Monthly Archives: May 2015

Chelsea garden highlights global pests

A novel garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show which highlighted how sentinel trees are being used to detect global plant pest and disease threats has won a gold medal.

The garden called ‘Beyond Our Borders’ was commissioned by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) to show how the UK government is working with overseas botanic gardens to protect our environment against alien pest and diseases.

Each zone contained a British tree ‘sentinel’ standing among plants native to each area. Coiled springs and pulsing lights represented pests and diseases and their movement both within countries and across borders due to the increased trade in plants and plant material, global travel and natural spread.

Garden designer Sarah Eberle commented, “It’s fantastic to have achieved a gold medal with this fresh garden. The Chelsea Flower Show offers an innovative and creative way to inform the public about how, by working together, we can protect our environment.

“The inspiration for the garden came from a new international project, led by the UK, aimed at creating a network of tree sentinels in botanical parks and gardens around the world. I wanted to illustrate the danger of the transfer of plant pests and diseases across international borders and have done this by using springs to represent the plant pests and diseases, which are elusive and mobile.”

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UK could get potash mine

Sirius Minerals is closer to developing a £1.5bn potash mine under the North York Moors National Park after planning officers informed the company that their report, which will be presented to North York Moors National Park Authority on 30 June, is likely to include an ‘open recommendation’ for the Authority’s members to consider. This means that it will be for the members to make a determination based on the relevant planning considerations.

Dubbed York Potash, if approved the project will develop the first new potash mine in the UK for 40 years near Whitby, mining an area extending about 16 km inland from the coast and up to 14 km off shore.

The Project is targeting the production of polyhalite, a naturally occurring mineral containing four of the six macro-nutrients required for plant growth (potassium, sulphur, magnesium and calcium). Initially, the saleable products will take the form of powdered or granulated polyhalite that can be used as a directly applied fertilizer which is proven to be suitable for widespread commercial farming, including organic farming.

Once fully operational the company says that York Potash could produce 13 million tonnes of polyhalite each year, making it the largest and highest grade polyhalite resource in the world.

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Slug Trail

The loss of methiocarb does not mean growers will not be able to control slugs, but they must take care to select the right product say agronomists and manufacturers.

The Cereals event in June will include a ‘Slug Trail’ offering NRoSO and BASIS points to those completing it by visiting the Water UK, Certis and DeSangosse stands. “The aim is to equip spray operators and advisers with an understanding of the risks that can lead to metaldehyde exceedances occurring in water,” says Simon McMunn of the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group (MSG), which is working closely with the water companies.

Meanwhile independent agronomist Neil Pratt has said that his work comparing slug pellets has shown it is, “It’s important to match pellet choice to situation. Durability and ballistic performance are the principal considerations – these attributes determine how consistently the pellet spreads and how long it persists in the field.”

He advises that while some metaldehyde-based pellets have similar properties to phased out methiocarb products, in certain situations, such as where water courses may be affected, ferric phosphate pellets should be used.

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Call to tax junk food to boost produce sales

The price of vegetables has risen while the cost of some processed foods has dropped over the same period, driving obesity, says a new report by UK think tank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

The ODI study of relative food prices in Brazil, China, Korea and Mexico, – the first of its kind in emerging economies – found that fruit and vegetables rose in price by up to 91% between 1990 and 2012, a price hike higher than other any other food group.

The ODI report ‘The rising cost of a healthy diet’ compares retail food prices dating back as far as 30 years and finds that the trend is similar in the UK and the USA. In the UK, from 1980 to 2012, the price of an ice cream halved while the price of fresh green vegetables tripled.

Researchers say the rising cost of fruit and vegetables may be due – in part – to cutting-edge technologies that result in higher quality vegetables such as produce that is cut, trimmed, bagged and washed, and available all year round.

“In January 2014, in an attempt to curb obesity, Mexico introduced taxes on sugary drinks and energy-dense food. Everyone is watching to see what effects these taxes have, as policy-makers in rich and poor countries struggle to respond to the looming health epidemic caused by changing diets,” said Mr. Wiggins. The report recommends that emerging economy governments consider introducing taxes and subsidies to offset these price changes. Mr. Wiggins added, “Research in the UK in 2009 predicted that imposing a VAT-style 17.5% tax on less healthy food and using the proceeds to subsidise fruit and vegetables would save between 3,600 and 6,400 premature deaths a year from diet-related disease.”

First published on HortNews on 27 May 2015.

New fireblight early warning system

Agrovista has added the notifiable disease Fireblight to its cloud-based pest and disease forecasting service for top fruit growers: Growers Choice Interactive.

The new early warning system is undergoing final trials and will be released May 2015. It will be available free of charge to GCI subscribers, says Agrovista fruit agronomist Alex Radu.

“Fireblight is a potentially serious disease on apples and pears caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora. There is no chemical cure available, so growers have to rely on copper-based preventative or antagonistic sprays before the disease takes hold,” he explains. “This makes accurate forecasting all the more vital.”

Fireblight infection occurs through blossom and new growth when weather is favourable and inoculum is present. The new fireblight software, developed by Dutch pest and disease software forecasting specialist RIMpro, calculates the likelihood of infection based on the flowering period obtained from weather information and observation and likely contamination and bacterial growth based on temperature and relative humidity/rainfall.

The quality of the forecast is completely dependent on the accuracy of these weather predictions, says Mr Radu. “Erwinia becomes a threat at 18C or more, when conditions are wet. Growers whose orchards have a history of disease can assume it is there, and we can now help them forecast potential outbreaks with greater accuracy. This means we can improve the timing and efficacy of preventative applications, which will be a real benefit to growers in managing disease.”

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GLA to focus on salad onions

According to reports, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) has announced that it intends to look closely at the labour provided within the production of spring onions.

With most salad onion crops being harvested and trimmed in the field, the labour requirement for the crop is proportionally large and the GLA said the moves were part of continued efforts to reduce risk within supply chains and engage with industry.

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Pumpkins could aid biofuel production

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for the uptake of biofuels is the ‘food versus fuel’ debate, which argues that productive crop land should not be used to grow fuel crops.

Now researchers in the American Midwest have suggested that large-seeded vegetable crops, such as pumpkins, could be used in double-cropping systems producing both food and fuel crops.

Marty Williams, a University of Illinois crop scientist and ecologist with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, explains, “Some vegetables have relatively short growing seasons, too. Rather than the standard fallow period for certain vegetables, what about integrating a bioenergy crop as a part of a double-cropping system?”

Williams chose pumpkin due to its popularity in the state of Illinois “We took a fairly simplistic look at comparing this bioenergy/vegetable double-cropping system with traditional vegetable production using processing pumpkin,” he explained. “Illinois leads the nation in pumpkin production, providing some 90 percent of the processing pumpkin in the United States.”

Interestingly, the researchers saw pumpkin yields in the double-cropping system were comparable to conventional pumpkin production. However, the biomass feedstock also yielded an average of 4.4 tons per acre of dry biomass prior to pumpkin planting. “We saw a theoretical yield of 349 gallons of ethanol per acre, and a higher farm gate value than typical pumpkin production,” Williams said.

“Perhaps some of our vegetable-cropping systems could contribute to bioenergy production, while still producing veggies. Also, there may be certain vegetable crops that are better suited to double-cropping. Given the potential competition between food and fuel production globally, systems making contributions towards both goals appear worth further consideration,” he added.

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Branston recognised for environmental achievements

Branston has been re-assessed by the Carbon Trust and has achieved the Carbon Trust Standard again for waste, water and carbon. This follows the company’s success last year in becoming the first company in the food and arable agriculture sector to have achieved the Carbon Trust Standard in all three areas.

The recertification recognises Branston’s commitment to reducing its environmental footprint by taking measures to ensure a sustainable method of working. The Carbon Trust is an independent company with a mission to accelerate the move to a sustainable, low carbon economy. It provides guidance and advice as well as measuring and certifying a company’s environmental footprint.

Vidyanath Gururajan, Branston Innovations Director, commented, “We’re delighted to have passed the reaccreditation from the Carbon Trust. We’re proud of our extensive environmental management systems and we do everything we can, at all our sites, to reduce waste. We have invested in long-term projects such as our anaerobic digestion plant, solar PV generation and water recycling as a part of our commitment to our low cost, low carbon strategy. We’re looking after all our resources to improve long-term sustainability.”

Darran Messem, Managing Director of Certification at the Carbon Trust, added, “Branston has for many years shown clear leadership in the agriculture and food processing sectors through obtaining independent certification confirming that it has reduced its environmental impact, becoming one of the first organisations to achieve each of the three Carbon Trust Standards for Carbon, Water, and Waste.”

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UK nursery automates

Netherlands-based Kees Greeve Greenhouse Projects has recently completed a greenhouse automation project for Pinetops Nursery after the company was forced to move to the former HRI Efford site after its former Livermans nursery west of Littlehampton was developed for housing.

Pinetops, which is run by brothers Ian and Stuart Paton, grows lilies, poinsettias and hellebores. In October last year the brothers also regained their title as the growers of the largest pumpkin in the UK.

KG Greenhouses says it is just putting the finishing touches to a fully automated container system which is combined with a visualisation program. This allows them to monitor all movements and pre-program the full cultivation cycle from the pot robots up to harvesting.

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Raw asparagus variety goes on sale

A new purple variety of asparagus which can be eaten raw has been trialled by Tesco from the end of April. The variety, Burgundine, is a purple and green cross and was grown by Cobrey farms in north Norfolk, specifically for use as a salad crop.

Burgundine will be sold exclusively by Tesco and the supermarket believes that the new variety could prove popular with office workers looking for a healthy lunchtime snack. The variety can be eaten raw after being washed because it contains slightly less lignin, the fibre element in asparagus.

Tesco produce buyer James Strathdee said, “The great thing about Burgundine asparagus is its versatility because it can be eaten both raw and also gently steamed or stir fried. It is an eye-catching variety that is exceptionally sweet, juicy, crunchy and great for eating with dips and in salads.

“English asparagus is acknowledged by foodies to be the best in the world because of our climate and soil, which supports perfect growing conditions. This is the first time that Burgundine asparagus has been commercially grown in the UK. If customers like it then we plan to grow more for next year.”

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