Monthly Archives: August 2016

Research casts light on cabbage differences

White cabbage and Chinese cabbage have a lot in common despite the fact that two crops originate from two different Brassica species used and domesticated by farmers on two different continents.

Together with scientists from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Wageningen UR scientists have explained how it is possible that these two Brassica varieties at two very different global locations developed into so many diverse, but often very similar crops.

While the domestication of a crop is a long and complex process, there are rare examples in history of something called convergent domestication, in which a similar type of crop develops in different places and at different times. According to Guusje Bonnema, plant breeding scientist at Wageningen UR and one of the authors of the article in Nature Genetics, the cabbage crops we have in Europe and Asia are a fine example of this process. “These two Brassica species were apparently both relatively easy to domesticate, sometimes into crops that are very alike, such as heading cabbages and turnips and kohlrabies. There are Brassica crops in both Europe and Asia which are cultivated for their floral organs, like cauliflower, broccoli, broccoletto and caixin,” she said.

“Because a cabbage contains three copies of a specific gene, one copy can develop a mutation which makes the leaves fold, for instance, while other copies retain their original function.”

This research is the first proof that genome triplication increases the opportunity for diversity and convergent domestication of the two Brassica varieties. “It provides a fascinating insight into how domestication works and creates opportunities for domesticating new crops,” says Bonnema. Moreover, by giving a greater insight into how the underlying genes work, breeders can cultivate the perfect cabbage cultivar.

Photo Caption: Guusje Bonnema, associate professor Wageningen University

Photo Credit: Wageningen UR

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Supermarket sales drop below £100 billion

Supermarket sales have sunk below the £100 billion mark for the first time in six years as competition in the grocery sector, particularly between discounters and traditional retailers, increases.

Food retail revenues dropped by 3 per cent to £99 billion in the second quarter, according to a study by The Share Centre. Industry observers say that the UK launch of online grocery service AmazonFresh could make the sector even tougher.

Helal Miah, investment research analyst at The Share Centre, said that intense price pressure and competition from discounters have made it a difficult time for Britain’s supermarkets: “It has been a tough couple of years for UK plc, battling against global economic headwinds and sector-specific problems that have beset commodities, energy, and food retailers.”

He also warned that economic uncertainty, triggered by the EU referendum result, could also harm retailers’ sales. “The implications of the economic slowdown will mean lower demand for sectors such as house builders and retailers, while the travel industry is already feeling the effects,” he said.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

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Tomatoes with virus attract bees

Plant scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that the cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) alters gene expression in the tomato plants it infects, causing changes to the scent emitted by the plants. Bees can smell these subtle changes, and glasshouse experiments have shown that bumblebees prefer infected plants over healthy ones.

Scientists say that by indirectly manipulating bee behaviour to improve pollination of infected plants by changing their scent, the virus is effectively paying its host back. This may also benefit the virus: helping to spread the pollen of plants susceptible to infection and, in doing so, inhibiting the chance of virus-resistant plant strains emerging.

CMV is transmitted by aphids – bees don’t carry the virus. It’s one of the most prevalent pathogens affecting tomato plants, resulting in small plants with poor-tasting fruits that can cause serious losses to cultivated crops. As well as being one of the most damaging viruses for horticultural crops, CMV it also persists in wild plant populations, and the new findings may explain why.

“Bees provide a vital pollination service in the production of three-quarters of the world’s food crops. With their numbers in rapid decline, scientists have been searching for ways to harness pollinator power to boost agricultural yields,” said study principal investigator Dr John Carr, Head of Cambridge’s Virology and Molecular Plant Pathology group. “Better understanding the natural chemicals that attract bees could provide ways of enhancing pollination, and attracting bees to good sources of pollen and nectar – which they need for survival.”

Photo Credit: University of Cambridge / Alex M Murphy, Sanjie Jiang and John P Carr

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AC Goatham wins award for Best Orchard

AC Goatham & Son has won the East Kent Fruit Society’s Best Orchard competition for an orchard of Zari at Shrubbery Farm in Eastry near Deal in Kent.

Shrubbery Farm also won the award for the Best Orchard under 1,000 trees and Zari also won the Class D Best Dessert category.

The farm includes 120 acres of topfruit, including 28 acres of Royal Gala, 34 of Zari, eight of Cox and 17 of Comice and Conference pears.

The Zari orchard is planted on wires with a 3m cane system, as part of a company-wide scheme to plant one million new trees across 17 farms by 2020. The planting distance is 3.5m between the rows and 1.2m within the rows and the orchard uses Malus and Golden Delicious as pollinators.

Nigel Stewart, technical director at AC Goatham, said, “We are absolutely delighted to have won the Orchard Competition, along with the other two titles. We strive for uniformity and perfection across all of our orchards and this particular Zari orchard is a real showcase of the team’s growing skills.”

Photo Caption: Nigel Stewart

Photo Credit: A C Goatham & Son

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Fruit stolen from Kent growers

Police investigating a series of fruit thefts in Kent worth around a total of £6,000 have said that the incidents ‘may be linked.’

Fresh produce including strawberries and cherries have been stolen from growers in the Sittingbourne and Faversham areas. Three thefts were reported near Church Road, Tonge, between the 18 and 26 July, where around £1,600 worth of fruit was stolen. In addition, around £2,400 worth of soft fruit was stolen from land near Faversham, between 7 July and 22 July.

Kent Police are also investigating whether a reported fruit theft worth £2,000, between 26 and 27 July near Yalding, is connected. Investigating officer, PC Marc Pennicott, said, “These thefts are all very similar so we believe they may be linked and I would encourage anyone with information to get in touch.”

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Soil Association expects organic market to exceed £2 billion

The Soil Association has said that it expects the organic market to exceed £2 billion this year thanks to a potential boost from Organic September.

Overall growth of organic products sold through supermarkets in the 52 weeks to 18 June has increased over 5% this year. This year’s Organic September, sponsored by renewable energy company Good Energy, aims to boost this even further.

Clare McDermott, business development director at Soil Association Certification said, “Despite an uncertain market following Brexit, Soil Association Certification is positive about the future of organic and we expect this year’s Organic September to have an even bigger impact than before. Market growth is already strong and there is a clear demand for organic, environmentally friendly and sustainable purchasing with many young professionals. The UK will still be required to comply with EU organic standards as minimum to maintain the flow of organic products to and from the EU and the Soil Association will continue to influence and improve the marketplace for organic businesses.”

The organisation highlighted organic produce as one of the areas where growth is ‘buoyant,’ but added that organic meat is the star performer. Soil Association Certification also reported an increased interest in conversion to organic farming in the last year.

Mark Haynes, Managing Director at G’s Fresh commented, “It’s clear that there is a growing demand for organic at the moment. Organic September is a great way to focus customers’ attention on organic and link products right through the supply chain, from point of sale to producer. Organic fresh produce is doing very well so we’re really pleased that the Soil Association is continuing to support the whole industry for an added push in September.”

Photo Credit: Soil Association

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First vertical farm in UK to be in Scotland

A £2.5 million investment by the James Hutton Institute and Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) means that the first vertical farm in the UK will be built near Invergowrie.

The high-tech facility will produce crops such as lettuce, baby leaf and micro-greens using technology such as hydroponics and LED lighting. It will feature automated towers and complex software which will take the cheapest electricity from the grid at times of surplus. Although some commentators have expressed doubts about the commercial viability of such facilities, the developers say that they expect production costs to fall quickly.

Henry Aykroyd, chief executive of IGS, said, “Our mission is to enable our customers to be the lowest cost producers by growing local globally, with better quality and saving natural resources. The process uses little water, no pesticides, can enhance taste and is consistent all year round.”

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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Tomatoes resist a parasitic vine by detecting its peptide

Tomato plants deter attacks from a parasitic plant that’s known to ravage crops by detecting one of its peptides, a new study has revealed.

Worldwide, parasitic plants cost billions of dollars in crop losses, but a better understanding of how some plants fend off invaders could help efforts to mitigate these losses. Cuscuta reflexa is a parasitic, leafless vine that infects the stems of most dicotyledonous plants. One notable exception is Solanum lycopersicum, a species of tomato.

Plants are sometimes able to detect disease-causing microbes by the distinct peptides that these invading plants release, which prompts the host plant to secrete the stress-related hormone ethylene. The research team lead by Volker Hegenauer suspected that S. lycopersicum may take a similar strategy when facing the plant parasite C. reflexa, which they confirmed. By analyzing natural variation the researchers identified the receptor behind this sensitivity, which they named Cuscuta receptor 1 (CuRe1).

When the team induced expression of the corresponding gene in the leaves of two other plant species (one closely related to S. lycopersicum and the other more distantly related), both plants reacted to presence of the C. reflexa peptide with increased production of ethylene, and exhibited increased resistance to C. reflexa infestation.

Photo Caption: Flower of the dicotyledonous plant parasite Cuscuta reflexa.

Photo Credit: Dr. Eric Melzer

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Tesco & Co-op offer free fruit for children

Tesco and Co-op stores are offering free fruit to children while their parents shop.

Tesco is offering the scheme in 800 stores, offering parents a selection of fruit such as apples, some citrus and bananas in response to a suggestion by checkout colleague Maria Simpson. “We’re Britain’s biggest greengrocer, so we want to make it easier for parents to get their children eating more healthily,” said Tesco UK chief executive Matt Davies. “”As a dad, I know it can be tricky getting children to eat their fruit and vegetables, so we’re hoping this initiative will help create healthy eating habits that will stay with children as they grow up.”

In contrast, the Co-op scheme, which is restricted to Lincolnshire, is only available to junior members of the Lincolnshire Co-op between the ages of five to 15. Once registered children can claim a fruit snack bag every day.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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Food Standards Agency pledges review of date marking guidance

On Wednesday 6 July, the Food Standards Agency partnered with Neighbourly to host an industry round table event entitled ‘Addressing the challenges in food waste redistribution’.

The event focused on redistribution by retailers to charities and community organisations preparing food for service users and marked the beginning of the FSA’s review of date marking guidance in partnership with Defra and WRAP. The key theme was to explore whether any improvements in food safety labelling and guidance, or better education around it, might increase the volume of surplus fresh food donated and used by the voluntary sector.

The event highlighted a number of key issues, and now, as part of the review process, the FSA, WRAP and Defra will consider extending the guidance to include how food can be redistributed safely. A recurring theme throughout the event was the impact, application and understanding of date labelling, in particular the challenges around ‘best before end’ dates. The need for a section of the guidance to address date marking for food for redistribution rather than sale was also identified.

Steve Wearne, Director of Policy, Food Standards Agency, commented, “These discussions have been extremely useful in bringing to light the key barriers to food redistribution for all those involved. It has clearly highlighted the areas where the FSA can focus its efforts to ensure that as much surplus food as possible is safely redistributed. That’s why we have begun the process, working with Defra and WRAP, of reviewing the date marking guidance which we aim to publish by July 2017.”

Photo Credit: FSA

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