Research
March 24, 2017 – On the long journey from the farm to the retailer's shelf, fruits can quickly perish. In particular, the refrigeration inside the cargo containers is not always guaranteed and existing methods for measuring the temperature are not sufficiently reliable. A sensor developed at Empa solves this problem. It looks like a piece of fruit and acts like a piece of fruit – but is actually a spy.

Some fruit travel long distances by the time they reach shops. They are picked, packaged, refrigerated, packed in refrigerated containers, shipped, stored and finally laid out on display. However, not all the cargo makes it safely to its destination. Although fruit is inspected regularly, some of it is damaged or may even perish during the journey. This is because monitoring still has significant scope for improvement.

Although sensors measure the air temperature in the freight container, it is the core temperature of the individual fruit that is decisive for the quality of the fruit. However, up to now, it has only been possible to measure this "invasively", i.e. by inserting a sensor through the skin and into the centre. And even this process has drawbacks. To carry out the measurement, the technician usually takes a piece of fruit from a cardboard box in the front row of pallets in the container, which in turn distorts the result. Fruit that is closer to the outside of the transport container is better refrigerated than fruit on the inside.

Sometimes whole container loads have to be destroyed because the temperatures on the inside of the container did not meet the prescribed guidelines. The U.S. and China, in particular, are extremely strict regarding the importation of fruit and vegetables. If the cargo has not been stored for three weeks at a certain minimum temperature, it is not authorized for sale in the country. Not only does refrigeration serve to maintain the freshness and quality of the fruit, it also kills any larvae, such as moth larvae, which can nest in the fruit. It is therefore essential to prove that the refrigeration has actually penetrated all the fruit in the whole consignment for the required period of time.

In order to guarantee and monitor the temperature within the fruit, researchers at Empa have now developed an artificial fruit sensor. It is the same shape and size as the relevant fruit and also simulates its composition, and can be packed in with the real fruit and travel with it. On arrival at the destination, the data from the sensor can be analyzed relatively quickly and easily. From this, the researchers hope to gain information about the temperature during transportation.

This is important information, primarily for insurance reasons: if a delivery does not meet the quality requirements, the sensor can be used to establish the point in the storage and transport chain at which something went wrong. Initial results are certainly very promising.

"We analyzed the sensors in the Empa refrigeration chamber in detail and all the tests were successful," explains project leader Thijs Defraeye from the Laboratory for Multiscale Studies in Building Physics.

Up to now, a fruit had to be sliced up and a sensor be placed inside. The "spy fruit" is then stuck back. However, this distorts the results as the fruit is damaged.

However, the same sensor does not work for all fruits, as Defraeye explains.

"We are developing separate sensors for each type of fruit, and even for different varieties," he says.

There are currently separate sensors for the Braeburn and Jonagold apple varieties, the Kent mango, oranges and the classic Cavendish banana. In order to simulate the characteristics of the individual types of fruit, the fruit is X-rayed, and a computer algorithm creates the average shape and texture of the fruit. From the literature or based on their own measurements, the researchers then determine the exact composition of the fruit's flesh (usually a combination of water, air and sugar) and simulate this in exactly the same ratio in the laboratory, although not with the original ingredients, instead using a mixture of water, carbohydrates and polystyrene.

This mixture is used to fill the fruit-shaped sensor mould. The mould is produced on a 3D printer. The researchers place the actual sensor inside the artificial fruit, where it records the data, including the core temperature of the fruit. Existing measuring devices on container walls only provide the air temperature, but this is not sufficiently reliable because the fruit can still be too warm on the inside. Although such fruit core simulators already exist in the field of research, they are not yet sufficiently accurate, explains Defraeye. One such example that has been used is balls filled with water with a sensor inside.

"We have conducted comparative tests," says the researcher. "And our filling provided much more accurate data and simulated the behaviour of a real piece of fruit much more reliably at different temperatures."

Initial field tests on the sensors are currently under way and the researchers are now looking for potential industrial partners to manufacture the fruit spies. The investment is certainly likely to be worthwhile. It is estimated that the cost of such a sensor is less than 50 Swiss Francs. The data would only have to be analyzed if something was wrong with the delivered goods. This would then make it possible to efficiently establish where in the process an error had occurred.

Another desirable feature would be to be able to receive the data from the cargo container live and in real time, so that appropriate countermeasures could be taken in the event of abnormal data – thereby potentially saving the fruit cargo. That would require a wireless or Bluetooth connection.

"However, our current fruit sensor cannot do that yet. And the price of the product would, of course, go up," says Defraeye.

But the profits for the companies would probably also go up if the fruit sensors enabled them to supply more goods in perfect condition.
Sweet potato consumption is on the rise across the nation and Canadian horticultural growers will soon have the chance to get more of the action.
February 22, 2017 – Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s potato breeders saw remarkable results with their 2016 red-skinned selections. In fact, red-skinned varieties made up half of the total selections AAFC breeders released to industry during the annual Potato Selection Release Open House.

From adaptability to the processing market and high yields to disease resistance, these potential new varieties have it all. For the first time, the breeding program unveiled a multi-purpose red-skinned selection showing promise for processing as wedges, and as a traditional table potato. Breeders have also developed Russet selections that have a longer shelf life in cold storage while maintaining stable sugars, making them attractive new selections to French fry processors. These were among 15 new potato selections that AAFC’s breeding team unveiled this year.

The selections were narrowed down from more than 100,000 hybrid seedlings grown and tested and measured over six years in AAFC greenhouses, laboratories and fields across the country. The selections are the result of continuing technological advances that are allowing AAFC researchers to probe the complicated DNA of potatoes to identify genes and strands of DNA linked to favourable traits. This will lead to the development of germplasm with the potential for better yields, nutritional value and cooking and processing qualities.

The selections also featured disease and pest resistance that make them less demanding on the environment and offer alternative choices for organic growers. With each genetic marker that is identified, researchers are able to more quickly and accurately search through hundreds of different kinds of potatoes, including centuries-old heritage varieties and wild species, for potential breeding lines that will produce new hybrids with the desired traits.
February 21, 2017, Boston, MA – According to new findings reported at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), farmers can invite greater bee diversity in their fields by diversifying their crops.

Researchers looked at 15 farms in central California, some of which grew only strawberries and some of which grew strawberries along with other crops like broccoli, raspberries, and kale. They found that several different bee species buzzed around the diversified farms, whereas only the European honeybee pollinated the strawberry-only ones. READ MORE
February 21, 2017, Guelph, Ont – The 2017 Ontario Potato Conference & Trade Show will be held at the Delta Hotel in Guelph February 28.
 
The speakers are looking forward to providing the latest information on seed health, disease management, insect management, soil improvement, storage audits and pesticide re-evaluations.

The number of Trade Show exhibitors keeps increasing, and it will be as interesting as in previous years. There will be enough time to visit the booths at lunch and during the afternoon coffee break. Lunch, coffee breaks and parking are included with registration.

This event is for growers, crop consultants, potato industry people and anyone interested in potatoes.

The deadline for early registration at $50 is this February 24. The on-site registration fee at the Delta Conference Center is $75.

Contact Eugenia Banks at 519-766-8073 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for more information.
Over the past few decades and, more specifically, the past five years, there has been a resurgence of interest in hard cider in North America. Many Canadian cider makers have distinguished themselves among top producers and, because of increasing consumer demand for cider products, there are growing market opportunities both nationally and overseas.
February 7, 2017, Presque Ilse, ME – Potato seed tubers harboring Dickeya dianthicola and Pectobacterium wasabiae are the only confirmed source of these pathogens.

At this point, there is no evidence that either of the two pathogens overwinter in the soil. The generally accepted length of survival time in the soil for these pathogens is one week to six months, climate dependent. Longer survival is possible on plant matter in the soil. With that, the source of the inoculum, and hence the source of the disease, is seed. Therefore, any best management practices efforts on Dickeya dianthicola or Pectobacterium wasabiae must start with the seed.

Select seed from farms where Dickeya dianthicola or Pectobacterium wasabiae have not been detected and seed marketed in previous years has not been associated with Dickeya dianthicola or Pectobacterium wasabiae.

Check North American Certified Seed Potato Health Certificates before purchasing seed and select seed that had not been increased on a farm associated with Dickeya dianthicola or Pectobacterium wasabiae.

Select seed with zero blackleg levels reported on the North American Certified Seed Potato Health Certificate.
 
Select seed that has been PCR tested by an independent laboratory and confirmed to be free of Dickeya dianthicola and Pectobacterium wasabiae.

Select seed from farms where a zero tolerance approach to Dickeya dianthicola and Pectobacterium wasabiae is being implemented.

Seed lots with field readings of blackleg present should have reports that suspect plant samples were taken for testing and found to be Dickeya dianthicola and Pectobacterium wasabiae free.

Avoid seed from fields where symptoms of Dickeya dianthicola or Pectobacterium wasabiae were observed, even if affected plants were rogued out.

Where possible, avoid irrigated seed crops.

Where possible, avoid planting whole-seed lots that were stripped from multiple lots.
January 31, 2017 – Online grocer Ocado has shown off a soft robotic hand that can pick fruit and vegetables, without damaging them, in its warehouses.

The firm has an automated warehouse in Andover, Hampshire, where robots select crates containing specific items that make up customer orders. READ MOR
January 26, 2017, Pocatello, ID – Researchers at Idaho State University have programed drones to be able to identify potatoes infected with a virus.

Researchers say they've been able to find individual plants infected with potato virus Y, commonly called PVY, with 90 per cent accuracy using cameras mounted on drones. READ MORE
January 16, 2017, Lethbridge, Alta – Lab-based research gets underway Jan. 16 at the University of Lethbridge for the school's new research chair in potato science.

Dmytro Yevtushenk​o is a plant biologist who has studied potatoes for more than 25 years. He took up the new research chair position last January.

His first year was spent crafting new courses that will train the university's students in aspects of potato science. The hope from industry stakeholders is that it will entice new people into the business. READ MORE
January 9, 2017, Harrow, Ont – A blushing pear developed in Harrow is the newest variety expected to help push a pear revival in Canada.

By 2020 or 2021, consumers can expect to be biting into two new pears developed at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Harrow and Vineland research station in the Niagara region. One of the varieties, HW624, is a medium- to large-sized, juicy pear with eye appeal – a red blush from the sun at harvest. READ MORE
December 15, 2016, Simcoe, Ont – A newly developed technology could result in longer storage life for apples and better quality fruit when they come out of cold storage.
 
Apples have long been stored in low oxygen environments – called controlled atmosphere storage – to keep them fresher longer and allow Ontario apple growers to market fresh fruit all winter long and not just during the fall harvest season. But it’s never been possible to determine how low the oxygen levels for a specific variety can go before the fruit’s quality begins to suffer – until now.

SafePod measures apples’ response to atmospheric stress by monitoring their respiration rate while they are in storage, allowing storage operators to use the lowest safe oxygen concentration possible.
 
“Fruit respires using oxygen, just the way people do, and as you lower the oxygen level in their storage environment, they become stressed,” explains Dr. Jennifer DeEll, the fresh market quality specialist for horticultural crops with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

“At their breaking point, when they can’t tolerate the low oxygen level any more, they switch to anaerobic respiration, which is fermentation,” she says. “You want to be able to get that oxygen level as low as possible while still maintaining safe levels because the lower the oxygen, the firmer the fruit and the better the quality.”
 
An in-storage oxygen concentration of two to three per cent has been standard in the Ontario apple industry for many years, the lowest level that is considered safe for all apple varieties.

SafePod is a small unit that can be filled with four bushels of apples and placed into a large commercial storage amongst the other bins of apples. It lets storage operators measure the actual respiration of the fruit inside the unit by giving a reading of both oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, which together result in a respiration quotient that can indicate when the apples are becoming stressed.

DeEll has been testing SafePod with Empire apples in collaboration with the Ontario Apple Growers, the Norfolk Fruit Growers’ Association and SafePod’s manufacturer, Storage Control Systems of Michigan.

“We could get down to 0.6 per cent oxygen with the Empires in our study and they were fine,” says DeEll.

Levels can be established annually by the storage operator specific to the crop, growing season, variety and even the orchard the apples come from.

“Adding a month or two to storage of apples can really boost the domestic supply of local apples and help ensure they are firm and crunchy when they come out of storage and go to market,” says DeEll.

The three-year research project, which just wrapped up, was supported in part through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

December 8, 2016 – Raw blueberries, bursting with vitamins and antioxidants, can also harbour the gut-ravaging human norovirus – a leading cause of foodborne illness from fresh produce.

Now, scientists think they have found a way to sterilize blueberries without damaging the delicate fruit’s taste or texture: bathing them in purple plumes of plasma – a gas of ions made from just air and electricity. READ MORE

Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Using a simple genetic method to tweak genes native to two popular varieties of tomato plants, a team at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has devised a rapid method to make them flower and produce ripe fruit more than two weeks faster than commercial breeders are currently able to do.

This means more plantings per growing season and thus higher yield. In this case, it also means that the plant can be grown in latitudes more northerly than currently possible – an important attribute as the earth’s climate warms.

“Our work is a compelling demonstration of the power of gene editing – CRISPR technology – to rapidly improve yield traits in crop breeding,” said CSHL Associate Professor Zachary Lippman, who led the research.

Applications can go far beyond the tomato family, he added, to include many major food crops like maize, soybean, and wheat that so much of the world depends upon.

Lippman clarified that the technique his team published in Nature Genetics is about more than simply increasing yield.

“It’s really about creating a genetic toolkit that enables growers and breeders in a single generation to tweak the timing of flower production and thus yield, to help adapt our best varieties to grow in parts of the world where they don’t currently thrive.”

At the heart of the method are insights obtained by Lippman and colleagues, including plant scientists at the Boyce Thompson Institute in Ithaca, NY, and in France led by Dr. José Jiménez-Gómez, about the evolution of the flowering process in many crops and their wild relatives as it relates to the length of the light period in a day. Genetic research revealed why today’s cultivated tomato plant is not very sensitive to this variable compared to wild relatives from South America. Somehow, it does not much matter to domesticated plants whether they have 12 hours of daylight or 16 hours; they flower at virtually the same point after planting.

A well-known hormonal system regulates flowering time – and hence the time when the plant will generate its first ripe fruit. The hormone florigen and a counteracting “anti-florigen” hormone called SP (for self pruning) act together, in yin-yang fashion, to, respectively, promote or delay flowering. In one phase of the newly reported research, the investigators studied a wild tomato species native to the Galapagos Islands – near the equator, with days and nights close to 12 hours year-round. They wanted to learn why, when grown in northern latitudes with very long summer days, this plant flowered very late in the season and produced few fruits.

The wild equatorial tomato, they learned, was extremely sensitive to daylight length. The longer the day, the longer the time to flowering, whereas “when you have a shorter light period, as in the plant’s native habitat, they flower faster,” Lippman said. This suggested there was a genetic change in tomato plants that occurred at some point before or during the domestication of wild tomato plants. Lippman suspected these changes likely had already occurred when the Spanish conquistador Cortez brought tomatoes to Europe from Mexico in the early 16th century, beginning the era of the plant’s widespread adoption in mid-northern latitudes.

Lippman and colleagues traced the loss of day-length sensitivity in domesticated tomatoes to mutations in a gene called SP5G (SELF PRUNING 5G). It’s a member of the same family of florigen and anti-florigen genes that were already known to regulate flowering time in tomato.

Growing the wild tomato plant from the Galapagos in greenhouses and fields in New York, Lippman and colleagues observed a sharp spike in the expression and activity of the anti-florigen hormone encoded by the SP5G gene, causing flowering to occur much later. In domesticated tomato plants, in contrast, that surge of anti-florigen is much weaker.

The team’s principal innovation – generating varieties of cherry and roma tomatoes that flower much earlier than the domesticated varieties on which they are based – arised from the observation that while domesticated plants are notably insensitive to day length, “there was some residual expression of the anti-florigen SP5G gene,” Lippman said.

This led the team to employ the gene-editing tool CRISPR to induce tiny mutations in the SP5G gene. The aim was to inactivate the gene entirely such that it did not generate any anti-florigen protein at all.

When this tweaked version of SP5G was introduced to popular roma and cherry tomato varieties, the plants flowered earlier, and thus made fruits that ripened earlier. Tweaking another anti-florigen gene that makes tomato plants grow in a dense, compact, shrub-like manner made the early flowering varieties even more compact and early yielding – a trait the team calls “double-determinate.”

“What we’ve demonstrated here is fast-forward breeding,” Lippman said. “Now we have a simple strategy to completely eliminate daylight sensitivity in elite inbred and hybrid plants that are already being cultivated. This could enable growers to expand their geographical range of cultivation, simply by using CRISPR to rapidly ‘adapt’ tomato and other crops to more northern latitudes, where summers have very long days and very short growing seasons.”

Variation in the flowering gene SELF PRUNING 5G promotes day-neutrality and early yield in tomato” appeared online December 5, 2016, in Nature Genetics. The authors are: Sebastian Soyk, Niels A. Müller, Soon Ju Park, Inga Schmalenbach, Ke Jiang, Ryosuke Hayama, Lei Zhang, Joyce Van Eck, José M. Jiménez-Gómez and Zachary B. Lippman. The apper can be accessed at: http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/vaop/ncurrent/index.html.

CUTLINE

 

November 29, 2016, Ithaca, NY – Hard cider, an alcoholic beverage produced from fermented apple juice or apple juice concentrate, is gaining popularity among consumers. Domestic cider consumption increased more than 850 per cent in the last five years in the U.S., with more than 550 cider producers in the country.

The authors of a study in HortScience (September 2016) say that more information about how orchard management decisions impact cider quality can help orchard managers improve cider they produce from culinary apples.

Cornell University's Gregory Peck, the study's corresponding author, along with scientists Megan McGuire, Thomas Boudreau IV, and Amanda Stewart from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, carried out field experiments to assess the impact of three different crop load densities on apple fruit and cider quality. Treatments were conducted in a 14-year-old 'York Imperial'/'M.9' orchard in Winchester, Virginia. Peck explained that 'York' apples are primarily used for processing into products such as juice, vinegar, and applesauce.

"The vast majority of cider produced in the United States is made from apple cultivars that were originally planted for fresh or processing markets," he said, noting that culinary apples lack some of the fruit quality characteristics favored by cider producers.

For the experiments, 'York' apple trees were hand-thinned to low (two apples per cm2 branch cross-sectional area, or BCSA), medium (four apples per BCSA), and high (six apples per BCSA) crop loads.

At harvest, total polyphenol content did not differ in juice made from fruit grown in the three treatments. After fermentation, however, the medium crop load had 27 per cent and the high crop load had 37 per cent greater total polyphenol content than the low crop load.

Yeast assimilable nitrogen (YAN) concentration in juice made from fruit from the low crop load treatment was 18 per cent and 22 per cent greater than the medium and high crop load, respectively. YAN concentrations in juice from the medium and high crop load treatments were similar.

"Our study suggests that apple juice and cider quality can be altered by crop load management," the authors said. "Management strategies for chemical thinning should take into account the resulting fruit quality, especially YAN concentration in juice pre-fermentation and total polyphenol concentration and total alcohol in fermented cider."

The authors recommended that cider makers should be "especially aware" of the potential for YAN deficiency in fruit from orchards with a high crop load.

"YAN deficiency can be rectified through the addition of commercially available YAN supplements when warranted," they added.

The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortScience electronic journal web site: http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/content/51/9/1098.abstract

IMAGE: Low, medium, and high crop load treatments shown on 'York Imperial' apple trees grown at Virginia Tech's Alson H. Smith, Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center. view more

Credit: Photo courtesy of Gregory Peck.

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