Construction has started on the regionally significant food-related Growing Kent & Medway initiative that includes new glasshouses, offices and labs at the site.

The investment aims to transform plant-based scientific research facilities across the South East and strengthen the competitiveness of Britain’s horticulture, food and drink industries.

£18 million from the Government’s Strength in Places Fund has been boosted by additional funding from the East Malling Trust and commercial partners to back an initiative that will build upon more than a century of strategic and applied horticultural research at the site.

Due to be completed by the end of 2021, the redevelopment will deliver modern research facilities and new science projects that NIAB EMR believes will maintain its “global leadership in horticulture innovation”.

Managing Director Professor Mario Caccamo said the facility would be “better placed than at any time in the last decade to help producers rise to the challenge of climate change, reducing import dependency and improving the country’s food security”.

He added: “The state-of-the-art plant growth facilities will enable our scientists to accurately manage the cropping environment and test the response of fruit crops and novel technologies to help improve productivity and crop profitability and generate new skilled jobs across the sector.”

The development will be part of the site’s Advanced Horticultural Technology Zone, which is already underway thanks to earlier support from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Local Growth Fund, and features new science buildings, state-of-the-art glasshouses, a green energy resource and other related infrastructure.

East Malling Trust Board Chairman Dr Oliver Doubleday said: “The delivery of this ambitious project follows our vision to see East Malling continue to develop as a global innovation centre.

The modernisation of the site was long overdue and will support the team at NIAB EMR to remain at the cutting edge of technology. We are very excited to be able to support this development and look forward to continuing our partnership with NIAB EMR to deliver world-class science at the service of the UK’s growers.”

The new glasshouses will be used by the scientists to improve industry profitability by developing new varieties and improving plant health and resistance to disease by undertaking controlled trials in crop production, breeding pathology, entomology and plant health.