Monthly Archives: November 2015

Latest Agricultural GHG statistics show fall in total emissions

The latest edition of Agricultural Statistics and Climate Change, published by Defra and National Statistics, shows that emissions of major greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the sector have fallen.

Total estimated GHG emissions fell 19% from 1990 to 2013, with the biggest falls in carbon dioxide (31%), followed by nitrous oxide and methane which dropped 17% each. Methane accounted for the largest proportion of gases at 27 million tonnes CO2e in 2013. Total productivity rose over the same period according to the report.

However, the output of vegetables and other horticultural products fell between 1990 and 2014, although at 86.7% of the 1990 index the 2014 figure was still higher than 2012 which was the lowest period. According to the statistics the sector accounts for 10% of total GHG emissions from agriculture. ‘Improved nitrogen use efficiency in cropping systems can be achieved through improved crop nutrient management,” comment the authors.

Photo Credit: National Statistics/Defra

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EFSA says no link between glyphosate and cancer

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published its peer review of glyphosate which is part of the EU renewal process for the chemical.

Crucially it concludes that, ‘Glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential.’

Nick von Westenholz, CEO of the Crop Protection Association commented, “We are pleased to see that EFSA concurs with the numerous health assessments conducted by public authorities on glyphosate over the past 40 years which have all concluded that, when used correctly, it poses no meaningful risk to human health.”

However, the Soil Association slammed the report’s findings. “Given that this review of glyphosate relies almost entirely on industry funded, unpublished studies, it would be unthinkable for the EFSA to come to any conclusion other than that glyphosate is safe to use,” said SA Policy Director Peter Melchett.

Photo Credit: EFSA

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Meurig Raymond: Farming can survive current crisis

NFU President Meurig Raymond believes that farming can survive the current crisis affecting key sectors including cereals, milk and vegetables, but that in order to do so it must utilise the very best information and technology, not only to improve productivity, but also to emphasise the importance of the sector to society as a whole.

Speaking at AgriTech East’s REAP (Realising our Economic and Agricultural Potential) Conference on Wednesday (11 November) Raymond congratulated the Government for its recently announced 25 year Food and Farming Plan and emphasised how the NFU is feeding into that process, but he also lamented the fact that UK self-sufficiency in food has now fallen to just 62 per cent.

He said that provided they were allowed to make a return, farmers were more than willing to invest in the future of their businesses. “Our top priorities must be tackling the barriers to growth and investment,” he stressed. “We need a fair, transparent and functioning supply chain.”

In conclusion Mr Raymond said that policy makers needed to recognise the long term cycles affecting farming. “I am confident that farming is going to find its rightful place in society, but it’s going to be a bumpy ride,” he added.

Photo credit: Richard Crowhurst

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New pollinator projects announced

A year on from its launch, Environment Minister George Eustice has praised the efforts of thousands of people to support the National Pollinator Strategy.

Speaking at a Bee Summit organised by Friends of the Earth and the Women’s Institute on Monday (9 November), Mr Eustice said, “Protecting our pollinators is a priority for this government. They are an essential part of our environment and play a crucial role in food production.”

As part of this Defra has published a new implementation plan for the strategy. Defra has also provided £20,000 in grants to five Local Nature Partnership projects in Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Durham and Surrey.

The NFU urged government to recognise the role farmers played in protecting bees. NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: “Farmers do fantastic work for pollinators covering thousands of acres of the British countryside. This substantial contribution benefits local biodiversity and brings valuable and vital pollination to crops.”

Photo Credit: NFU

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Bromoxynil not a direct replacement for Totril

With the loss of the herbicide Totril on 31 August 2016 many onion growers are considering using bromoxynil which has recently been approved for use in the crop. However Andy Richardson of Allium & Brassica Agronomy warned that it could not be used as a straight replacement.

Growers need to consider the different label recommendations of the two products containing bromoxynil (Butryflow SC and Buctril EC) he warned. One reason is that due to the higher risk of crop scorch compared to ioxynil (Totril) and its SC formulation, Butraflow cannot be applied to set crops. It also has a timing restriction and can only be used between 1 May and 30 September, so may be unsuitable for early crops. Buctril currently has no such restrictions.

“We’ve been looking at both products and we’ve been looking at Buctril since 2010. Based on our trials Buctril may be more useful to onion growers than Butryflow),” explained Andy.

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New diagnostic test for downy mildew

An AHDB Horticulture-funded study into reducing the cost of downy mildew control in onion crops has resulted in a new diagnostic test which will be available for growers to trial next year.

Dr Alison Wakeham of the University of Worcester explained the scientific work which has gone into developing the MILIONCAST (MILDEW on ONION FIRECAST) model which provides predictions of downy mildew sporulation based on environmental conditions.

However this cannot determine the disease is actually present, which is where the new hand held test comes in. An in-field air sampling device is collected and, “A five minute stick test shows if the disease is present in the [air]sample and at what level. As the level of the disease increases the strength of the line depletes,” explained Dr Wakeham.

In order to prevent different interpretations of the result due to differences in people’s eyesight a reader is used, although phone apps to read similar tests are becoming available. In trials using the test and the forecast model reduced the number of spays by half while maintaining control levels of the disease.

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Defra to fight for UK farmers in Europe

The UK is committed to scientific evidence in the face of potentially damaging European legislation. That was the message from Kathleen Kelliher of Defra when she addressed the UK Onion & Carrot Conference on Wednesday 4 October.

“Most of these decisions are made in Brussels and while Defra uses science-based decision making, sadly we cannot promise that decisions on future EU approvals will be based on sound science, because in some cases the current EU criteria are not scientific,” she said.

“The UK has arguably been the leading member state in pressing for science-based regulation of these chemicals. Our calls for an impact assessment have at last been heeded by the Commission.

“Defra supports regulation to protect people and the environment from adverse effects from pesticides; however it is right for all of use to be aware of the costs and benefits of regulation. We agree that the EU regime has features that carry very significant cost for limited benefits.

“We think [potential pesticides]should be assessed by a proper risk assessment,” she added.

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Maintaining plant viability amidst proposed AD tariff degressions

At the end of January Ofgem announced that more than 3 GW of renewable energy capacity had been accredited under the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) scheme in the UK. While solar photovoltaic projects accounted for more than 98% of the schemes, 135 anaerobic digestion (AD) plants accounted for 3.5% of the electricity generated*.

While AD represents a small fraction of the total energy under the FIT scheme, its uptake has been such that the tariffs for all three scales (plant sizes) have been caught in the scheme’s regression mechanism, which reduces the support rate as deployment of the renewable technology increases. Since the scheme was introduced in April 2010, the tariffs for AD projects have fallen, on average, by just over 25%, with support for schemes with a capacity between 250 and 500 kW down by almost a third since the beginning.

It is a similar story with the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). Tariffs have just become more complex, with larger biomethane combustion plants becoming eligible and a decreasing scale of tariffs on the amount of biomethane injected into the gas grid, but as overall RHI deployment continues to rise, degression is also likely.

This does not mean that AD projects are no longer viable. It does however mean that some people’s thought processes need to change. It is worth remembering what the FIT scheme was designed to do. It was supposed to increase the uptake of renewable energy technologies to the point where they were sufficiently widespread that development costs came down to the point that financial support was no longer necessary. They were not intended to be a long term subsidy on energy generation by plants – even if that is how they appear to work in practice.

The way the FIT scheme is set up has already caused some (not entirely unforeseen) market distortions. The two most obvious being the installation of multiple smaller units to increase the tariff the project is eligible for (most noticeable with biomass boilers under the RHI) and the over-specification or under efficiency of heat usage technologies, such as driers, in order to maximise the amount of heat on which RHI can be claimed.

As tariffs reduce, both these practices will, rightly, become less widespread as any financial gains are eroded. While projects that have deliberately been ‘over-specified’ or made deliberately inefficient will struggle, the most efficient ones will continue to attract investment and operate profitably. Using the latest heat exchanger technology which harvests and uses wasted heat at an AD plant, will become the easiest way of doing this, both in new projects and existing ones.

Heat exchanger systems for digestate pasteurisation and concentration have a strong track record on the energy efficiency front. Pasteurisation of the AD plant’s organic biofertiliser output, digestate, is necessary if the product is to cease to be seen as a waste and be sold as a product (meeting PAS 110 standards). Although the pasteurisation process has in the past been an energy hungry and inefficient process, heat exchanger technology has changed this. The HRS 3 Tank Batch Sludge Pasteuriser System, for example, uses at least half – and in some cases up to 70% – less heat energy to complete the pasteurisation process by recycling heat energy twice.

For either new or existing plants, it’s worth investigating heat exchanger technology for pasteurisation and digestate concentration. Not only does it improve a plant’s efficiency and maximise its outputs, but it’s also better for the environment too.

This story was first published on Engineering Update on 6 July 2015.

Irish crisps enter US market

Irish potato growers the Keogh family, who have farmed at Westpalstown in County Dublin for the past 200 years, are growing in the international luxury crisp market with export sales of their products increasing.

“Over the years my family has grown tomatoes, cucumber, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, sweetcorn, barley, wheat, onions and potatoes,” said Tom Keogh, who farms with his brother Peter and their sons Tom, Ross and Derek. “In the last 20 years we have completely specialised in potatoes. We grow about 400 acres and we have a network of 25 growers from Wexford up to County Donegal.”

At present the crisps factory, which employs around 27 people, is producing 1.5 tonnes of product every day. The range features seven different flavours in 50g, 125g and multi-pack offerings. The distinctive crunch is achieved by dropping the cooking temperature by about 25 degrees for part of the process, before bringing it back up to 150 degrees.

As well as featuring the family’s iconic branding, each packet of crisps carries information for the consumer to use the company’s innovative ‘spud nav.’ “Each bag has the field where we grew the potatoes, the variety and the person that cooked them, as well as the best before date,” explains Tom.

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