Monthly Archives: January 2018

Light-splitting film could increase yields

Engineers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a scalable, cost-effective greenhouse material that splits sunlight into photosynthetically efficient light and repurposes inefficient infrared light to aid in water purification.

According to the University, under normal conditions, plants only use around 50 percent of incoming sunlight for photosynthesis while the remaining half goes unused.

“The new CU Boulder technology will take the form of a semi-translucent film that splits incoming light and converts the rays from less-desired green wavelengths into more desirable red wavelengths, thus increasing the amount of photosynthetically efficient light for the plant with no additional electricity consumption,” said Xiaobo Yin, an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering at CU Boulder. The thin engineered material can be applied directly to the surface of greenhouse panels.

The technology also makes use of the photosynthetically ineffective light by redirecting it to aid in solar-driven water purification. “The near-infrared wavelengths can help clean brackish wastewater, allowing it to be recirculated in an advanced humidification-dehumidification interface and further reducing the greenhouse’s energy footprint,” said Yang.

Photo Caption: Professor Ronggui Yang (left) and Assistant Professor Xiaobo Yin.

Photo Credit: Glenn J. Asakawa / University of Colorado Boulder

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New EU guidance on potato tuber pest

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Plant Health has categorised the Guatemalan potato tuber moth (Tecia solanivora (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae)) as a Union quarantine pest for the EU.

  1. solanivora, which feeds exclusively on Solanum tuberosum, was first described in Costa Rica in 1973 and has spread through Central and northern South America via the trade in seed potatoes. It has also spread to Mexico, the Canary Islands and mainland Spain where it is under official control in Galicia and Asturias.
  2. solanivora is currently regulated by Council Directive 2000/29/EC, listed in Annex II/AI as Scrobipalpopsis solanivora. Larvae feed and develop within potato tubers; infested tubers therefore provide a pathway for pest introduction and spread, as does the soil accompanying potato tubers if it is infested with eggs or pupae.

Defra has published a fact sheet on the Guatemalan potato tuber moth, but EFSA points out that there are uncertainties over the effectiveness of preventing illegal imports via passenger baggage and the magnitude of potential impacts in the cool EU climate.

Photo Credit: Cornell University

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Dutch ag. exports reach record high

According to the latest statistics from Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and Wageningen Economic Research, Dutch exports of agricultural goods reached a record level of €91.7 billion in 2017, exceeding the previous record in 2016 by more than 7 per cent.

Dutch agricultural imports and the nation’s agricultural surplus also reached record heights, as imports of agricultural goods increased by 9 per cent to €62.6 billion, while the agricultural surplus went up by almost 4 per cent to €29.1 billion.

The horticultural sector led the way, with horticulture including cut flowers, bulbs, plants and nursery products worth €9.1 billion. This was followed by dairy products (€8.9 billion), meat (€8.3 billion) and vegetables (€6.7 billion). The same ranking holds true if only domestically produced items are counted.  According to the CBS, ‘fruit ranks fifth on the list of top agricultural export goods, although this is largely re-exports of foreign produce.’

Germany is the top destination for Dutch agricultural exports, with €23.4 billion in agricultural goods crossing the Dutch border, equivalent to over 25 percent of total agricultural exports.

Germany was followed by Belgium (€10.4 billion), the UK (€8.6 billion) and France (€8.0 billion) as the largest buyers of agricultural products from the Netherlands.

Photo Caption: Horticulture topped Dutch exports, with vegetables and fruit in fourth and fifth place.

Photo Credit: Statistics Netherlands (CBS)

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Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall calls for veg marketing fund

Television chef and food campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has called for an advertising fund dedicated to the promotion of vegetables in order to compete with the marketing of junk food.

His comments came as he joined forces with the Pease Please campaign, which is organised and funded by the Food Foundation, to launch their new campaign targeted at children. “It’s time to shout about how great veg is, and how vital it is for families to buy, cook and eat more of it. Unlike all the junk food and confectionery we are relentlessly sold every day, our delicious vegetables are not ‘owned’ by massive global brands so they don’t get the marketing and advertising clout they deserve,” he said.

“Having a pooled marketing budget from retailers, producers and government is a brilliant idea. It means we can get top agencies behind the marketing of veg, which will drive up demand and boost consumption.”

This year’s Peas Please campaign is based on a design which was voted for by children from across the UK, following more than 60 entries from design agencies and students. The advert will be displayed at more than 5,000 locations including Co-op stores, school canteens and as street art.

Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, commented, “There is not just one answer to tackle the nation’s diet crisis. We are working with businesses to help make the food environment healthier but advertising plays a vital role. At the moment advertising is skewed towards junk food and we need a more balanced playing field to help support us all, and particularly children, to eat more veg.”

Photo Caption: The new campaign was voted for by kids across the UK.

Photo Credit: Food Foundation

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Should gene edited crops be exempt from GMO rules?

The European court’s Advocate General has determined that organisms derived by gene editing technologies are exempt from wider EU rules on growing and marketing genetically modified (GM) food.

In a release last week, Advocate General Michel Bobek suggested that the EU’s GMO Directive ‘does not … apply to organisms obtained through certain techniques of genetic modification, such as mutagenesis (‘the mutagenesis exemption’).’

Unlike transgenesis, mutagenesis does not, in principle, entail the insertion of foreign DNA into a living organism. It does, however, involve an alteration of the genome of a living species. The mutagenesis techniques have made it possible to develop seed varieties with elements resistant to a selective herbicide.

Dr Michael Antoniou, the head of the molecular genetics department at King’s College London, said exempting new plant-breeding technologies from GM laws was “wrong and potentially dangerous”.

“None of these gene editing methods are perfect,” he told the Guardian. “They have ‘off target’ effects that can inadvertently disturb the biochemistry of organisms leading to unintended outcomes which – if you’re making a new gene edited food crop, for example – could result in the unexpected production of a new toxin or allergenic substance.”

However, John Brennan, secretary-general of the biotechnology lobby group EuropaBio, said, “The advocate general’s opinion demonstrates that necessary steps are being taken towards clarifying the regulatory status of products that have been developed using the latest biotechnological tools and applications. We trust that the forthcoming ruling will contribute to establishing regulatory clarity.”

The Advocate General’s Opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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Seed breeders say impact of Brexit not appreciated

Representatives of the seed industry have told the Fresh Produce Journal that Defra has shown a “heartbreaking” lack of awareness of the potential effects of Brexit on the plant breeding and seed production sector.

There are fears that unless issues are addressed, UK farmers and growers could lose access to many varieties and that seed businesses could move away from the UK in order to maintain international and European links. Other issues include the potential loss of a common variety list and additional phytosanitary requirements.

Chief executive of the British Society for Plant Breeders (BSPB), Penny Mapleston, said, “Breeders will only be able to absorb the higher costs of registering new varieties if there is a guaranteed market. The number of varieties available in the UK market will be less. Fairly swiftly you will see production move overseas, where we will just import it back.”

Global seed breeder Rijk Zwaan’s country manager for the UK, Gerard van der Hut, commented, “What will happen is we will only register the variety we can sell. With new varieties if there’s not enough demand in the UK then we won’t sell them, so the choice given to the UK market could be limited.”

Photo Credit: pxhere

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PRGO to hold pea and bean crop protection course

PGRO will hold its next course on Pea & Bean Crop Protection at its will be held at its Research Station at Thornhaugh near Peterborough on 6 February 2018.

The one day course provides agronomists, consultants, growers and crop managers with the latest updates in crop protection for both vining and combining peas, as well as winter and spring field beans. Major pests, diseases, disorders and weed control strategies, will be covered with the aim that participants can correctly identify pests, diseases and disorders following the training. They will also appreciate the regional and national significance, be aware of herbicide options (including the strengths and weaknesses of different herbicides), and be able incorporate control measures into integrated pest management programmes.

The course is recognised by BASIS and costs £205.00 per person (including VAT). The fees cover lunch, refreshments and literature. Applications should be made by 30th January latest. Interested parties should contact Sue Bingham ( for booking details as numbers are strictly limited.

Photo Caption: The course covers all major pests and diseases of peas and beans.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

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Agricultural fungicide attracts honey bees

Researchers at America’s University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have found that when given the choice, honey bee foragers prefer to collect sugar syrup laced with the fungicide chlorothalonil over sugar syrup alone.

“People assume that fungicides affect only fungi,” said University of Illinois entomology professor May Berenbaum, who led the new research. “But fungi are much more closely related to animals than they are to plants. And toxins that disrupt physiological processes in fungi can also potentially affect them in animals, including insects.”

To test whether foraging honey bees showed a preference for other chemicals they are likely to encounter in the wild, two feeding stations were set up in large enclosure. Foraging honey bees could fly freely from one feeder to the other, choosing to collect either sugar syrup laced with a test chemical or sugar syrup mixed with a solvent as the control.

Over the course of the study honey bees preferred the naturally occurring chemical quercetin, which is found in pollen and nectar, over controls at all concentrations tested. The bees also preferred sugar syrup laced with glyphosate at 10 parts per billion, but not at higher concentrations. While the bees actively avoided syrup containing the fungicide prochloraz, they showed a mild preference for sugar syrup laced with chlorothalonil at 0.5 and 50 parts per billion, but not at 500 ppb.

“The dose determines the poison,” Berenbaum added. “If your ability to metabolize poisons is compromised, then a therapeutic dose can become a toxic dose. And that seems to be what happens when honey bees encounter multiple pesticides.”

Photo Credit: Pexels

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Bristol vertical farm opens

Bristol-based start up company LettUs Grow, which attracted funding via Crowfunder, has completed the installation of its ‘aeroponic hardware’ at Grow Bristol.

According to the company, ‘the baton has now been passed to the “growing team” of biologists and environmental scientists to demonstrate how rapidly this hardware can grow tasty leafy greens, strawberries, and much more, over the new year.’

In trials LettUs grow says that it has produced pea shoots in half the time of comparable aquaponic systems. The company adds that its strong R&D focused partnership with Grow Bristol, has resulted in the broad deployment of both its aeroponic hardware and farm management software; both of which is focused on improving productivity and crop quality, whilst making the indoor farm simpler to operate.

Alongside growing plants, the management team has also been focused on growing the business, including completion of the three-month Bethnal Green Ventures program of advice and investment with a demo-day on 29 November.

Photo Caption: So far the use of the LettUs Grow equipment has focused on the production of microgreens

Photo Credit: LettUs Grow – 20171017 – Venturefest Watershed by @JonCraig_Photos 

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Engineers make wearable sensors for plants

Scientists at Iowa State University in the United States are developing graphene-based, sensors-on-tape that can be attached to plants and can provide data to researchers and farmers about water use in crops.

The tool, dubbed a “plant tattoo sensor” by researchers, is a tiny graphene sensor that can be taped to plants. Graphene is a carbon honeycomb which is just an atom thick, and is great at conducting electricity and heat, as well as being strong and stable. The graphene-on-tape technology has also been used to produce wearable strain and pressure sensors, including sensors built into a “smart glove” that measures hand movements.

“This fabrication process is very simple,” says lead developer Liang Dong. “You just use tape to manufacture these sensors. The cost is just cents.” In the case of plant studies, the sensors are made with graphene oxide, a material very sensitive to water vapour. The presence of water vapour changes the conductivity of the material, and that can be quantified to accurately measure transpiration from a leaf.

The plant sensors have been successfully tested in lab and pilot field experiments, and a new three-year, $472,363 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative will support more field testing.

Photo Caption: Iowa State University researchers have developed these “plant tattoo sensors” to take real-time, direct measurements of water use in crops.

Photo Credit: Liang Dong/Iowa State University

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