Monthly Archives: August 2017

New fears over use of sulphur for crop protection

A new study has linked the spraying of elemental sulphur for crop protection with asthma and breathing difficulties.

The chemical, which is widely used of strawberries to control mildew and other fungal diseases, is currently approved for use on organic crops as it is deemed to be a ‘natural’ substance. However, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley who studied children living in the Salinas area of California found a link between lung function, more asthma-related symptoms and higher asthma medication use in children living less than a mile from recent elemental sulphur applications compared to unexposed children.

Co-author of the study, Asa Bradman, associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at Berkeley’s School of Public Health, said, “Sulphur is widely used because it is effective and low in toxicity to people.

“It is naturally present in our food and soil and is part of normal human biochemistry, but breathing in sulphur dust can irritate airways and cause coughing. We need to better understand how people are exposed to sulphur used in agriculture and how to mitigate exposures. Formulations using wettable powders could be a solution.”

 Photo Caption: Researchers studied children living in California’s Salinas Valley.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Tesco expands prepared produce with new lines

Supermarket Tesco has launched several new lines in its range of prepared fresh produce, which the retailer says takes its offer of fresh, healthy ready meals, snacks and side dishes to more than 400.

The latest new lines include the UK’s first ever mushroom burgers as well as beetroot burgers; potato wedges with katsu dip and crunchy quinoa; and fajita mix with peppers and onions. The retailer says such products also help to reduce food waste by utilise fresh produce which is out of specification, for example undersize cauliflowers.

Tesco prepared produce buyer Elizabeth Hall said, “These tempting new fresh fruit and veg foods are not only offering shoppers a far wider choice in healthy, nutritious meals but are also helping tackle food waste through greater crop utilisation. For growing numbers of shoppers the fruit and veg aisle is now the first destination they will head to, to find innovative and delicious new meals if they are pressed for time and looking for fresh food they can cook quickly. These have been so popular that we began to expand the range in order to further help customers who are short on time but still want to experience the joy of cooking fresh food.”

However, according to The Grocer, the retailer has also delisted some of its prepared vegetable lines, including a beetroot & fine bean medley and tandoori vegetable bake.

Photo Credit: Tesco

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Adding silicon to soil to strengthen plant defences

Researchers at the University of Delaware and the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University in Australia are examining the addition of silicon to soil to help strengthen plants against potential predators.

By amending the soil with silica, a form of silicon that plants can easily take up, in trials the researchers helped plants build up tiny particles called phytoliths, or ‘plant stones,’ to defend against herbivorous insects and possibly rodents.

“The plant builds up these sorts of stones in its tissues, which will reduce the digestibility of the plant material because digesting stones is not very easy,” said Ivan Hiltpold of the University of Delaware. “Also, these stones wear the mouth parts of insects and possibly rodents. If your teeth are not really cutting any more, then you cannot eat as much as you could. All of that added together will reduce the impact of herbivory on the plant.”

In experiments with sugarcane grown in a greenhouse, the researchers found that high levels of silicon concentrations decreased the growth of root-feeding insects and root consumption, the latter by 71 per cent. Because the silicon doesn’t affect grazing livestock, it also will affect humans when, for example, a person consumes boiled carrots or sweet corn.

The option of using silicon to naturally strengthen a plant’s defences could be both environmentally friendly and economically attractive to growers, as they would not have to spray as much to protect their crops.

Photo Credit: Jeff Chase/ University of Delaware

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The key to drought-tolerant crops may be in the leaves

A solution to help farmers to grow crops in dry areas or during stretches of drought may depend on breeding and cultivating plants that protect themselves with a thicker layer of leaf wax, a new study from the University of Southern California suggests.

Sarah Feakins, a scientist at USC who has studied leaf wax in the context of climate change, teamed up with researchers at Texas A&M University to research and develop drought-resistant crops. During tests with winter wheat the team found that the cultivars in a high and dry area of Texas generated more protective wax on their leaves to protect themselves against more extreme conditions.

“Water conservation depends on innovation, and in this case, we are hoping to find one solution by identifying the traits in this important food crop that would enable the plants to tolerate drought and still produce plenty for harvest,” explained Feakins.

All plants produce wax that helps their leaves repel water and shield the plant from insects and the elements. In the trials scientists grew 10 cultivars in two different locations under three different irrigation regimes. The team compared the leaf wax of all the plots to gauge their drought tolerance.

“We see a strong effect in the higher and drier location,” Feakins said. “We see the plants adapt to their environment and to better protect their leaves, allowing them to respond well to reduced irrigation.” It is hoped the work will help in the breeding of crops which are more drought resistant.

Photo Caption: Plants with waxy leaves are more tolerant of hot and dry conditions

Photo Credit: Flickr

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New mating disruption technique offers hope for Tuta absoluta control

Trials funded by AHDB Horticulture have discovered a synthetic sex pheromone that confuses male Tuta absoluta moths so they can’t find females to mate with. The chemical, Isonet-T, offers new hope to commercial tomato growers for control of the devastating pest.

In the trials the mating disruption technique led to complete population control with no visible crop damage during the first 22 weeks when placed amongst plants on arrival in glasshouses. At the same time, growers adapting the research for their own trials also experienced exceptional results with pest population growth stopping immediately.

Richard Bezemer, Cleveland Nurseries, who participated in the trials said, “We experienced severe Tuta absoluta populations in 2016 for the first time. The trials have been so successful in our nursery that we now believe we are completely free of the pest and the cost of the pheromone off-set investment in other control products.”

Gracie Emeny, knowledge exchange manager at AHDB Horticulture, added, “We thought Tuta absoluta was under control but it came back with a vengeance in the 2016 season after developing resistance to one of the key plant protection products used in integrated pest management programmes. This is a brilliant breakthrough for the industry but we would stress the need for careful use to make sure this control option stays available to growers for the long term.”

Further work is now underway at University of Exeter, to study the impact of the technique on female moth reproduction.

Photo Caption: Tuta absoluta

Photo Credit: Rob Jackson / AHDB Horticulture

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Netherlands publishes atlas for pesticides in groundwater

The Netherlands has recently published a new Groundwater Atlas for Pesticides, which will be used by the Board for the Authorisation of Plant Protection Products and Biocides (Ctgb) to monitor groundwater quality.

The Groundwater Atlas was developed between 2015 and 2016 and commissioned by the ministries of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure and the Environment. Other organisations which have been involved more recently include Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra) and the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), who have coordinated the data provided by the water companies. Alterra was responsible for monitoring the quality and consistency of all of the data in the atlas.

In the Netherlands, groundwater is sampled from thousands of sites and tested by the provinces and by water companies. This first version of the Groundwater Atlas uses a list of active ingredients and metabolites of plant protection products and biocides and uses the same system of product identification used for plant protection product approval in the Netherlands.

Photo Credit: Wageningen University & Research

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Blackberries could be latest UK berry craze

Blackberry sales are currently growing at around 20 per cent per year and British growers are hoping to capitalise on the growing demand.

“Market growth is being driven by the same shoppers buying blackberries more frequently,” John Gray, Commercial Director at Angus Soft Fruits recently told the US press. “There is an element of consumers being happy with the product, which is positive. But it shows there’s still a lot more room to grow.”

According to the latest Kantar Worldpanel data, in the twelve months to 18 June there was an 18.7 per cent rise in annual retail sales to £37.4 million, although the figure grew to 29.3 at the start of the soft fruit season. Only 12.5 per cent of UK households bought blackberries in the past year, compared to 80 per cent buying strawberries and almost 50 per cent for raspberries and blueberries.

“With increased production, we think that sales of blackberries could double by the end of 2020,” says Berry Gardens’ category manager Colin Morley.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

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European produce industry publishes Brexit report

The European Fresh Produce Association, Freshfel, has published a position paper on the Impact of Brexit on the European fruit and vegetable industry.

It points out that the EU is a significant net exporter to the UK, with a trade flow of 3.1 million tonnes, worth €4 billion a year, with a high dependence of the UK on fresh produce supply from EU mainland. It also quotes recent research by Rabobank which suggests that, after animal protein, fresh produce will be the agricultural sector most affected by Brexit, a situation which will compound the recent loss of the €2 million tonne a year Russian market.

The top ten products supplied from Europe include tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers, cucumber, cauliflower, apples, pears, soft citrus, oranges and bananas, with the five largest suppliers being Spain, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Ireland. In contrasts, last year the UK exported just 310,000 tonnes of fresh produce, most of which went to Ireland, which is heavily depend on UK supply.

As with other industries, Freshfel also pointed to the effects of uncertainty, saying: ‘While acknowledging, that there might be a certain tariff & quota regime in place after the divorce, it is essential to define the new tariff regime at the earliest, to give operators calculation certainty after the 29th of March 2019 and to take potential cost increase into account.’

The full report can be found at

Photo Credit: Freshfel

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Brit wants to compete with Dutch flower monopoly

For many years the Dutch auction system at Aalsmeer, and Royal FloraHolland in particular, has been at the heart of global flower trade, selling produce from around the globe to dealers and suppliers who then sell it around the world, with some British plants being sent across the channel before being re-imported.

Now entrepreneur and florist Steve France hopes to change that with a new venture: Florismart. “Everything goes through Amsterdam – the Dutch flower auction. Growers sell to the exporters, the exporters sell it to the wholesalers, and then the wholesalers sell it to the florist. It’s bizarre that flowers go from Kenya to Holland and then through the tunnel into England, when they could just go straight to Stansted,” France, who is also the founder of online florist Arena Flowers, told City A.M.

He also hopes that the new platform will help growers to diversify their production. “We spot trends: not only do we have all the growers putting their product on the platform, but we have all the exporters and florists. It gives us a lot of data on the industry. We can see price movement, and so we take data about what florists are buying and feed growers with information about what they should be growing.”

He also acknowledged that, if successful the service would be another competitor to wholesales: “The local wholesalers just hate us. We’re like their worst nightmare. Not only because we’re changing the market, but it’s clear that florists shouldn’t buy their flowers from a local wholesale market, it’s insane. That wholesaler has rents, it has fridges, and it has staff. And florists end up paying for that.”

Photo Caption: Florismart hopes to challenge Aalsmeer’s monopoly

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

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Bumper fruit year coincides with labour shortages

Excellent growing conditions have provided a bumper crop of UK soft fruit this season, but industry organisation British Summer Fruits warns that Brexit means that many growers are struggling to harvest the volume.

“We have been experiencing bumper crops across both strawberries and cherries this year,” said a spokeswoman for British Summer Fruits. Tesco is among retailers who have reported increased sales of British grown fruit from strawberries through to cherries and apricots, and has introduced larger pack sizes to help suppliers move unexpected large volumes of product.

However, growers are reporting a shortage of migrant workers available for fruit picking and grading. Jack Ward, chief executive of British Growers told journalists, “The labour situation has definitely tightened in the last 15 months. It is more difficult and more costly to recruit people. There are fewer returners and the age profile, generally, is going up amongst seasonal labour. I think younger people are more prepared to go and do other things.

“If you wound the clock back 10 years, it would have been the younger people who pioneered the idea of coming from Lithuania or Romania or Bulgaria or the Czech Republic to pick fruit.

“I think what you are finding is that a lot of businesses are spending a lot more time recruiting than they have in previous years. They have got to work a lot harder to attract people.” He added that high levels of employment (the highest since 1971) also meant that there are insufficient numbers of British workers to replace EU labour, even if they could be persuaded to pick the crops.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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