Category Archives: HortNews

Europe predicts downturn in tomato consumption

The European Union says that it expects European tomato production to fall in response to reducing consumption across the region.

2018 production was 6.9 million tonnes, but a report on the EU’s agricultural prospects from 2018 to 2030 estimates that by 2030 this figure will drop to 6.7 million tonnes. Despite the fall in production, yields are anticipated to increase, ‘thanks to the installation of artificial light in the greenhouses and the extension of the season in the most important producing countries.’

By 2030, domestic consumption will fall from the current level 14.5kg per person to 13.6kg. However, while fresh tomato exports from the EU have reduced 0.3% a year over the last ten years, mainly due to the Russian produce veto in 2014. However the report predicts that exports will increase to 200,000 tons by 2030. This is 1.6% more than the average of the past five years. Tomato imports, particularly from Morocco and Turkey are expected to continue to grow by 0.4% per year until 2030.

While UK production only accounts for 0.5% of total EU tomato production, it is the most important market for EU tomatoes, currently accounting for 72% of total exports, most of which come from the Netherlands and Spain.2

Photo Credit: Pexels

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New varieties for East Malling Strawberry Breeding Club

A new factsheet from AHDB Horticulture summarises the attributes of the main varieties released in the second tranche of the East Malling Strawberry Breeding Club, as well as details of promising selections developed during the same period.

Three varieties from the second tranche (which started in 2013) are in the process of being commercialised. The late-season June-bearer Malling Allure (EM2157) and the disease resistant Everbearers Malling Champion (EMR564) and EMR639. 

Malling Allure is described as ‘a robust plant, with moderate vigour in comparison with other late-season varieties.’ It is 10-12 days later than Elsanta and has fruit quality similar to Malling Centenary. Malling Champion is ‘an early season Everbearer, which produces its peak harvest in July and picks steadily through August.’ It is resistant to crown rot (Phytophthora cactorum) and wilt (Verticillium dahliae) and shows moderate resistance to powdery mildew (Podosphaera aphanis), as does EMR639.

Six other selections from the programme are due to advance to large scale grower trials, including two June-bearers and four Everbearers. The East Malling Strawberry Breeding Club (EMSBC) was formed in 2008 to continue the national strawberry programme that began at East Malling Research in 1983. The second tranche of AHDB-funded work runs until 2023.

Photo Caption: Malling Allure

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No-deal Brexit will lead to gap in crop availability

Riverford founder and organic grower Guy Singh-Watson has warned that a no-deal Brexit will increase the gap in crop availability from March to May.

He told reporters that the availability of many UK grown organic crops such as kale, cabbage, greens, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, swedes, apples, onions and potatoes all come to an end in March, while the harvest of new-season produce does not start until mid-May.

“For 30 years, Riverford has struggled with this reality – we even suspend our UK-only veg box from March to June because we often cannot find eight UK-grown items to put in it,” said Mr Singh-Watson. “While at Riverford, we import 30 per cent of our produce in the fallow March-May period, as a nation, we import about 50 per cent of our fruit and vegetables. And that figure starts to rise in the New Year, reaching about 80 per cent in April before falling again in June.

“If there was a “best time for a no-deal Brexit”, it would be July to September, as any gardener could tell our politicians. Were we to leave without a deal there couldn’t be a worse time than March 29, unless you like woody swedes and sprouting potatoes!” To fill gaps in UK production Riverford has established partnerships with small-scale organic suppliers in Spain, France, Italy and further afield.2

Photo Caption: Riverford already suspends sales of its UK-only veg box from March until June.

Photo Credit: Riverford

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M&S trials plastic-free produce

As part of efforts to reduce plastic in the supply chain, M&S is trialling its first plastic-free loose fruit and vegetable department at its Tolworth store.

As well as ditching the packaging, M&S has introduced trained greengrocers, who will be on hand to offer customers valuable advice as they select from two aisles of fruit and vegetables free of plastic packaging. The range not only includes hard fruit and veg like potatoes and bananas, but also more perishable items such as soft fruits and berries, which will be retailed in compostable punnets, and best before date labels have been removed.

Louise Nicholls, Head of Food Sustainability, said, “We’re proud to launch a series of market-leading initiatives to help our customers take home less plastic. “Our trial at Tolworth is an important milestone in our plastic reduction journey and bringing back the traditional greengrocer will play a key part in educating our customers. Our plan is to create long-term impact in the future using tangible insights from the Tolworth store trial.”

M&S has committed to launching additional lines of loose produce and more sustainable alternatives to plastic in every UK store, which could save 580 tonnes of plastic waste over two years alone. The plan will also involve replacing plastic produce bags with paper ones and phasing out plastic barcode stickers in favour of eco-friendly alternatives. M&S Senior Packaging Technologist Kevin Vyse spoke at the recent UK Brassica & Leafy Salad Conference which will be reported in the March issue of The Vegetable Farmer.

Photo Credit: M&S

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Natural orchards improve bee diversity and improve apple production

Apple orchards surrounded by agricultural lands are visited by a less diverse collection of bee species than orchards surrounded by natural habitats, according to a new study led by Cornell University in the United States.

By looking at 10 years of data from 27 apple orchards in New York state the researchers found that apple production suffers when fewer, more closely-related species of bees pollinate an orchard. Production improves in orchards surrounded by natural habitats, which then draw a broader selection of species to apple blossoms. The study looked at the types of landscapes that surrounded the orchards, measured apple production and surveyed the species of bees that visited each orchard.

“Orchards that have bee communities that are more closely related to each other did worse in terms of their fruit production, and the communities that are more broad across the phylogeny did much better,” said one of the report’s authors, Dr Heather Grab. 

Species of bees exhibit different behaviours in how and when they pollinate flowers. Some species approach from the side, others from the top, and they each may feed at different times of day and with varied frequencies, all of which affect how completely an apple flower is pollinated.

Organs in apple flowers must receive a certain number of pollen grains in order to develop a full complement of seeds. When seeds do well, the tissue that supports those seeds, the fleshy part of the fruit, is also more fully developed. “If only half of the seeds mature fully, then the fruit is misshapen,” which in turn affects weight and saleability, Grab added.

Photo Caption: A carpenter bee visiting an apple flower

Photo Credit: Cornell University

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Soil borne fungi to suppress greenhouse pests

The new EU-funded project Greenresilient aims to study the ways in which pests and diseases are often suppressed by various naturally-occurring enemies and antagonists which can be found in cropping systems.

Within the project, Wageningen University & Research (WUR) is focussing on the role of beneficial microorganisms in the soil. Several strains of entomopathogenic fungi have already been isolated from five organic greenhouses across Europe, which have shown the potential to increases the resilience of plants to above-ground pests by acting as endophytes that induce plant resistance and/or produce toxic metabolites.

As part of the work, WUR will evaluate the isolated entomopathogens as endophytes in tomato plants to assess their effects on tobacco whiteflies, Bemisia tabaciand the South American tomato pinworm, Tuta absoluta. The aim is to better understand the role of these fungi in aboveground pest suppression and to find ways to enhance the presence and impact of these beneficial fungi.

The same soils will also be analysed by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, who will focus on the interaction between soil microbial communities and suppression of soil-borne diseases.1

Photo Caption: A fly infected by entomopathogenic fungus

Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Alejandro Santillana / University of Texas at Austin

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Purple Tenderstem variety launched

M&S is to sell a new purple variety of Tenderstem sprouting broccoli which will be launched by brand marketing company Coregeo as Tenderstem Royale.

Royale® is claimed to have “a more mellow and buttery flavour, a distinct darker coloured stem with purple hues, like the popular purple sprouting broccoli, but much more versatile, as well as being quicker and easier to cook.”

M&S Vegetable Buyer Jo Oliver commented, “We know customers are on the lookout for healthy options, especially in January, and the new Tenderstem Royale offers them an exciting new ingredient to experiment with. It’s great for adding to stir fries, steaming or cooked on a griddle pan and drizzled with oil. We’re delighted that M&S customers get to try it first.”

According to the Tenderstem website, ‘As we are all living increasingly busy lives, now more than ever there is a demand for vegetables that are easy to cook, have no prep time and no waste, while offering a balance of flavours. It is sure to be the new vegetable that everyone will want to try at their next dinner party, or an easy way to introduce a new, colourful veggie to their favourite mid-week menu.’

The new variety was bred by Sakata Europe, and Managing Director of Sakata UK, Stuart Cox, added, “The popularity of Tenderstem continues to grow, with year-on-year volume sales up 17 per cent. Consumers love that there’s no prep time, zero waste and that it’s easy to cook.” The new product will be grown and packed by Flamingo Produce.

Photo Credit: Tenderstem / Coregeo

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UK organics hope for European scale growth

Speaking to the Financial Times, organic farmer Guy Singh-Watson of Riverford says that organic produce has yet to become mainstream and that consumers must get used to paying more.

“I just hate the fact that the food choices we make have become defining of status and class,” he said. Supplying around 50,000 boxes of produce a week, Riverford runs the largest organic box scheme in the UK, with a turnover of almost £60 million last year. Accepting that his organic produce costs about 30 per cent more than conventionally-grown vegetables in the supermarkets, he said that consumers should expect to pay more – as much as double in the case of some organic meat products. “You have got to expect to pay more,” Guy added, “As anyone would, certainly in northern Europe. You are paying for it being grown on a small scale, for the reduced environmental impact: for loads of external costs which are not considered in our simplistic, neoliberal way of looking at the world.”

The Soil Association pointed out that in much of Europe organic food is seen as more mainstream, with many public bodies, such as the city government in Amsterdam and Denmark, where organic produce is supported by the public sector. Business Development Director Clare McDermott added that she hoped that recent moves by the London borough of Tower Hamlets to include 15 per cent organic ingredients in free school meals could lead to a growth in demand.

Photo Caption: Guy Singh-Watson says consumers should be prepared to pay more to eat organic produce

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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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