Certis uses New Year to examine future trends

Kevin Price, head of Corporate Marketing and Communications at Certis Europe, has used the New Year to set out some of the challenges and trends that the company foresees in global food production.

He said that the crop protection company needed to understand the complex challenges facing ‘the long-term future of food production.’ Certis has been working with Forum for the Future to address these issues and inform its long-term strategies, and this has resulted in a project that has helped Certis understand how its future context may change.

“It seems likely that the size of the market for conventional crop protection products will reduce substantially,” said Kevin. “This will be due not only to regulatory developments but also to advances in precision agriculture and the increasing use of biological solutions alongside chemical solutions. We shall probably see a shift towards prevention rather than cure and a significant shift towards highly-targeted precision application where appropriately adapted formulations and alternative technologies replace spraying to a great extent. With such relatively dramatic changes in the tools available to growers, we anticipate a need for greater service support alongside the products.”

He also indicated a belief that high-tech physical crop protection, such as mechanical weeding carried out by drones and autonomous robots, will become mainstream. “It is clear that farm data is growing in importance in terms of the development of technologies and the provision of crop protection solutions. Farmers will have information at their fingertips from the technology involved in every aspect of the farming operation so that they know exactly when, where and how to target pests and diseases before they take hold. The application of chemicals will be highly targeted and thus quantities used will be vastly reduced.”

Photo Credit: Certis

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Rijk Zwaan to focus on sustainability at Fruit Logistica

Rijk Zwaan is using this year’s Fruit Logistica event in February to showcase its corporate social responsibility, and illustrate how this is driving new innovations in fresh produce with the theme of ‘Innovating for Sustainability.’

Rijk Zwaan has linked its sustainability objectives to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular the goals to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition (SDG2), to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth (SDG8), to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns (SDG12) and to strengthen partnerships (SDG17). The company says that each innovation on display at Fruit Logistica can contribute to a more sustainable world in some way.

Rijk Zwaan points out that tasty and attractive ‘snack vegetables’ stimulate healthy eating, with its My Cubies One Bite cucumber being one example. Its Snack Lettuce©, which won the Accelera Fresh Produce Innovation and Entrepreneurship Award at Fruit Attraction 2018, is also ideal as an edible spoon for hot snacks which can help avoid waste when eating on the go.

Further waste reduction is provided by Rijk Zwaan’s Knox trait which reduces pinking in fresh-cut lettuce and can therefore extend the shelf life. In courgettes, the Longvita concept also reduces suboptimal product waste by producing varieties which look fresh, shiny and appealing for longer after harvest, adding value through the supply chain.

In a statement the company also highlighted how the increasing use of hydroponic production can reduce resource use and crop protection requirements, adding that crystal lettuce varieties Salatrio®and Salanova®are ideal in such circumstances.

Photo Credit: Rijk Zwaan

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Oliver Kay expands sustainable packaging range

Cheshire-based wholesale greengrocer Oliver Kay Produce has announced that it is working with local company Re-Source to reduce food waste and is also working hard to reduce plastic food packaging.

The company claims it is the first wholesale greengrocer to swap from overwrapped polystyrene trays to compostable ‘Bagass Trays’ made from sugarcane pulp and supplied by Thompson Packaging. All plastic wrap now comes from 100 per cent recycled sources and is looking for a suitable compostable-substitute.

“We looked at moving to biodegradable packaging, but realised that to really make a difference, all of the packaging needed to be compostable,” explained Paul Leyland, Oliver Kay’s Commercial & Sustainability Director. Other sustainability improvements include replacing the plastic netting traditionally used for items such as citrus to one made from certified beech wood fibre.

Oliver Kay delivers to approximately 3,500 catering establishments six days a week. “A business of this type and size obviously generates an amount of waste in the form of packaging and food waste,” added Paul. “We are buying roughly 800 nets of lemons each day, 320 trays of chillies each day, and through our strict quality standards and prep department we are producing approximately 2.5 tonnes of food waste each day.”

Working with Re-Source the business has introduced a screw press system to remove water from left over fruit and vegetable waste, reducing the total density of the waste by 90 per cent. This is then composted, and taken back for use by the farmers who supply the business.

Director Paul Leyland

Credit for images: Oliver Kay Produce

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French farming is model of sustainability

According to the 2017 Food Sustainability Index (FSI), France has the most sustainable food system of the 34 countries surveyed, a position it has retained from the previous year.

Developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit in conjunction with the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, the FSI measures the sustainability of food systems across three pillars: food loss and waste; nutritional challenges; and sustainable agriculture.

According to the FSI, France performs most strongly in the components of the index that relate to food loss and waste. In 2013 France launched its National Pact against Food Waste, and in 2016 it approved legislation making it compulsory for supermarkets and large grocery stores to pass on unsold food to food banks or charities. Restaurants above a certain size are also obliged to recycle left-over food or issue ‘doggy bags.’

France also scores relatively highly in terms of nutrition, although it has slipped to fourth place due to an increase in obesity. France is ranked third in terms of agricultural sustainability, a big improvement on the previous survey, but still behind Italy. France is pressing ahead with an agro-ecology project, which stresses that improvements in agricultural performance should not come at the expense of environmental and social conditions.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Number of potato growers continues to reduce

The latest issue of AHDB Potatoes’ Market Intelligence Reportshows that the number of professional potato growers in the UK is continuing to fall.

The report shows that after two years of increasing area, the large harvest in excess of 6 million tonnes and resulting low prices in 2017/18 led to a fall in planted area to 117,300 ha.

‘The fall in planted area has been paired with a long-term rationalisation in the number of registered growers,’ says AHDB. ‘This season, the number of registered growers fell to 1,751 – a reduction of 715 growers since 2000. Meanwhile, the average area per grower has been steadily rising during this period.

‘Consolidation within the industry has led to a minority of growers planting an increasing proportion of the GB potato crop. In 2018, 17% of registered growers planted 100 ha or more of potatoes. This compares with just 5 per cent of growers in 2003. Meanwhile, the number of smaller scale growers has declined, with only 830 registered growers planting between 3 and 29 ha in 2018, compared with 2,249 in 2003.’

According to AHDB, economies of scale are the main factor behind fewer smaller growers and continued consolidation at the larger end of the industry.

Photo Credit: AHDB potatoes

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Leek shortage to worsen say growers

Leek growers have warned that difficult growing conditions last autumn have lead to lower yields and that shortages of the crop are likely to become more widespread as the traditional winter period for consumption continues.

“Yields are certainly down, and sizes are smaller than average, but retailers have increased prices so demand has been less, which is a sensible thing to do,” says Tim Casey, chairman of the British Leek Growers Association. “The UK can have a 12 month supply of leeks, harvesting starts in June/July and we can still be harvesting in May. I don’t think we will see a situation where there are no leeks to be found anywhere, but there may be the odd day when some shelves are empty.”

He added that as well as rising prices, supermarkets are stocking smaller leeks, with up to 6 in a 500g pack which would typically only contain 2-3 leeks. Despite the poor outlook and large crop losses in some areas, even crops which growers who thought their crops would be un-harvestable have been able to salvage something, although due to the reduced size picking and packing costs have increased.

Poor weather elsewhere in Europe last year means than other countries which would normally be able to export to the UK market, such as the Netherlands, Belgium and even Spain, are also short of crop.

“The situation is not tenable, margins are just so thin that there is nothing left to compensate in a bad year like this,” added Tim. “There is not much more the supermarkets can do on specification, they will have to look at prices.”

Photo Credit: pxhere

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Study says plants don’t like to be touched

Australian scientists say that plants don’t like to be touched: a discovery that could help to optimise future plant growth and productivity in agriculture and horticulture.

The research, which was led by Professor Jim Whelan, Research Director of the La Trobe Institute for Agriculture and Food at AgriBio in Melbourne, found that even the slightest touch can activate a genetic defence response which, if repeated, can slow down plant growth.

“The lightest touch from a human, animal, insect, or even plants touching each other in the wind, triggers a huge gene response in the plant,” according to Professor Whelan. “Within 30 minutes of being touched, 10 per cent of the plant’s genome is altered. This involves a huge expenditure of energy which is taken away from plant growth. If the touching is repeated, then plant growth is reduced by up to 30 per cent.”

The work, which was conducted on the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, is thought to apply to most plant species. The next step will be to test this touch response in crop species and examine the potential consequences of breeding plants which are less touch sensitive.

“As we don’t understand why plants display such a strong defence response to touch, if we are to breed less touch-sensitive varieties, we need to first understand what some of the consequences might be,” added Professor Whelan. “For example, could touch-resistant plants be more susceptible to disease because a crucial defence mechanism has been removed?”

Photo caption: Professor Jim Whelan

Photo Credit: La Trobe University

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Dry weather costs industry £800 million

The latest forecast for Total Farm Income (TFI) for the United Kingdom for 2018, produced by Defra, shows a fall of £861 million (or 15 per cent) compared to the actual figure for 2017, while the industry’s contribution to the national economy falls 6 per cent.

Despite a slight increase in gross output, the release says that the output of key crops fell as a result of the hot, dry summer and that the resulting increase in prices failed to offset the overall fall in production. At the same time costs of inputs including fuel, feed and fertiliser all rose over the same period.

As the figures are a forecast, detailed information by sector, such as vegetables, horticultural crops and potatoes, is not yet available. The final figures released for TFI in 2017 showed a real terms increase of 45 per cent.

Photo Credit: Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs

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Carrot trade better than expected

Carrot grower and supplier Freshgro has said that carrot crop volume and quality are currently better than had been anticipated earlier in the season.

“We may be looking at a slightly shorter season and may have to import earlier than normal, but we are still out looking at the fields to see how the growth is coming along,” Alan Hunt from Freshgro said. “We are hoping that we will have carrots until mid-May but it might be only till the end of April.

“It is a lot better than we thought it would be. We thought we’d be short of 40 mm plus sizes, but that has not been the case. There were less carrots, so the sizes are better.” However, he stressed that he was only able to speak for Nottinghamshire-based Freshgro, which was able to irrigate its crops. He also said that the hot weather over the summer had subdued demand, meaning that it was possible to supply the crop for longer than first anticipated.

Freshgro is known as a grower of Chantenay carrots and Alan said the situation is the same for both Chantenay and maincrop types.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Results down for Manor Fresh

M&S potato and fresh produce supplier Manor Fresh, which is based near Holbeach in Lincolnshire, has reported a turnover of £57 million for the year ending 28 April 2018, almost £3 million less than the previous year. The lower figures were put down to increased potato volumes subduing the market.

However, profits only declined from £1.6 to £1.5 million over the same period. The company estimated the potato harvest in 2017 at 6.04 million tonnes, compared with 5.2 million in 2016 and 5.4 million in 2015.

‘Although an increasingly significant proportion of the UK fresh potato and processed potato supply volumes are now forward contracted by buyers on a fixed value and volume basis, the higher gross tonnage produced from the 2017 UK crop harvest did put downward pressure on non-contracted product prices in some sectors of the UK potato market,’ the Manor Fresh board said in a statement. ‘Despite higher overall total gross potato yields produced during the 2017 UK potato harvest, the inherent quality and availability of certain top tier UK produced potato varieties, particularly Maris Piper, remained a significant sourcing challenge for higher quality retail outlets.’

Photo Credit: Manor Fresh

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