Monthly Archives: June 2017

Hydroponic internships available in South Wales

A studentship is available to work with Phytoponics and Aberystwyth University, giving the successful applicant the chance to consider what makes a successful hydroponic crop and how can we improve the agronomy of hydroponics to maximise the yield, efficiency of production and crop quality.

South Wales-based has developed the Hydrosac, a novel device for growing plants hydroponically that expands the range of applications of hydroponics. According to the firm the Hydrosac opens up the opportunity to develop novel agronomy for large scale hydroponics and to develop varieties that are specifically selected for use in hydroponic agriculture.

The project will grow a diverse population from a range of potential salad crops in Hydrosacs, identifying suitable variations to improve plant growth for hydroponic systems and will identify what characteristics are associated with superior performance to establish the characteristics that define a successful hydroponic crop. A major outcome will be to identify the potential impact of new breeding programmes specific for hydroponic agriculture.

Specific aims include identifying crop phenotypes in hydroponic and conventional growing systems, testing how different crops may be optimally linked through hydroponics to maximise the use of nutrient and space, and performing a large scale test of selected crop types to confirm in detail improvements in hydroponics using the Hydrosac for yield and nutrient content.

Photo Credit: Phytoponics

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New technology could cut strawberry waste

A new filter which absorbs and locks in ethylene in enclosed spaces, such as retail packaging, could revolutionise the shelf life of fresh produce according to the company behind it.

Figures from tech company It’s Fresh! claim their filter inserts are now saving 1,134 tonnes of strawberries each year; the equivalent of almost three million punnets, or forty times the number of strawberries eaten at Wimbledon every summer. The green and white stripy filters are now being used by supermarkets including M&S, Morrisons, and Waitrose.

Simon Lee, co-founder of It’s Fresh! said, “Wasting food really does waste everything – Water, labour, energy, time and money. Many of us know that over a third of the food produced globally gets wasted, but what you might not know is that it takes almost half a gallon of water to grow one strawberry, add to that the labour & fuel to pick, pack, ship and process it for retail merchandising ….and you can begin to see the scale of the problem that we face.”

Photo Credit: It’s Fresh!

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Wholesalers concerned about effects of hot weather

According to reports, some wholesalers have expressed concern about the recent spate of hot, dry weather on the availability of certain UK produce lines, including broccoli and some soft fruit.

Following temperatures of 31oC in Lincolnshire and 25oC in Cornwall, former Secretts Direct boss Vernon Mascarenhas of New Covent Garden’s First Choice Produce told the Fresh Produce Journal that “Broccoli will be hardest hit because generally you don’t irrigate broccoli. In this heat the broccoli plant will dehydrate and shut down.”

He added, “Strawberries are also going to be a problem. In this weather strawberry plants can just shut down and stop producing. “Everyone loves the hot weather but people should realise what it can do to our food chain,” he said. “There are going to be consequences.”

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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New Fieldloader options make transportation easier

Tong Engineering has announced a number of new design options for its Fieldloader in-field grader and bulker loading system, including automatic transport-mode features which allow users to make the machine even more compact for road transportation.

“Our Fieldloader is increasingly popular with growers as it means soil is removed in the field and kept off the public roads, plus transport of crop is significantly reduced as there is a no need to transport crop to a central yard or location” explained Charlie Rich, Export Sales Manager at Tong Engineering. “It significantly reduces crop handling times, allowing growers to meet tight deadlines and deliver crop in optimum condition straight from the field.”

The new model of the machine incorporates a transport-mode option featuring a powered elevator section that automatically retracts back under the cleaning and inspecting sections of the machine, making the unit as short as possible when towing on the road. Foldable conveyors are also a feature on the transport-mode design to make the Fieldloader as narrow as possible. The machine is also available with a choice of crop cleaning systems including Tong’s EasyClean separator adjustable coil cleaning unit.

Thetford-based Elveden Farms is currently operating a custom-built Fieldoader, designed to clean and load the farm’s carrot and onion crop straight from the field. Farm Manager Andrew Francis commented, “Our original Fieldloader from Tong has streamlined our post-harvest crop handling times and has allowed us to achieve a very quick turnaround from field to bulker lorries. Our second Fieldloader is now in production and we look forward to increasing our capacity even further.”

Photo Credit: Tong Engineering

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NFU clashes with WWF at Nuffield Conference

NFU vice-president Guy Smith clashed with WWF-UK’s food policy manager Duncan Williamson at last week’s Nuffield Conference.

In a panel debate, Mr Smith commented, “We pick up some bad habits from the green NGOs who have something to sell when it comes to spreading bad news. I’ve got no issue with this but the WWF like to point to the things we haven’t got on our farms in terms of wildlife and frequently ignore what we have got. That sometimes irritates me.”

In response, Mr Williamson stressed that 60 per cent of biodiversity loss worldwide can be linked to agriculture and food systems and disagreed that it did not recognise good environmental actions by farmers. “We celebrate the good farmers, we work with farmers all over the world,” he said. “We work with farmers in East Anglia and with farmers along the River Itchen who are doing fantastic work to get the chalk streams back up to a really good level.”

Photo Credit: NFU

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Poupart re-launches Ravenhill brand

Poupart Produce used the recent London Produce Show to re-launch its premium ‘Ravenhill’ brand of products, which is currently listed in Ocado.

Named after one of the Poupart Group’s founders; William Ravenhill, the company is targeting premium retailers with the range which currently includes cherries, asparagus and rhubarb, although Poupart commercial manager, Sam Trebbick told reporters that the brand could include premium produce from any category.

His remarks suggest that the range will therefore sit across the top of Poupart Produce’s company structure, which includes Poupart Imports, Orchard World, Citrus First and Norton Folgate. The company said that it is currently in talks with other retailers about listing the brand.

Photo Credit: Poupart Produce

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Combating weeds with lasers

Researchers from the University of Bonn in Germany are working in a system which would automatically identify weeds and then destroy them using a short laser pulse.

Dr. Julio Pastrana and Tim Wigbels from the Institute of Geodesy and Geoinformation at the University of Bonn are currently developing a novel system which uses cameras on an all-terrain robot vehicle, or which could be mounted on a tractor add-on. They say that unwanted weed species should be automatically identified in a variety of crops and treated in a targeted way.

“The robot shoots the leaves of the unwanted plants with short laser pulses, which causes a weakening in their vitality,” reports Dr. Pastrana.

“We predict that we will no longer need to use herbicides on our fields and the environment will be protected,” adds Wigbels. “It is now a case of finding investors and further developing the business plan for the start-up.”

The researchers are now developing a new start-up company ‘Escarda Technologies’ for one year at the University of Bonn with an EXIST grant from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, and the researchers are also using the funding to buy the parts needed to construct a prototype.

Photo Caption: Tim Wigbels (left) and Dr. Julio Pastrana (right) with their weed recognition software which is detecting a plant and how the laser system is shooting and damage its foliage.

Photo Credit: Volker Lannert/Uni Bonn

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European organic association formed

A new European association for traders and processors of organics has been formed. The Organic Processing and Trade Association (OPTA) was inaugurated in Milan, Italy on 7 June with five initial board members from four countries.

“The goal of our association is to empower the progress of organic food and farming in Europe in close cooperation with our customers, the organic farmers and other parts of the organic chain,” explained Volkert Engelsman, general manager of Eosta, one of the new members of the board. “The organic food and agricultural system with its strong values is best equipped to lead the transition to a more sustainable food system. The current system of food production, which is driven by externalising costs, is a dead-end. The OPTA will encourage the sustainable innovation and quality development of organic products, based on the principles of the organic movement: ecology, health, care and fairness. We need a powerful supply chain with active processors and trade companies to build a future-proof food and agricultural system in Europe.”

The new organisation, which has 15 founding members, says that it will work closely with existing national and European lobby organisations, as well as the European branch of the international organic umbrella organisation IFOAM.

Photo Credit: OPTA

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Opportunity for strawberry growers to see latest breeding

The latest selections from the East Malling Strawberry Breeding Club will be on display to growers at an EMR Association/AHDB Horticulture walk at NIAB East Malling Research on 8 June.

According to organisers, the event represents a great opportunity for growers to experience this year’s most promising performers from the breeding club, with an opportunity to view and taste the most interesting new selections from the programme.

The event will also give growers a chance to provide feedback on the lines and ultimately will help choose which lines move on to commercial release to the industry. In conjunction with project SF 096a, the key aim of the Strawberry Breeding Club is to breed varieties to the highest standard, with overlapping seasons, high yields, high pest and disease resistance and greater picking efficiency to reduce labour costs.

Photo Credit: Pexels

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EU to simplify rules of Producer Organisations

New European legislation governing fruit and vegetable Producer Organisations (POs) has come into force, promising ‘simpler rules, a reduced administrative burden and greater financial support in times of crisis.’

One of the aims of the new rules is to make POs more attractive to non-members, something which could worry current UK organisations which currently face an uncertain future after Brexit and which are worried about potential unfair levels of support compared to their European neighbours.

According to the latest available figures, there were around 1 500 POs covering 50% of the EU fruit and vegetables production. Since the Russian embargo in August 2014, the EU provided fruit and vegetable growers with €442 million in extra funding. The European Commission also provides additional funding for POs of about €700 million every year. Under the new rules, so-called withdrawal prices will increase from 30% to 40% of the average EU market price over the last five years for free distribution (so-called charity withdrawals) and from 20% to 30% for withdrawals destined for other purposes (such as compost, animal feed, distillation, etc.).

Another new rule sets the maximum percentage of produce that can be marketed outside the organisation directly by each grower at 25%, replacing the former system of a minimum threshold set at EU level and a variety of different maximum thresholds set at national level.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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