Monthly Archives: February 2017

Mechanisation could be future for apple growers

Adopting fruit-wall orchards instead of traditional systems could make mechanical pruning of apple trees easier and reduce costs according to AHDB Horticulture.

Increasing labour costs and uncertainties about future labour availability means that many growers are looking for ways to reduce their reliance on human labour. Modern intensive orchards are already simpler and easier to prune than traditional ones but can still require 25-40 hours of labour per hectare. In fruit-wall orchards, mechanical pruning work rates vary between 1.5 and 2.5 hours per hectare, so even though some hand-pruning will be needed, there is potential to save around £3,000 per hectare over an orchard’s 15-year life.

AHDB Horticulture has spent the last four years investigating the tree types and pruning regimes most suitable for use in a fruit-wall orchard in the UK in two projects and has now generated a number of recommendations about the timing of pruning.

Scott Raffle, Knowledge Exchange Manager at AHDB Horticulture, said, “The results from these projects could have a really positive impact on fruit growers and we look forward to sharing these results, and other research project updates, with our growers.”

An update from the research projects will be presented at the AHDB/EMR Association Tree Fruit Conference, which takes place on 28 February at NIAB EMR in Kent.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons.

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Breakthrough in environmentally friendly pesticides

A ‘new generation’ of environmentally friendly pesticides is a step closer thanks to researchers and an insect-killing fungus.

Molecular virologists Dr Robert Coutts from the University of Hertfordshire and Dr Ioly Kotta-Loizou from Imperial College London are investigating the potential of Beauveria bassiana as an environmentally friendly bio-insecticide

B. bassiana, which is found naturally in soil and on some plants, can kill a wide range of insects, including whiteflies, aphids, grasshoppers and termites, by infecting them with its spores. Unlike some other fungal insecticides, the work is specifically researching the viral community of B. bassiana. This has lead to the discovery that certain mycoviruses (viruses that infect fungi) cause hypervirulence and increase mycoinsecticidal efficiency.

Dr Coutts said, “This discovery is potentially transformational for the sector and could elevate the profile of B. bassiana as one of the most environmentally friendly pest control agents for farmers today. This would safeguard ecosystems internationally, especially where the use of chemical insecticides is particularly prevalent. By using viruses as enhancers we will create a new generation of improved mycoinsecticides, increasing the quality of global food production and reducing the environmental impact.”

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons.

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Effective controls for apple canker identified

Two new fungicides have been identified for the control of apple canker, caused by the fungus Neonectria ditissima, while research into integrated pest management of the disease is also providing promising results.

Canker is one of the most important diseases of apple and pear, causing cankers and dieback of young shoots, as well as fruit rot that can result in losses as high as ten per cent or more in stored fruit. In a two-year AHDB Horticulture funded trial examining control of Neonectria fruit rot, a range of experimental fungicides, a biofungicide and several alternative chemical treatments were tested for effectiveness. During the trials, fungicides Delan Pro and Syllit 400SC were found to be effective at reducing the incidence of fruit rot.

A five-year IPM study, also commissioned by AHDB Horticulture, is looking at how apple canker spreads. The project aims to identify an approach to reduce losses during tree establishment by targeting infection at propagation phase and improving the efficacy of orchard control.

Mark Holden, from Adrian Scripps Ltd is an industry representative of the project. He commented, “Losses of trees due to canker have risen significantly over the last 10 years due to more intensive tree planting, particularly with more susceptible varieties such as Gala, Braeburn, Kanzi & Jazz.

“The main issue is the lack of systemic chemical products in the growing season which are effective so it is encouraging that some new chemistry is coming through. It is hoped that, after the registration process is completed for these new products, the label requirements are not too restrictive.”

Photo Caption: Neonectria ditissima

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

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New seed breeding technique reported

According to reports, scientists from Syngenta have published details of a breakthrough seed breeding process in the international scientific journal Nature.

It is believed that the technique of haploid induction could significantly speed up breeding. Although initially based around corn (maize) crops, with the mechanism triggered by a defect in an enzyme coded by the Matrilineal (MTL) gene, the work could have wide implications.

“Successful haploid induction is an often painstaking and costly process,” said Tim Kelliher, principal scientist, reproduction biology at Syngenta and lead author of the paper. “But this research is an important step in showing how gene editing can help us breed plants that produce higher yields, on a much more efficient time frame.”

“We know that investment in gene editing and crop genetics can help us create significant progress toward sustainable intensification of agriculture,” said Michiel van Lookeren Campagne, head of Seeds Research at Syngenta. “To be recognized by the scientific community for this work illustrates its importance to innovation in agriculture. It is a true honour and testament to the quality of our scientists.”

Photo Caption: The study identified the causes of haploid induction in corn

Photo Credit: Public Domain Pictures

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‘Knox’ wins top Fruit Logistica award

Rijk Zwaan has been awarded with the Fruit Logistica Award for its Knox™ innovation which is a natural trait which delays discolouration.

Over 70,000 visitors to the trade fair were invited to vote for their favourite out of ten nominees. “This award is the icing on the cake following more than ten years of intensive breeding work. We wholeheartedly thank the visitors for their votes and our chain partners for their faith in Knox,” comments Bauke van Lenteren, Marketing Specialist Leafies.

Knox was first introduced in September 2015 after more than a decade of breeding work. Benefits for the whole supply chain include less waste during processing and sale. The trait can also encourage consumers to purchase fresh-cut lettuce more often because it now has a longer shelf life.

“Thanks to everyone who voted for us and a special thank-you to our team, of course. And last but not least, I’d like to thank all our partners in the value-added chain – they’ve helped us by explaining the benefits of our development,” added Jan Doldersum, Manager Marketing and Business Development at Rijk Zwaan Distribution B.V.

The company says that the roll-out of Knox will continue throughout 2017. Processing companies in the UK, Switzerland, Poland, Australia and the USA are already working with Knox lettuce varieties, and growers, vegetable processing companies and retailers in other countries are in the midst of trials.

Photo Caption: The Rijk Zwaan team celebrate their win at Fruit Logistica.

Photo Credit: Rijk Zwaan.

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AHDB & BPOA plan Canadian study trip

After the success of its previous transatlantic study tour to the United States in 2015, AHDB Horticulture, The Bedding and Pot Plant Centre and The British Protected Ornamentals Association (BPOA) are now organising a two week study tour to Canada.

According to AHDB, ‘The study tour has been designed to share with growers the latest products, technical innovation, news and research from Canada and to identify potential new commercial opportunities for UK growers.’ As well as visits to nurseries and the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, the trip will include the Canadian Greenhouse Conference in Niagra Falls in October.

A provisional itinerary and estimate costs are available on the AHDB Horticulture website and further details will be posted if there is sufficient interest. ‘The overall objective is to offer growers an opportunity to learn from the Canadian ornamentals industry in order to help identify new product ideas and technical innovation that can be implemented back in the UK,’ according to AHDB.

Photo Caption: Previous study tour to the US

Photo Credit: BPOA / NFU

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Bedfordshire Growers launch dried sweet onion

Grower co-operative Bedfordshire Growers launched a new product at Fruit Logistica last week: dried sweet red onions.

Managing Director Stephen Hedderly told reporters that the product was produced simply by dehydrating the company’s sweet red onions without any additives and that they could be used as a healthy alternative to fried onions or even as a snack instead of crisps or nuts.

“We have customers all over the world but there is always a grade of product that people don’t want, and this is a way of using that product,” he said. “We launched the red sweet onions two years ago on Valentine’s Day, and we have overachieved on sales. We’re very pleased.”

Photo Caption: Sweet red onions were first introduced by Bedfordshire Growers two years ago.

Photo Credit: Bedfordshire Growers.

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The benefits of on-site heat and power generation for food companies

Sustainability has never been higher on the agenda for food and drink companies than it is now. Not only does operating in an ethical and environmentally responsible way make sense for both planet and pocket, but it’s clear that this is what consumers want, too. Research from Globescan revealed that 92 per cent of shoppers think food companies should focus their efforts on securing the future sustainability of food, with two-thirds also believing that farmers should be paid more for their produce. So, what more could the UK’s food producers be doing to increase their sustainability credentials?

Making the most of waste

In recent years, some of the country’s most forward thinking food companies have developed a truly circular approach to resource use. Alongside minimising the volume of waste they generate, they are also turning the unavoidable fraction that does occur into renewable energy, for use in their on-site operations. Anaerobic digestion (or AD) – in which organic matter is naturally broken down to produce energy and biofertiliser – has taken big strides in the UK over the past seven years, with over 540 AD plants now in operation.

While the vast majority of the country’s AD facilities treat sewage sludge, agricultural feedstocks or commercial/municipal food waste, almost 40 facilities are on-site industrial plants. Together, these generate over 50 MWe-e from a variety of process residues, ranging from vegetable peelings and sugar beet pulp to liquid malt waste and whisky draff. The benefits for the companies operating these plants are multiple – reduced waste disposal costs; reduced energy costs; security of energy supply, with reduced reliance on fossil-fuel derived power; carbon mitigation; superior green credentials; and creation of a nutrient-rich biofertiliser. And the fact that these plants have an on-site use for the power they produce means they are exempt from the current crisis in renewable energy incentives which is affecting plants that export power to the grid.

Take the heat

However, any AD facility that wants to maximise its returns also needs to be making use of its full heat output, not just its power output. The AD process generates plenty of surplus heat – most commonly, heat produced by biogas combustion in a combined heat and power (CHP) unit, but also via digestate pre-heating, pasteurisation, biogas upgrading to biomethane and digestate concentration. Ensuring this heat is used either within the AD process itself or within other on-site operations can make a big difference to a plant’s efficiency and therefore profitability.

By using heat exchangers within an AD plant, surplus heat can be taken from one process or place and transferred to another. Common everyday examples include domestic radiators (which transfer heat from a boiler to a room) and car radiators (which take heat away from the engine). Two of the most common types supplied to AD plants by HRS Heat Exchangers are Plate Heat Exchangers and Tubular Heat Exchangers. However, there are many different models and refinements and it is advisable to consult a specialist who can explain the benefits of different types and perhaps offer different solutions.

Potential uses for heat in the AD process

When it comes to making full use of the heat, there are a number of options with the AD process itself, including: preheating feedstock; for pasteurising; to reduce the volume of digestate; or to upgrade biogas to biomethane. For on-site plants within the food industry, it can also be used for space heating, cooking, heating liquids, or pasteurising and sterilising foodstuffs. In addition, large sites may have significant office and staff facilities, where there may be the scope to install district heating systems.

As the demand on resources increases, there will be a greater need for food companies to demonstrate sustainability across all areas of their business. On-site AD, where full use is made of both the heat and power generated by waste materials, offers an obvious solution.

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Changing Climate Changes Soils

In a new study, Australian researchers have used digital techniques to predict how soil organic carbon may be altered by climate change.

“Soil organic carbon is a major determinant of soil health,” says Jonathan Gray, senior scientist at New South Wales Office of Environment & Heritage, who was the lead author of the study. “It influences many chemical, physical, and biological properties of the soil, such as fertility and water holding capacity.”

The researchers used 12 climate change models to predict how soil organic carbon levels vary with climate change. The models used in the study reflected a full range of projected global climate outcomes. Results were varied. “A majority of models showed a decline in soil organic carbon with climate change,” states Gray. “But a few of the models actually predicted an increase.”

The researchers also discovered that the extent to which soil organic carbon changes varied across soil types, current climate, and land use regimes. For example, the projected average decline of soil organic carbon was less than one ton per hectare for sandy, low-fertility soils in dry conditions under cropping regimes. It was 15 times as much for clay-rich, fertile soils in wet conditions under native vegetation regimes.

“This knowledge can help us to better understand and predict where the greatest potential losses or gains in soil carbon may occur,” says Gray. “It would allow us to better prepare for and adapt to altered soil conditions,” he says. “That would ultimately improve how we manage both agricultural and native ecosystems.”

Photo Caption: Jonathan Gray collecting soil carbon data in the field, Hawkesbury Region, NSW (D. King, OEH)

Photo Credit: D. King, Office of Environment and Heritage.

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Tesco introduces apples to yoghurt in latest waste effort

Tesco has partnered with leading organic dairy, Yeo Valley, and Adam Wakeley, the UK’s largest organic fruit grower to create an exclusive new Apple and Custard Left-Yeovers yogurt which helps to tackle food waste. The yogurt uses visually imperfect, but great tasting apples, to create the seasonal flavour.

The Left-Yeovers range, which has been championed by Tesco in recent months, helps to prevent food waste by using surplus fruit from the Yeo Valley storerooms, and also raises money for a very important cause, with 10p from every pot sold donated to food redistribution charity, FareShare. Previous Left-Yeovers flavours have included Strawberry & Fig, Plum & Custard and Banoffee, and have raised £20,000 for FareShare so far.

Adrian Carne Joint Managing Director of Yeo Valley commented, “Our Apples and Custard yogurt is made with organic Santana fruit grown in Gloucester. The juicy apples are blended with a creamy custard yogurt made in our Somerset dairy.”

Photo Credit: Tesco

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