Monthly Archives: July 2015

Irrigating crops with sea water

Spain’s Aqua Maris Foundation, which describes its purpose as investigating the therapeutic properties and potential uses of sea water, has published a study suggesting that sea water can be used to maintain water levels for crops.

According to reports, the researchers considered two approaches. The first was to create a water table using sea water and the second is to develop salt-tolerant plants.

Focusing on the latter, the Foundation has maintained a garden since 2006 using the principles of irrigation using groundwater. “We still have much to learn and test, but we have already got rid of the myth that sea water kills plants. The important thing is to learn how to use it and become familiar to how it works for different types of soil,” say the researchers.

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Bejo takes over Agrisemen

Dutch vegetable seed company Bejo Zaden has taken over specialist lettuce breeder Agrisemen.

The move will see Warmenhuizen-based Bejo acquire an established portfolio of lettuce material, along with a strong base for future development of the crop. Jack Burgers, Managing Director of Agrisemen, will help to oversee the integration of the two companies over the next two years. Agrisemen’s other lines, including Brussels sprouts and pointed cabbage will continue to be sold under the recognised Agrisemen brand.

John-Pieter Schipper, CEO of Bejo Zaden commented, “Lettuce is a popular vegetable and a major global crop. It fits very well into our product range and the crop plan of our clients. Agrisemen has extensive knowledge and an excellent lettuce breeding program. This collaboration would therefore be a great addition to our current product range.”

“With Bejo as a partner we are gaining access to an extensive international sales and distribution network and the latest research technologies,” added Jack Burgers. “This allows us to achieve our growth ambitions quicker. For us it was a conscious decision to seek an alliance with a Dutch family business where we would be a welcome addition with our product range.”

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Jack Stein promotes Branston’s Cornish potatoes

Potato supplier Branston has signed up the son of television chef Rick Stein to help promote its Cornish potatoes.

Jack Stein, a talented chef in his own right, is the ambassador for the firms Cornish potato season which sees around 30,000 tonnes of new potatoes supplied by seven growers via Branston’s site in Somerset.

Under the agreement Jack will produce exclusive videos and recipes for the company’s website, including roasted Cornish seasonal new potatoes with smoked Cornish sea salt and a Cornish seasonal new potato salad with beetroot and goats’ cheese.

George Christoudias, Branston’s sales and marketing director, said: “We’re very excited to be working with such a successful chef to launch our much-anticipated Cornish crop this year. With Jack on board, we hope to further showcase these fresh, seasonal potatoes, which are always very popular with Tesco customers.”

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Countryside Stewardship offers boost to bees

The Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss has said that the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme, which has a total budget of £900 million, will help protect bees and other pollinators as well as the wider countryside.

Over the next five years the new Countryside Stewardship scheme will offer grants to help improve our environment and countryside – with £85 million set aside to support projects in 2016.

Bees and pollinators are one of four main priorities for the scheme, which is being run on a competitive basis for the first time this year, with applications ranked and money only awarded to those who will make the biggest improvements in their local area. Extra points will be given to agreements working to support bees and pollinators and other farm wildlife.

Elizabeth Truss said, “This is the first ever countryside stewardship scheme that specifically combines help for bees and pollinators as well as wildlife, woodland and rivers. This will mean more margins and meadows with colourful wildflowers in our countryside. Productive farming goes hand in hand with improving the environment.”

However, NFU Vice President Guy Smith warned, “At this late stage, there are still a number of questions about how the scheme will work but we are committed to working with Defra and Natural England on its development and – more importantly – how it will be implemented on the ground.”

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New Permanent Secretary for Defra

Clare Moriarty, the current Director General at the Rail Executive in the Department for Transport, has been appointed as the new Permanent Secretary for following a civil service-wide recruitment process.

Clare will take up post over the summer and will replace Defra’s current Permanent Secretary Bronwyn Hill. Her appointment has been made by the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service and approved by the Prime Minister and by Sir David Normington, the First Civil Service Commissioner.

Commenting on her new role, Clare said, “I am thrilled to become Defra’s Permanent Secretary. The Department has a great role to play on issues that matter to everyone in the country, from the food that we eat to the future of the planet. I welcome the chance to work with Liz Truss and her Ministerial team on a fascinating agenda for the years ahead. I am looking forward to meeting colleagues in Defra and its partner bodies, and the many people and organisations that have an interest in the work of the Department.”

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Climate Change Committee highlights risk to farmland

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has published its latest progress report, which includes an assessment of the effects of climate change in UK farmland.

In particular the report highlighted the risk of erosion to some of the UK’s most productive, but fragile soils, such as the Fens in East Anglia. In particular the authors call on the Government to: ‘Preserve and enhance the country’s natural capital, in order to sustain agriculture productivity in a changing climate, maximise carbon sequestration, and safeguard the economic and amenity benefits the natural environment provides.’ This should include ‘firm measures to preserve the fertility and organic content of important agricultural soils, to achieve the stated goal for all soils to be sustainably managed by 2030.’

Commenting on the report, NFU vice-president Guy Smith said, “This report, highlighting how productive land is at risk, demonstrates the need to retain funding in voluntary initiatives such as Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) to incentivise and support farmers who want to be leaders in protecting soils.”

Trevor Mansfield, head of policy at the Soil Association added, “For the first time, this report highlights the critical red list status of British soils, threatening our climate and future food production. The Soil Association supports the Committee’s call on government to implement measures to protect organic matter in agricultural soils.” He also echoed warnings in the report about the effect that increased maize production could have on soil erosion during adverse weather.

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Government funds Scottish berry research

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss used a visit to the Royal Highland Show last month to announce £1.3 million of funding from the Agri-Tech Catalyst programme for soft fruit projects led by the James Hutton Institute and James Hutton Limited.

The projects will use the latest advancements in understanding plant genetics to identify traits in raspberries that make them more resilient to pests and diseases, and in blueberries, traits that are better adapted to growing in Scotland’s cooler climate.

Secretary Elizabeth Truss said, “Scottish berries are up there with Scottish beef and lamb as a top quality UK product and this research will only enhance our reputation for producing good food both here and abroad. These projects demonstrate that by investing in the most cutting-edge techniques, and working collaboratively across the UK to raise standards, we can boost productivity and help more Scottish and UK producers to compete in international markets.”

Professor Bob Ferrier, Director of Research Impact at the James Hutton Institute, added, “This research is essential for the sustainability and commercial success of the Scottish and UK berry industry. Through the UK government’s investment in applying scientific innovation to address challenges faced across the agri-food supply chain, we can help producers grow more robust, disease resistant soft fruit varieties that are better suited to the UK market and climate.”

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Biodiversity helps wild pollinators

Recent research, headed by David Kleijn of Alterra and Wageningen University, shows that the links between species diversity and pollination are much more complex than previously supposed.

Their work suggests that rare species barely contribute to pollination and that the international debate on biodiversity conservation the current focus on ecosystem services may have a negative effect on the argument for the protection of rare species.

In a large international project, David Kleijn together with 57 fellow researchers studied to what extent ecosystem services are a valid argument for the protection and promotion of biodiversity. The research examined crop pollination by wild bees in farming systems on five continents.

It found that wild pollinators contributed substantially to the production of approximately 20 insect-pollinated crops, including rapeseed, sunflowers, strawberries, broad beans, apples and pears. The contribution of insects to crop yield – the economic pay-off of pollination – was on average more than $3000 dollars per ha.

This knowledge may encourage producers to take measures to promote bees. “But,” says Kleijn, “most of these ecosystem services were provided by a small group of common species. Rare species barely contribute to crop pollination.”

He adds that it is fairly easy to protect common species by sowing flower strips, for example, but this is not true for the protection of rare species. “Rare species may play a less relevant role economically than common species, but this doesn’t mean that their protection is any less relevant,” he adds.

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Robotic asparagus picker demonstrated

A robotic asparagus harvester with the potential to replace up to 10 pickers has been demonstrated in the Netherlands.

Developed by technology company Demcon as part of a project with Saxion college, the machine works by measuring the height of the spear above the top of the bed. The unit works the asparagus loose underground and pulls the spear out of the bed. Mounted on a trolley-like frame, the tractor keeps moving forward while the robot stops, harvests and then continues.

The machine covers around 1 hectare per hour and is expected to be commercially available in a couple years. Current costs are around €500,000 per machine.

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New guidelines for glyphosate resistance

Updated guidelines from the Weed Resistance Action Group (WRAG) have been published by AHDB in response to the ‘real risks’ of glyphosate resistance developing in UK weeds.

While there are currently no known cases of glyphosate resistance in UK weeds, the guidelines build on global experience to help growers maintain the effectiveness of glyphosate as a weed control option.

Glyphosate has been around for 40 years and has become one of the most frequently used herbicides across UK crop production, partly due to increasing resistance to selective herbicides and the loss of other herbicide products.

James Clarke, WRAG Chair and Science and Business Development Manager at ADAS, warned, “A number of high-risk practices are being increasingly deployed on UK farms which could drive the evolution of glyphosate resistance in UK weeds – including multiple glyphosate applications, sub-lethal doses and suboptimal application timing – and we wanted to be proactive in highlighting the risks and promoting best practice.”

The new Minimising the risk of glyphosate resistance guidelines includes four simple and key messages, supported by more detailed evidence and guidance:
1. Prevent survivors: Avoid repeat applications to surviving plants
2. Maximise efficacy: Apply the right dose rate (reduced rates increase the risk of reduced efficacy), at the right timing, in the right conditions
3. Use alternatives: Use non-chemical options (such as cultivation), where practical, and use other herbicides in sequence
4. Monitor success: Remove survivors and report potential resistance issues to your advisor and/or the product manufacturer.

A two-page summary of the guidelines (AHDB Information Sheet 03) is available from the AHDB website and a full version of the guidelines is available to download from the WRAG website.

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