out shelters for inducing drought treatments and covers for inducing heat stress in the field.

Research using different crop varieties and genotypes is being used to inform future breeding strategies to develop crops for our future cropping systems and climate, and to improve the nutritional value of our food.

The impact of weeds, pests and diseases features in many of the research trials undertaken at CRU, as do alternative farming strategies such as intercropping.

Aerial view of a neatly ploughed field that resembles a patchwork quilt.

Long term field trials

We currently host several long-term field trials investigating the impact of crop rotations on above and below ground biodiversity, along with research on interactions between pollinators, crops and the wider environment.

Our current field trials include:

  • a rotational intensity trial with four different intensity levels
  • a low-input rotation, mimicking organic production systems, which has been in production since 2003 and facilitates side-by-side comparisons with conventional production systems
  • a Free Air Diesel and Ozone Enrichment (FADOE) facility to investigate the impact of pollution on the environment.
Arable crops freshly ploughed by a combine harvester.

Arable crops

The CRU is equipped to prepare, drill, maintain, monitor and harvest arable crops at plot to field scale, with over 2,000 trial plots drilled annually. We focus on the main UK arable crops: wheat, barley, faba bean and oilseed rape, but also regularly trial alternative crops such as lupins, soya, chickpeas and lentils.

Strawberry crops growing in a large polytunnel.

Soft fruit production

The CRU includes three double span commercial grade polytunnels for soft fruit production, including table-top strawberry production facilities, and new laboratory and workshop facilities to support the research activities on site in soft-fruit.

Field phenotyping and post-harvest analysis

We have adopted and developed remote/automated phenotyping systems to allow measurements such as establishment, light interception, leaf area and height on thousands of arable plots. Below ground, we have installed state-of-the-art fibre optic Distributed Temperature Sensing cables, which allow soil moisture to be monitored under hundreds of plots and investigate crop water use in the field.

Post-harvest, the CRU contains the facilities to evaluate harvested crops and assess grain quality.

Free-Air Diesel and Ozone Enrichment (FADOE) platform

The University of Reading’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)-funded Free-Air Diesel and Ozone Enrichment (FADOE) platform enables field-scale research on all aspects of pollution ecology. This allows researchers to investigate the real-world effects of two of the most common air pollutants on biological and ecological processes. 

Find out more about the FADOE platform