Agronomy

June 2, 2015, Guelph, Ont – An Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research project on environmental best practices will give Ontario fruit, vegetable, and flower growers the information they need to make environmentally-conscious decisions on water and nutrient use in their operations.

The Calculating Environmental Sustainability Metrics for Ontario Horticultural Production Systems project has shown that not all horticulture production systems have similar environmental challenges and that a "one size fits all" approach will not necessarily work.

"This project will allow farmers to use a whole-farm approach when choosing best management practices," says project manager Donna Speranzini, regional ag-land and agroforestry manager with AAFC's Knowledge Technology Transfer Office in Guelph. "All practices involve trade-offs. Growers will now have the information they need to evaluate those trade-offs. They'll be able to make more informed decisions about which practices and technologies to use and how they'll impact water and nutrient use in their operations."

The horticulture production systems studied in this project include: apples, grapes, tender fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums, prunes, pears and sweet and sour cherries), mixed fruit, berries, greenhouse vegetables, greenhouse flowers, mixed greenhouse operations, nurseries, sod, mushrooms, ginseng, potatoes, field vegetables and mixed vegetables.

For the first time ever, all the knowledge and information most relevant to Ontario growing conditions is being studied. The framework used will reflect Ontario specific crop rotations, crop management practices and horticultural production systems. It will be the most comprehensive systems-based environmental study of horticulture in Ontario.

Each collaborating horticulture sector will get a “report card” outlining how their sector is doing environmentally, where they provide an ecological benefit, and where improvement and next steps can be made. The different sectors will then be able to share this information with their stakeholders.

At this stage in the project, both the grape and tender fruit growers have received some good news. Given that their crops have permanent soil cover (grass), they don't have significant soil erosion issues. With no soil erosion, their phosphorus loss and potential to negatively impact surface water quality is insignificant. These growers can now establish real instead of perceived environmental impacts and focus their efforts and resources on the most appropriate environmental strategies moving forward.

The project has also shown that grape and tender fruit growers need increased access to water for irrigation to get higher yields and the improved crop quality that consumers demand.

Speranzini and her team have been compiling research data from AAFC, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Statistics Canada, universities, various industry groups, and farmer surveys since 2012. The six metrics they are studying are: soil erosion, nitrogen use, phosphorus use, wastewater management, water demand (how much water a production system needs), and irrigation water demand (how much water a farm needs to supplement).

"Our work with these grower organizations is critical to making sure we have the most detailed and representative data available," says Speranzini.

The project will be completed in 2016, and AAFC will communicate the results back to the different sectors in the winter of 2016-2017.

Published in Vegetables

May 4, 2015, Victoria, BC – The Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C. (IAF) has awarded the 2015 Award of Excellence for Innovation to Dr. Saber Miresmailli, founder and CEO of Ecoation Innovative Solutions (EIS), for the development of a wireless crop health monitoring system that will prevent crop losses and decrease pest and disease management costs for growers.

“The Award of Excellence for Innovation celebrates the leaders behind those projects that have the potential to transform a sector, or turn a problem into an opportunity for B.C.’s agriculture and agri-foods industry,” said Ken Bates, IAF chair. “Dr. Miresmailli’s creativity and leadership in addressing the industry-wide issue of crop protection will provide growers with a new tool that allows them to identify and address problems before they spread, reducing crop loss, labour, and pesticide applications.”

EIS crop-sense automates the plant monitoring and inspection process, and identifies where and when treatment is needed at the plant level. Instead of looking for signs of pests and diseases, crop-sense conveys information about plant health based on plant-generated signals before symptoms arise. The system will allow growers to identify pest outbreaks sooner, and take action to manage the pest before there is damage to the crop.

EIS recently established a research greenhouse at UBC to test its technology on eleven major cultivars of tomato and is also conducting massive data collection inside commercial greenhouses to complete its signal database and refine its predictive models and prototype. Once fully implemented, EIS technology can significantly reduce grower operation costs related to pest and disease management and minimize crop losses due to pests and diseases. Commercial trials are underway to prove the efficacy and functionality.

“Our vision at EIS is to change the way we produce and protect our food with the help of innovative technology and big data. I am extremely proud that today, we can apply this vision to various agricultural settings, from sophisticated greenhouses in British Columbia to smallholder cowpea farms in Benin, West Africa,” said Dr. Miresmailli.

“As an immigrant, thinking outside the box has always been my forte. Over the years, I've enjoyed tremendous support from people, organizations and government agencies that have invested their trust in me and made my journey possible. I am extremely thankful for the recognition. I consider this award as yet another driving force and motivation for me and my amazing colleagues at EIS with whom I share this honour.”

The IAF Award of Excellence for Innovation in Agriculture and Agri-Food celebrates B.C.’s agriculture and agri-food leaders who have implemented specific projects or initiatives leading to economic, environmental or social benefits to British Columbia and the industry in general, or to a specific sector. This year the award was presented at the IAF Award Luncheon and Project Showcase in Abbotsford.

In addition to the winner, the selection committee recognized two honorable mentions – Brad Marchant from Enterra Feed Corporation, for developing a new value-added process for dealing with bio-waste; and Michael Gilbert from SemiosBio Technologies for introducing new precision technology that is helping growers in Canada, Europe and the U.S. combat orchard pests.

“We are proud to have supported these nominees through federal and provincial innovation funding, and are now thrilled to recognize and celebrate their incredible achievements. These projects represent long-term gains that extend beyond agriculture to impact consumer, environmental and economic health,” said Bates.

Through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program, the Investment Agriculture Foundation has committed over $6-million in federal and provincial funding to projects in research and development and pilots and demonstrations. Looking ahead, the agri-innovation program will focus funding on facilitating commercialization and adoption of innovative products, technologies and practices.

The Investment Agriculture Foundation is an industry-led, not-for-profit organization that works with the agri-food industry to strategically invest federal and provincial funds toward projects that have the potential to transform ideas into solutions.

Published in Federal

April 27, 2015, Jalandhar, India – Researchers at the Central Potato Research Station (CPRS) in Jalandhar, India, claimed to have invented a new technique that would ensure storage of potatoes for longer duration.

According to the principal scientist at CPRS, researchers have assembled a machine that can remove water from freshly harvested potatoes and keep them from rotting in storage. READ MORE

Published in Storage

 

Scientists and gardeners alike study and examine plants for outward signs of damage caused by disease and insects. Often, this damage takes the shape of areas chewed by insects that are easily observed.

However, much of the important responses plants make to insect bites take place out of sight. In one of the broadest studies of its kind, scientists at the University of Missouri recently studied how plant genes responded to insects that harm them. They found that plants can recognize attacks from diverse kinds of insects, such as caterpillars and aphids, and that plants respond differently to each attack. Identifying these defense genes could allow plant breeders to target specific insect species when developing pest-resistant crops.

“It was no surprise that plants responded differently to having their leaves chewed by a caterpillar or sucked by an aphid,” said Heidi Appel, senior research scientist in the Division of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, an investigator in the Bond Life Sciences Center at the University of Missouri and lead author on the paper. “What surprised us was how different plant responses were to each of the caterpillars and aphids. The plants could clearly tell insects apart – they really seem to ‘know’ who’s attacking.”

Results showed that Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard, recognizes and responds differently to four insect species. Two caterpillar species were placed on the plants and encouraged to chew on their leaves. Researchers also allowed two species of aphids, or small insects that pierce plants with needle-like mouthparts, to attack the plants. Then those plants were examined on the genetic level to gauge their responses.

The team, which also included scientists from the University of British Columbia and The Pennsylvania State University, found that plants responded differently to both species of caterpillars and both types of aphids and determined  that plants had different genetic responses in all four cases. Additionally, insects caused changes on the signaling level that triggered genes to switch on and off helping defend plants against further attacks.

“There are 28,000 genes in the plant, and we detected 2,778 genes responding to attacks depending on the type of insect,” said Jack Schultz, director of the Bond Life Sciences Center at the University of Missouri and a co-author on the study. “If you only look at a few of these genes, you get a very limited picture and possibly one that doesn’t represent what’s going on at all. Turning on defense genes only when needed is less costly to the plant because all of its defenses don’t have to be ‘on’ all the time.”

A sister study, led by Erin Rehrig, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri at the time of publication, showed that attacks by both caterpillars and beet armyworms increased plant hormones that trigger defense responses. However, plants responded quicker and more strongly when fed on by the beet armyworm compared to the cabbage butterfly caterpillar indicating again that plants can tell the two insects apart.

“Among the genes changed when insects bite are ones that regulate processes like root growth, water use and other ecologically significant processes that plants carefully monitor and control,” Schultz said. “Questions about the cost to the plant if the insect continues to eat would be an interesting follow-up study to explore these deeper genetic interactions.”

The study, Transcriptional responses of Arabidopsis thaliana to chewing and sucking insect herbivores, and its sister study, Roles for jasmonate- and ethylene-induced transcription factors in the ability of Arabidopsis to respond differentially to damage caused by two insect herbivores, were published in Frontiers in Plant Science and funding was provided by the National Science Foundation.

 

 

 

Published in Insects

 

When it was “born” in 2007 in Eastern Ontario, Fruit Tracker was a simple CD-based program created to reduce the amount of time apple and berry growers were spending on documenting food safety and traceability for CanadaGap. In 2011, it experienced a growth spurt and now it’s all grown up, a sleek and powerful cloud-based system that tracks all orchard data year round, in one place, at growers’ fingertips when needed. Its graduation to adulthood has nabbed the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers Marketing Board (OTFPMB) a 2014 Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.

The OTFPMB describes Fruit Tracker as a record keeping and orchard management system that helps growers keep accurate records of production, food and worker safety and pest control.

“All Ontario tender fruit producer members are able to have their own private account on Fruit Tracker, accessed with login and passcode,” says OTFPMB manager Sarah Marshall. “The first step to getting started is to sign up to have your orchards GPS mapped by Agricorp. They will then input all that data, and you can get started on working with it immediately after you set up your account.”

Marshall notes that as with any other software program, Fruit Tracker requires a little time to get used to, but once you are familiar with it, it’s simple. Growers are able to generate cost of production reports by block, create production practice modules, integrate WIN weather data, and input/track packing and shipping events. More features are being developed as we speak, and an iPad Fruit Tracker scouting app is being created as well.

In terms of pest management, Fruit Tracker offers a drop-down list that shows existing treatments from Publication 360, including chemical name, formulation, rates and target pest.

“You add the details for your spray event, and Fruit Tracker can send you alerts by email when re-entry intervals have passed or when it’s safe to harvest,” Marshall explains. “An exciting feature is the chemical inventory – you input your current inventory, record purchases and the program keeps track of what’s in your spray shed.”

An All Events tab gives a quick look of all the events that you have recorded from spray application, employee training, harvest, storage to building assessments. The system also uses all this information in completing your CanadaGap required reports.

In terms of the biggest challenges of the developing the system to its present state, Marshall points to the modules.

“In creating them, it was a challenge to ensure we were thinking beyond the immediate and anticipating future needs,” she says. “It’s also been a challenge to get broader grower adoption. To help with this, we used a grower-based focus group to ensure the needs of growers were addressed. Pilot programs were also done to work out the kinks and show growers that the system could save them time and money.”

Marshall says those growers who’ve fully adopted Fruit Tracker are extremely pleased with it and say they cannot function without it now. She’s also heard many say the biggest benefits of the system are the way it cuts report creation time, and the way it increases a grower’s knowledge of his or her operation. The way orchard data is stored, organized and analyzed for handy reference allows growers to increase their operational efficiency and to reduce costs. When asked about the cost savings the system could provide, Marshall says she cannot be sure.

“Time is money and it’s really in the streamlining of reporting where it saves the most and this is difficult to put a number on,” she explains. “Each grower would have a different result.”

The software is owned by Kingston-based DragonFly Information Technology. President Matt Deir says the program is currently available to about 1,000 growers in Ontario, including members of the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers, Ontario Apple Growers, and the Grape Growers of Ontario.

“The system is also being piloted in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, and Quebec, and there has been interest from as far away as New Zealand and Australia,” he says. “We are very excited about its potential for these and other regions. The system has been designed to scale automatically in the cloud, and so is capable of supporting potentially millions of growers globally.”

He adds that many regional and national food chains have been on site with growers who use the software and have been very impressed with its focus on traceability, with food safety being a top priority in the grocery businesses.

Regarding the Premier’s Award win, Marshall says it’s wonderful to be recognized for all the hard work and forward thinking.

“Our main task now is expanding grower adoption, and we hope to have the majority of commercial production on the system in the next year or two. We also want to continue to incorporate new modules, which will also help increase number of growers that want to use the system.” Their next project is a ‘Cost of Production’ module that is being jointly developing with the Ontario Apple Growers.

Fruit Tracker features:
PHI/REI Email Notifications per Block – Fruit Tracker can send you emails when your treatment PHI and/or REI has passed, letting you know if it is safe to re-enter or harvest.

Treatments and Tank Mixes – Fruit Tracker comes loaded with more than 100 treatments from OMAFRA’s Publication 360, including tank mixes and rates to treat individual pests during certain growth stages of your production. Find the right treatment is fast and easy, and you can select one while recording a spray to save even more time when entering a record into the system.

Resistance Management – Special reports and warnings let you know if you are reaching the maximum recommended number of treatments for a chemical. It works at the block level, so you always know which blocks you can and can’t treat again with a specific chemical.

Chemical Lists with Product Labels – PHI/REI, maximum recommended treatments per year, chemical family, PCP# and other information is available on over 6500 chemicals in the system - all updated automatically throughout the year.

Reports – Slice and dice all of your data to get a greater understanding of your chemical use, pests and easily generate spray reports of activity by date range, blocks/orchards, target pests, and chemicals. Print or save as a PDF and email.

PHI/REI Calculations per Tank/Spray – Fruit Tracker automatically calculates the PHI/REI of your tank mix, reporting in hours, days, and with a specific date – no need to do all the math yourself.

Manage Spray Equipment – By adding information about your spray equipment once, you can tell the system you used it when recording a spray, and it will automatically fill in the correct sprayer configuration information for you. It’s easy to add your equipment, and saves you time when you are recording sprays.

 

 

 

Published in Marketing

 

Popular across many U.S. states with both field crop and horticulture crop farmers, controlled drainage (CD) is making inroads in Ontario.

Now, a joint study on these innovative systems, being led by Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC) and McGill University researchers, is aiming to make Canadian horticulture crop growers and well as drainage contractors more familiar with the technology – and therefore more willing to adopt it and its benefits.

Put simply, controlled drainage delivers advantages for farmers and the environment that standard drainage cannot offer. Let’s take a look at how it works. Each controlled drain, placed just before the outlet, consists of a plastic tube 45 cm wide and almost two metres long, integrated with the existing drainage tile. Inside each tube are vertical plastic panels that can be pulled up to let the water flow freely or pushed downward to stop it. The system is meant to be left open in the spring and fall to help drain the field and closed during the summer to retain water from rainstorms (along with the valuable nutrients in that water). Most years, that should have a positive effect on crop yield. However, CD systems only work well on flat topography. With fields that aren’t flat, more controlled drain structures are required to control water flow and having structures located in the field itself (instead of just at the edge) make tasks such as planting and harvesting quite difficult.

The three-year McGill-AAFC study, currently underway in Ontario’s Holland Marsh area, aims to increase the adoption of CD by broadening its applicability.

“CD has primarily been examined in continuous and corn-soybean production systems because these systems generally cover the majority of acres across Eastern Canada,” explains AAFC Senior Water Management Engineer Andrew Jamieson. “While horticultural production covers fewer acres, it’s often located in areas that have good potential for the installation and success of CD – flat land and medium-to-coarse textured soils.”

Jamieson adds that since horticulture crops have higher nitrogen and phosphorus requirements than field crops, they present a greater opportunity for CD to decrease nutrient loss through runoff. It’s estimated that about 80 to 90 per cent of the phosphorous and nitrogen in a field crop field will stay put with controlled drainage compared to what would have been lost into the watershed with conventional drainage tile systems.

“There is also greater potential for profitability with CD use in the hort sector due to the higher value of the crops,” Jamieson notes. “Research has shown that the yield bump from CD systems doesn’t happen every year (for example, in wet years), so we need a better grasp on how often will a producer see the yield bump and how a grower can manage a CD system to optimize yields.”

The CD structures cost approximately $700 apiece plus installation, and when a farmer could expect to break even depends on yearly crop yields and prices, weather patterns, snow melt, soil type and so on.

Jamieson notes the overall goal of the study – which he is co-leading with McGill’s Dr. Chandra Madramootoo – is to address a number of adoption barriers that have been identified by both producers and tile drain contractors. This same goal also applies to a study of CD in field crops near Lucan, Ont., being spearheaded by AAFC and the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority.

“We have reams of research results confirming the environmental benefits of CD,” Jamieson says. “But what we hope to accomplish with these projects is a better understanding of how CD works at a farm level and the challenges of managing such a system from producer’s point of view.”

For example, producers need have best management practices on when the water table should be raised, or how long in a wet year the field be left to drain.

Tile drainage contractors have also asked AAFC for guidelines and standards for the installation of CD systems, and Jamieson hopes these studies can provide a foundation for that.

“The contractor is the first point of contact for producers regarding drainage on their farm and if we don’t resolve the contractors concerns with CD, then the adoption of CD will remain slow,” he explains.

One concern stems from the fact that CD systems are known to be more effective with newer tile drainage systems as they feature more pipes in the ground. More pipes with less space between them means a more uniform water table in the field can be achieved with the new drainage systems.

The study is taking place in organic soil as it has been identified by researchers as having good potential for CD. The controlled drains were installed during the fall of 2014 at two sites in the Holland Marsh. The first site is 0.62 hectares under organic carrot production. The second site is just more than four hectares being used for organic celery and onion production. A third site with conventional tile drains (organic onion production) will serve as the study control.

“The fields have been instrumented to sample tile runoff and measure tile flow all year round,” Jamieson says. “We’re using two different methods for that – in case one fails, and also to get a sense of which method costs less. During the growing season, the fields will also be equipped with water table and soil moisture monitoring. We should be able to get a good sense of how CD can be used to maintain a fairly constant water table depth.”

Jamieson notes that while some of the results will not be applicable to non-organic production, others definitely will. On the one hand, results on things like nutrient loading impact or ability of the system to maintain a consistent water table will be difficult to directly translate because organic (muck) soil is inherently different.

“However, there will be takeaways about the challenge of managing a CD system with a traditional irrigation system, which are applicable to many horticultural production systems.”

Study of controlled drains has been going on for more than two decades at the AAFC research station in Harrow, and has included an evaluation of the annual impact of CD on nutrient loading from tile and surface runoff on a plot scale, but Jamieson notes that CD research in Canada has generally had an overall focus on its function and effects only during the growing season. A look at the entire year is more valuable as it provides the entire picture, and that’s why Jamieson and his colleagues are taking on the challenge of monitoring over the winter months, attempting to study the annual impacts of CD on a field scale.

“Some recent research results out of Ohio where CD was used in fields after harvest until the spring time show a 40 to 70 per cent reduction in dissolved phosphorus loads,” Jamieson says. “We are looking forward to seeing what conclusions we can draw from our year-round study.”

The next step after this study is complete, says Jamieson, would be to examine the potential of CD and/or sub-irrigation (SI) on additional horticultural crops.

“As well, we should examine the benefits of retrofitting an existing tile system to CD or installing a new CD system for the purposes of reducing the need for irrigation,” he explains. “This would involve a cost-benefit analysis along with examining the differences in time management between CD and/or SI and traditional irrigation methods.”

 

 

 

Published in Irrigating

February 24, 2015, Ridgetown, Ont – The District 1 of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs present the 39th Annual Tomato Day being held March 3, 2015, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The event is being hosted at Countryview Golf Course, 25393 St. Clair Rd., near Dover Centre, Ont.

Admission is $30 and includes the educational program, trade show, and a hot lunch. No preregistration is required.

8:00 a.m. – Registration, refreshments and trade show

8:30 a.m. – Welcome and Opening Remarks; Ron Van Damme, District 1 Chair

8:35 a.m. – White Mold: The Year After 2014; Cheryl Trueman, Ridgetown Campus, University of Guelph

8:55 a.m. – Building Better Soils for Better Crops; Odette Ménard, MAPAQ, Quebec

9:55 a.m. – Tomato Weed Management; Kris McNaughton, Ridgetown Campus – University of Guelph

10:45 a.m. – Break and Trade Show

11:00 a.m. – Stink Bugs; Celeste Welty, Ohio State University, OARDC

11:30 a.m. – What we learned from the Bacterial Disease Survey; Cheryl Trueman, Ridgetown Campus, University of Guelph

11:40 a.m. – Tomato Bacterial Disease; Mary Hausbeck, Michigan State University

12:25 p.m. – Tomato Negotiations Update; OPVG

12:30 p.m. – Lunch and Trade Show

CCA Continuing Education Credits have been applied for.

Published in Vegetables

 

Juicy, ripe, Roma-style tomatoes, stocked in the canned goods section of the local supermarket, are already peeled and ready for you to add to your favorite winter stew, soup, or casserole. Equally versatile, and used by restaurant chefs and home cooks alike, are canned stewed or diced tomatoes, perfect for flavorful Italian or Mexican dishes.

Today, many processors remove the tight-fitting peels of these tasty tomatoes by using conventional approaches, such as steam-heating or jet sprays of heated solutions of sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, followed by a tap water rinse.

Tomorrow, processors may opt for a new approach, developed and tested in studies led by Agricultural Research Service engineer Zhongli Pan. He’s based at the agency’s Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif.

Infrared peeling relies on infrared energy, like that produced in infrared ovens found in upscale home kitchens, for instance. At the cannery, tomatoes travelling on conveyor belts would be heated for about 60 seconds with infrared light emitted from tubular units placed alongside the belts.

The heat loosens the clingy peel and causes it to crack. That makes it easier for the peel to split when tomatoes enter their next destination – a vacuum chamber – and, after that, to be removed by “pinch” rollers.

Pan’s team has refined these steps during more than five years of tests involving about 6,000 commercially grown Roma-type tomatoes. Though scientists have been experimenting with infrared peeling of fruits and vegetables for several decades, Pan’s infrared tests apparently are the most extensive of their kind, to date, for environmentally sound peeling of tomatoes.

Among the most important advantages of the new technique is that it is mostly waterless. The technique could not only cut the cost of bringing water into the cannery, but may also reduce the expense of recycling or properly disposing of it. Disposal is a particular concern for processors who use sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide because the substances can boost the cost of treating factory wastewater.

There’s more to like about the infrared dry-peeling technology. The process helps reduce the wasteful over-peeling that can occur when too many layers of the tomato are inadvertently removed with the peel. With infrared, over-peeling is less of a problem because, when used with precision, the technique primarily affects only the peel and a few thin layers beneath it.

In a study published in 2014, the researchers showed that peel-related loss – measured by comparing the tomato’s weight before and after peeling – was about eight to 13 per cent with the infrared heating and about 13 to 16 per cent with sodium hydroxide-based peeling.

Less over-peeling also means that an infrared-processed tomato could be more attractive than an over-peeled one. Over-peeling can expose inner layers, which are typically paler than the everyday processing tomato’s deep-red upper layers. The tomato’s yellowish, vein-like vascular bundles may also be exposed by over-peeling.

In addition, infrared peeling can be easier on the structure and texture of the tomato. This means that tomatoes may remain pleasingly firm, not mushy, and should not fall apart as easily when cut. Pan’s team has shown that infrared-treated tomatoes were of similar or slightly better firmness than tomatoes peeled with sodium or potassium hydroxide.

Pan expects to have the system ramped up to cannery speeds by 2016. In the meantime, the tomato studies are documented in a half-dozen peer-reviewed scientific articles. Other articles describe progress with using the technology for peeling fresh clingstone peaches, another canned-goods classic.


Marcia Wood is a member of the Information Staff with the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

 

 

 

 

Published in Vegetables

January 22, 2015 – The ability to detect when to harvest fruit, such as apples, pears and tomatoes, at the precise moment to ensure “peak edibleness” in terms of both taste and texture may soon be within reach for farmers, thanks to the work of a team of researchers from Saint Joseph University in Lebanon and the Université de Bretagne Occidentale de Brest in France.

As the team reports in a recent paper published in The Optical Society’s (OSA) journal Applied Optics, they recently demonstrated a laser biospeckle technique capable of detecting fruits’ climacteric peak.

What’s the significance of this climacteric peak?

“Fruits are divided into two categories: climacteric or nonclimacteric fruits,” explained Rana Nassif, a postdoctoral researcher affiliated with both Saint Joseph University and the Université de Bretagne Occidentale de Brest. “Climacteric fruits continue their maturation off the tree or vine, so these fruits emit ethylene and are characterized by a climacteric peak – indicating a maximum ethylene release. This peak signals that the fruit has reached its maturity.”

After this point, the fruit is more susceptible to fungal invasion or begins to degrade from cell death.

By tapping biospeckle activity, generated by illuminating a biological medium with coherent light, the researchers studied the evolution of two batches of Golden apples’ speckle patterns as they underwent the ripening process in both low- and room-temperature environments.

To do this, the team uses a rather simple setup that involves coherent light, a laser beam, polarizers and quarter-wave plates to generate different incident polarizations, and a digital camera to record the speckle pattern.

“Simplicity and low cost are the key advantages of our technique,” noted Nassif.

How does it work? Laser light interacts with any medium through different processes such as scattering, absorption and reflection. Photons scattered by the medium interfere with the incident light field to create a speckle pattern.

“A group of sparkling and dark grains called speckle grains make up this pattern. If the medium is biological – meaning that it presents some sort of cell activity – its speckle pattern will show changes with time,” she said. “And this pattern depends on the medium’s scattering properties, as well as its own nature.”

Once obtained, speckle patterns can be correlated with a reference standard, which is based on emitted ethylene concentrations obtained by a principal component analysis.

“This approach allows us to validate biospeckle as a noninvasive alternative method to respiration rate and ethylene production, which are used today for climacteric peak detection and as a ripening index,” said Nassif.

The team explored the diffusion properties and inner activity aspects of the apples via speckle grain size, recording the temporal correlation between a set of images, consecutively, in different light polarizations.

“On one hand, the changes the speckle grain size underwent marked an inflection point corresponding to the climacteric peak for apples stored at room temperature. While on the other hand, the time correlation coefficient behavior demonstrated a rise in the apples’ activity until the day of climacteric peak was reached, followed by a decrease that marked the beginning of the deterioration stage.”

Beyond apples, Nassif and colleagues are also monitoring the ripening of pears – performing backscattered speckle images on the fruits during the ripening phase. They supplemented these images with fluorescence and biochemical measurements.

“By doing this, we were able to show that as the glucose content increases, the circular degree of polarization decreases,” Nassif said.

In technical terms, she added, “This signature is expected for a medium that constituted a significant portion of small scatterers, in which the Rayleigh diffusion regime outweighs the Mie regime. We also noticed a decreasing speckle grain size, which can be attributed either to increasing glucose or the decreasing of absorption.”

What’s next for the team? “In the near term, we’re working on speckle theoretical studies based on Monte Carlo simulations – taking into account light polarization and media characteristics,” said Nassif. “These simulations can be used to differentiate and quantify the diffusion coefficient variations and its effect from those of absorption on the fruits’ speckle image.”

Then, they’ll focus on comparing these simulations with experiments done on latex spheres – a mix of spheres of varying diameters – to vary the diffusion and absorption coefficient.

And, of course, one of the team’s ultimate goals is to develop a portable tool to enable farmers to noninvasively assess their fruits’ maturity in orchards or fields to detect the optimal time to harvest their crops.

“This is of great interest to fruit farmers – especially since most tests used today are either destructive or based on visual criteria that are often wrong,” noted Nassif.

Published in Research

December 15, 2014 – An attractive shrub bearing fingers of golden fruits, seabuckthorn has been grown in Canada primarily for its esthetic purposes and ability to block wind and help conserve soil. After almost 30 years of research and development at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), this shrub is looking to come out of the field and into the supermarket.

Bill Schroeder, a researcher at AAFC’s Agroforestry Development Centre in Indian Head, Sask., is the recognized North American expert on this budding bush and the first scientist to initiate a comprehensive seabuckthorn research program. The Agroforestry Development Centre has the only North American bred cultivars available, which has been instrumental in the development of the Canadian seabuckthorn industry.

Seabuckthorn has been touted as the new super fruit in the same breath as goji and pomegranate. It possesses rare features found in only a handful of plants: a balanced concentration of essential fatty acids and oils, 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin) in the peel of the stem and berries, plus some of the highest antioxidant activity among medicinal plants. Besides its nutritional values, the shrub is also one of the few non-legume nitrogen fixing species.

"Thanks to its high concentrations of vitamins C and E, carotene, flavonoids, amino acids and essential oils, the value-added opportunities for seabuckthorn products are numerous – food and drink, nutrition supplements, cosmetics, veterinary care, and dyes – to name a few," said Schroeder.

Schroeder’s extensive research has resulted in a breeding strategy aimed at improving yield, fruit characteristics, harvest efficiency and thornlessness. He’s narrowed down 25,000 genotypes to 1,000, then finally to 32 superior individuals. With an eye to thornlessness, Schroeder has developed eight high yield cultivars that are extremely hardy and adapted to cold, semi-arid continental climates.

Schroeder and collaborating AAFC researchers at Summerland Research Centre in BC have also developed new orchard management protocols, which include propagation techniques, orchard design, weed and pest management, harvesting techniques and pruning for maximum productivity and quality.

The greatest challenge seabuckthorn poses is the difficulty in harvesting the berry from its tight cluster on thorn-covered branches.

The traditional method - manual labour – is cost prohibitive (estimated at 75 per cent of production cost). Many methods have been experimented with, ranging from tree and branch shakers, vacuum suction, and quick freezing fruit laden branches.

AAFC research continues, with a concentration on breeding and agronomic strategies with an added focus on genomics tools and biochemical traits. This new research will speed up the cultivar development of key phyto-chemical traits such as flavonoids, phenolics and fatty acid profiles, all of which will lead to even more potential for the seabuckthorn.

With a concentrated effort on all fronts – market development, agronomic technology, cultivar development and processing – the Canadian prairies could one day find itself a major grower and supplier of seabuckthorn fruit and products.

Published in Fruit

November 21, 2014, Vineland, Ont – The sweet potato craze is one of the latest food trends to sweep our nation. Canadian demand for the healthy tuber has sky rocketed, reaching heights that far outstrip Ontario’s small, locally grown supply.

Researchers at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre are working hard to change that by developing new sweet potato varieties specifically suited for Ontario’s climate and crop conditions.

About 1,500 acres are currently being grown in southern Ontario – mostly in the Simcoe area of Norfolk County – and most farmers are using a variety called Covington, which was developed in North Carolina.

“Sweet potato is a southern crop. We have a short season here, so we need quick-maturing and cold tolerant varieties for Ontario,” explains Valerio Primomo, who is leading Vineland’s sweet potato breeding work. “Sweet potatoes are a growing trend; it is full of beta carotene, a good source of the vitamins B6 and C, fibre, potassium, iron and magnesium.”

Ontario’s existing sweet potato crop is almost exclusively sold as fresh product to large grocery chains like Loblaws and Sobeys, but processing also presents a significant market opportunity.

In the last five years, Canadians’ sweet potato consumption has doubled to 1.5 kg per person per year, which Primomo attributes largely to the popularity of sweet potato fries and the inclusion of sweet potatoes in everything from baby food and soups to pet food.

To meet that demand, Canada imports approximately $42 million of the anti-oxidant rich tuber from the United States every year.

That’s why Primomo is also looking for varieties that have good processing characteristics, such as increased dry matter to make sweet potato fries firmer for processing, and reduced sugar content, which ensures the potatoes keep the orange colour consumers are used to seeing instead of turning brown when they are fried.

The work at Vineland’s research farm started in 2012 with 500 potential candidate plants, which was then narrowed to 100 selections.

These were evaluated for shape, size, yield, and sugar and dry matter content; the 15 best performers were subsequently moved forward to on-farm trials in 2014.

Three farmers in Norfolk County and one in Nova Scotia are taking part in the preliminary variety trials this year.

From those, the best three or four will be selected for larger scale farm trials before one or two varieties will be chosen for commercial production.

“One or two will be the end result, perhaps one variety for the fresh market and one for processing, but that is yet to be determined,” says Primomo, adding that he expects the winning varieties to become available to Ontario farmers in about three years.

“We’ve had a lot of interest from growers so far, and we’re also looking at other areas in Canada, like British Columbia for example, where the growing conditions are similar to Simcoe. There is also interest in Quebec, but their climate is cooler than ours in southern Ontario,” he says.

Sweet potato processors, like Pride Pak and French fry maker McCain’s, are also awaiting the outcome of Primomo’s work to allow them to supply products made from Canadian-sourced sweet potatoes to their customers.

Published in Vegetables

 

Plant breeders have long identified and cultivated disease-resistant varieties. A research team at the University of California, Riverside has now revealed a new molecular mechanism for resistance and susceptibility to a common fungus that causes wilt in susceptible tomato plants.

The study results appeared Oct. 16 in PLOS Pathogens.

Katherine Borkovich, a professor of plant pathology and the chair of the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, and colleagues started with two closely related tomato cultivars: Moneymaker is susceptible to the wilting fungus Fusarium oxysporum whereas Motelle is resistant. In their search for what makes the two different, the researchers focused on microRNAs, small molecules that act by regulating the expression of a variety of genes, including genes involved in
plant immunity.

They treated roots from the two cultivars with water or with a solution containing F. oxysporum and looked for microRNAs that were increased in response to the fungus in Moneymaker (where they would inhibit resistance genes) or decreased in Motelle (where they would allow expression of resistance genes). They identified two candidate microRNAs whose levels went down in Motelle after treatment with the fungus.

Because microRNAs inhibit their targets by binding to them, computer searches can find target genes with complementary sequences. Such a search for targets of the two microRNAs identified four candidates in the tomato genome, and all four resembled known plant resistance genes.

“When we compared the levels of the four potential targets in the two cultivars after exposure to the fungus, we found that all four were up-regulated in response to F. oxysporum – but only in Motelle; the levels in Moneymaker were unchanged,” said Borkovich, the corresponding author of the study.

To test whether up-regulation of the target genes was indeed what made Motelle resistant, Borkovich and her colleagues employed a virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) system that can down-regulate specific genes in tomato. After exposure to F. oxysporum, disease symptoms, including leaf wilting, were seen in VIGS Motelle plants that silenced any one of the four genes. Although the symptoms were not as severe as in Moneymaker plants, this suggested that all four targets contribute to resistance.

“Taken together,” Borkovich and her co-authors conclude, “our findings suggest that Moneymaker is highly susceptible, because its potential resistance is insufficiently expressed due to the action of microRNAs.” Moreover, “because the four identified targets are different from the only known resistance gene for F. oxysporum in tomato,” they say, “there is much to learn about the immune response to an important pathogen family that infects numerous crop plants.”

Borkovich was joined in the research by Shouqiang Ouyang (first author of the research paper), Gyungsoon Park, Hagop S. Atamian, Jason Stajich and Isgouhi Kaloshian at UC Riverside; and Cliff S. Han at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“Next, we would like to find out if any of the microRNAs we identified are conserved in additional plant species that are infected by other F. oxysporum strains,” Borkovich said. “We are interested, too, in identifying the proteins and genes in the fungus that are important for regulating expression of these microRNAs in one cultivar but not the other.  In other words, what is it about the fungus that the plant is sensing?”

The research was supported by seed funding to Borkovich, Kaloshian and Han from the Los Alamos National Laboratory-UC Riverside Collaborative Program in Infectious Disease. The purpose of the seed project was to explore the molecular basis of plant diseases caused by microorganisms.

 

 

 

Published in Research

 

University of Adelaide researchers are introducing a method to use bees to deliver disease control to cherry blossoms, preventing brown rot in cherries.

This is a new technique for Australia and a world first for cherry orchards with potential application in many horticultural industries. It was demonstrated publicly for the first time during a field day in September hosted by the Cherry Growers of South Australia and researchers at Lennane Orchards,
Montacute.

“Brown rot is caused by a fungus which significantly impacts Australia’s cherry industry through costs of applying fungicide, yield loss and fruit spoilage,” says project leader  Dr. Katja Hogendoorn, a postdoctoral research associate with the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food
and Wine.

“All commercial cherry growers spray during flowering to control the later development of cherry brown rot. Instead of spraying fungicide, we’re using bees to deliver a biological control agent right to the flowers where it is needed. This uses an innovative delivery method called entomovectoring.”

The biological control agent contains spores of a parasitic fungus that prevents the fungus causing brown rot from colonizing the flower. Every morning, the cherry grower sprinkles the spores into a specially designed dispenser  fitted in front of the hive. The bees pick up the spores between their body hairs and bring them to the flowers.

“The flying doctors technology is used successfully in Europe to control strawberry grey mould, but it’s the first time for Australia and the first time in cherry orchards anywhere,” Dr. Hogendoorn says, adding the use of bees has many environmental and economic benefits compared to spraying fungicide.

“The bees deliver control on target, every day,” she says. “There is no spray drift or run-off into the environment.”

Dr. Hogendoorn says adoption of the technique will have the additional benefit of building up the number of managed honeybee hives.

With increasing availability of biological control agents, future application of the technology is expected to become available for disease control in almonds, grapes, strawberry, raspberry, apple, pear and stone fruit.

 

 

 

Published in Research

 

A new study demonstrates that reusable plastic containers (RPCs) used to ship fruits and vegetables in Canada are not properly sanitized and show traces of E coli.

The report, developed by University of Guelph professor and researcher Keith Warriner, indicates that sanitation standards of RPCs are inadequate for a second consecutive year.

‘We saw alarming levels of sanitization and significant risk for food contamination,” said Warriner.

In fact, using UK food safety standards for food surfaces as a pass/fail baseline, 43 per cent of RPCs failed sanitary standards due to high ATP (adenosine triphosphate) readings (equivalent standards do not exist in North America). Specifically, the fecal indicators were more prevalent in the current sampling trials compared to the study performed in 2013. Rates in the province of Quebec are especially alarming. RPCs sampled in Quebec recorded the highest indicator counts and ATP readings.

“Of concern is the high prevalence of food safety indicators, especially E. coli, which highlights the potential for the presence of enteric pathogens that could encompass viruses, protozoa and bacterial,” says Warriner, the Food Safety and Quality Assurance Program director at the University of Guelph who also conducted last year’s study.

During the study, Warriner assessed the microbiological standard of reusable plastic containers used in different fresh produce packing stations. Locations in Ontario and Quebec were visited several times during the course of the 10-week study. Every time, 10 randomly selected RPCs were sampled at each location.

A combination of ATP swabs and microbiological analysis was chosen to determine the sanitary status of RPCs. ATP readings taken at farms provided an estimate of viable cells present on the surface of RPCs. The standards set were those expected of a cleaned surface of a food contact surface within the food industry with a 20 per cent failure rate being deemed the upper limit of acceptability. Crates were sampled as delivered thereby ruling out contamination at the packing facility.

RPCs made their appearance as a few Canadian retailers recently requested that farmers ship fruits and vegetables using plastic containers. They are rented by farmers for one shipment and are expected to be returned to the United States for cleaning and sanitation afterwards.  

This study was commissioned for a second year to monitor improvements following last year’s poor results and food safety concerns expressed by growers who were told to ship fruits and vegetables using RPCs rather than corrugated boxes which is the traditional choice.

This year, Warriner increased the scope of the study from 15 testing units to 160 containers. Photos of the crates tested show visibly dirty crates and labels from previous users were found on an estimated 30 per cent of RPCs, which raises questions about the efficiency of the American sanitation facilities.

Interestingly, it was recently announced that the sanitation procedures for RPCs have been strengthened and that RPC manufacturers established micro-standards to use as indicators of cleanliness.

“Given the state of randomly selected RPCs, I would question whether they are even sent to the U.S. for sanitization at all,” said Warriner.

There are no sanitization facilities in Canada for reusable plastic crates.

“Food must be shipped in safe containers, regardless of whether they are corrugated boxes or plastic,” said John Kelly, executive vice president of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (OFVGA).

 

 

 

Published in Research

 Corn earworm, Helicoverpa zea. Photo courtesy of Jack Dykinga, ARS.

October 16, 2014 - Corn earworms, also known as cotton bollworms, migrate at night, making them notoriously hard to track. Farmers worried about controlling infestations have to make educated guesses about the pest's movements, based on reports from other areas and past experience. Guessing wrong can be expensive: The pest costs cotton producers an estimated $200 million a year in the U.S.

U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists in College Station, Texas, have shown that signals routinely collected by the National Weather Service's (NWS) Doppler radar network could serve as an early-warning system to track corn earworms and other nighttime traveling pests.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) meteorologists John Westbrook and Ritchie Eyster at the Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center in College Station focused on the capabilities of what is known as Next Generation Weather Radar, or NEXRAD.

With more than 150 ground-based installations across the United States, NEXRAD monitors weather conditions by sweeping the atmosphere every 5 to 10 minutes and reading the energy reflected by rain, snow and other precipitation. Algorithms normally remove energy reflected by flying insects, but scientists have used NEXRAD and other radar signals to track birds, bats, and insects.

Westbrook and Eyster obtained 15 days of NEXRAD data from the NWS installation at Brownsville, Texas, to see if they could use it to make aerial counts of corn earworm moths and determine their movement patterns during peak migration times from cornfields in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

The researchers measured radar properties associated with aerial concentrations of moths at heights of up to 3,900 feet, using archived NEXRAD data collected in 1996. They compared it with data from the same time period previously collected by Wayne Wolf, a retired ARS agricultural engineer, with a scanning "X-band" radar system. Unlike NEXRAD, which is constantly operating, the scanning X-band system is specifically designed to track insects, but must be set up and monitored each time it's used. NEXRAD data is publicly available and can be used without any positioning or monitoring cost, so it would be less expensive.

The results showed that NEXRAD was not only capable of tracking insect migration patterns, but also was superior to the X-band system because it offered a larger detection range and could determine the direction and speed of the insects. The results of this work were published in the International Journal of Biometeorology (April 2013).

More work is needed, but recent upgrades should make it easier to use NEXRAD radar to identify potential corn earworm infestations. Also, with refined algorithms, it should be able to track beet armyworms, grasshoppers, and other large-bodied insects.

Read more about this research in the September 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

 

Published in Insects

October 9, 2014, Vineland Station, Ont – Canada’s changing demographics are creating new market opportunities for farmers looking to expand their businesses.

Researchers at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre are exploring the market potential of vegetable crops popular with South Asian and Afro-Caribbean consumers and how to successfully grow and market these new vegetables in Ontario.

“Canada is a land of immigrants and as demographics evolve, so do tastes and markets. People eat what they know, so as the consumer base changes, it’s only natural that demand for foods will change right along with it,” says Vineland’s Dr. Michael Brownbridge, who is leading the project.

And the demand is significant. A study completed in 2010 by the University of Guelph showed major ethnic groups in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) spend more than $61 million monthly on fresh produce – predominantly on vegetables that aren’t grown in Canada. For example, Canadian okra sales have increased more than 50 per cent since 2008, the bulk of which is imported.

Vineland’s researchers have worked with a variety of potential crops, including Asian long eggplant, round eggplant, okra, Indian kaddu, Chinese red hot pepper, yard long bean, callaloo, fuzzy melon, maca, tomatillo, bottle gourd, daikon radish and Indian red carrot.

And although understanding which varieties can be successfully grown in Ontario is important – they have to be cold hardy and disease tolerant too – that’s only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to developing new produce markets.

Equally important are knowing which vegetables are most in demand, the value of that demand, and what retailers want; and understanding the needs of the end-consumer: whether they’ll buy Ontario-grown and at what price, and what kind of taste and look the veggies should have.

After looking at all of these factors together with consumers, farmers and retailers since 2010, Asian long eggplant, Indian round eggplant and okra have been identified as showing the most marketplace potential to date.

Grower and retailer interest is high and success is already evident. Fresh, “Grown in Ontario” ethno-cultural produce is available on supermarket shelves in the GTA and several hundred acres of land are already in commercial production.

Longo’s and Loblaw’s, for example, are keen to increase the ‘local’ content of the ethnic produce sections in their stores and are encouraging farmers involved in field trials and already shipping produce to their distribution centres to include selected new crops with their shipments.

“We understand what consumers want and we’ve been able to bring together growers and buyers to help make the right connections so farmers can sell what they grow,” Brownbridge explains.

“This is a real opportunity for growers and we are only at the beginning with supplying the GTA. Can we supply Canada or even large ethnic populations in U.S. cities that are only a truck drive away? In five years, we hope to see a lot of farmers growing these crops and getting full value for what they produce,” he adds.

The crops can be an attractive proposition for farmers, with long eggplant showing an estimated net return of around $3,000 an acre, for example, which ranks highly even within specialty crop production, Brownbridge says.

In late July, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada announced a $1.1 million investment in Vineland’s world crops work through its AgriInnovation Program (AIP). The research investment will be used to build seasonal field production capacity of these new vegetables and investigate the feasibility of greenhouse eggplant production.

Published in Vegetables

September 9, 2014, Gainesville, FL – A University of Florida-led research team’s development of a tracking system could change the way companies ship fresh fruits and vegetables, letting them know which produce is closest to expiration and providing consumers the freshest products available.

Jeffrey Brecht, director of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Center for Food Distribution and Retailing, studied strawberries beginning with their harvesting from fields in Florida and California to their delivery to stores in Illinois, Washington, Alabama and South Carolina.

Colleagues from the University of South Florida, Georgia Tech and industry partners collaborated on the project, funded by a $155,000 grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation. Brecht delivered a presentation recently on his findings at the International Horticultural Congress in Brisbane, Australia.

The researchers placed two radio frequency identification (RFID) devices into each pallet of strawberries as they were picked. The devices allowed them to track the strawberries’ temperature from the field, through pre-cooling and into trucks (which can hold 28 pallets), to distribution centers and then on to stores.

Their theory is that if you know the quality of the produce and the temperatures to which it has been exposed, you will know which produce to deliver first to stores.

They specifically researched the theory of “first in–first out,” known as FIFO in the food distribution industry. And they found that “first expired-first out,” or FEFO, was a better way to distribute delicate fruits and vegetables.

Companies normally measure only the temperature of an entire truck. But Brecht explained that individual pallets can vary greatly in temperature, depending on what time of the day berries were picked and even their placement on the truck. Strawberries picked in the cool of the morning and placed on a refrigerated truck would stay fresher longer than strawberries picked in the afternoon heat.

Brecht said under perfect conditions, strawberries can maintain a good quality, based on researchers’ scale of what’s acceptable, for up to 14 days. Less than perfect conditions, mainly due to a lack of temperature control, drastically reduce the berries’ postharvest life. It can take as long as four days to go from field to store, but that would be for a cross-country trip, such as from California to South Carolina.

Maintaining good quality, he said, helps consumers buy what is freshest and reduces food waste.

“If you improve the efficiency of postharvest handling, you reduce waste and losses and that improves sustainability,” Brecht said. “Because, of course, if you ship something to market that’s not going to end up being eaten by consumers, every single bit of input in growing it, harvesting, packing, cooling, shipping – everything is wasted.”

Published in Research

 

August 13, 2014, Gainesville, FL – A University of Florida-developed web tool can bring growers $1.7 million more in net profits over 10 years than a calendar-based fungicide system because it guides growers to spray their crop at optimal times, a new UF study shows.

The Strawberry Advisory System, devised by an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher, takes data such as temperature and leaf wetness and tells growers when to spray fungicide to ward off diseases. Growers can use the system by logging onto www.agroclimate.org/tools/strawberry or use the website to sign up for email or text alerts.

Before the system was developed, strawberry farmers traditionally sprayed weekly during the November-to-March growing season. Spraying more often than is needed wastes money and can lead to fungicide resistance, said Natalia Peres, associate professor in plant pathology, who led the system’s development.

Not all strawberry growers use the system, but this research might persuade them to do so, said Tatiana Borisova, an assistant professor in UF/IFAS food and resource economics department.

“The study will help additional producers to realize the benefits,” Borisova said. “Increased adoption of this system can increase the profitability of the strawberry industry in Florida, and it will help producers to stay competitive in the market.”

Ekaterina Vorotnikova, a doctoral student in food and resource economics, worked on the study to identify how much the web tool could increase profits and yield by reducing spraying for anthracnose and botrytis, two of the crop’s deadliest diseases.

Using a 26-acre farm as her average, Vorotnikova took data collected at UF’s Gulf Coast Research and Education Center from 2006-2012 and put it into a 10-year model. She found that using the web tool increased net profit for strawberries with anthracnose by $1.7 million and $890,000 for those with botrytis. The increased profit stemmed mostly from decreased spraying, Borisova said.

“Given that world strawberry production was worth about $4.3 billion in 2013, the development and adoption of expert systems for small fruit production operations can benefit millions of farmers worldwide,” Vorotnikova said.

In 2012 and 2013, a UF/IFAS survey found 96 per cent of Florida’s strawberry producers said botrytis attacks their crop. Half said they get anthracnose every three to four years, while 40 per cent said they get it every year. Fifty-five per cent of respondents said they subscribe to text or e-mail alerts about anthracnose and botrytis risk levels from the system, Borisova said.

Traditionally, strawberry growers sprayed their crop with fungicide weekly. But this was not optimal, said John VanSickle, a UF/IFAS food and resource economics professor and a study co-author.

For example, if conditions do not induce diseases, growers sprayed unnecessarily, wasting chemicals and labor and increasing production costs. Second, if weather worsens unexpectedly, farmers might not be able spray. Third, too much fungicide helps build chemical resistance for the disease, VanSickle said.

The study, written by Vorotnikova, Borisova and VanSickle, was published online last month in the journal Agricultural Systems.

Published in Research

August 6, 2014, Vineland, Ont – The sweet potatoes growing at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre are stressed out.

Not only are they being grown in trying conditions, to see how they fare, they’re also under pressure to produce tubers that will one day be the makings of a profitable crop for Canadian farmers. READ MORE

Published in Vegetables

July 22, 2014 – In traditional apple orchards, effective management practices rely on two interrelated components: finding ways to manage competitive vegetation under the trees, and supplying important supplemental nutrition to trees.

These factors are further complicated in organic management systems where limited tools are available, and producers need to meet the stringent soil fertility and crop nutrient management standards of the National Organic Program. University of Arkansas scientists published a study that includes recommendations for the use of various groundcover management systems for apple orchard floors. They say that selected management systems can improve soil quality in organically managed apple orchards.

Curt Rom, corresponding author of the study (published in HortScience), explained that orchards established on the weathered, acidic mineral soils in the Ozark Highlands must be strategically managed in order to meet the trees' nutritional requirements.

"A common characteristic of Ozark Highland soils is a relatively low soil organic matter concentration, a condition that can have detrimental effects on orchard productivity," Rom said.

A cross-disciplinary research team studied the impacts of groundcover management systems and nutrient source on soil characteristics, tree health and productivity, and insect, disease, and weed management. The experiments were performed in an organically managed apple orchard that was established in 2006 and continues today at the University of Arkansas' Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Fayetteville.

The researchers evaluated several under tree, in-row groundcover management systems, including shredded paper, wood chips, municipal green compost, and mow-blow. They also tested various nutrient sources (non-fertilized control, composted poultry litter, and pelletized organic commercial fertilizer). The groundcover systems and nutrients were analyzed for their respective effects on soil organic matter, carbon, and nitrogen concentration, and soil carbon and nitrogen sequestration.

The results showed that the use of various groundcover management systems as an orchard floor management tool can increase soil organic matter, total soil, and total nitrogen mineral soils, thereby improving soil quality. The greatest increases in these factors were associated with applications of green compost, which the authors say was a result of accelerated formation of carbon- and nitrogen-rich soil organic matter.

"Compared with conventional apple orchards managed with herbicides and fertilizers, green compost, wood chip, and shredded paper treatment may result in improved soil quality," the authors concluded. "However, care should be taken in organic apple production to ensure nutrients are not over applied, thereby protecting soil and water resources and maintaining the health of the orchard ecosystem."

According to Rom, the study has implications for sustainably and conventionally managed orchards as well as organic orchards, and demonstrates the sustainability of organically managed systems.

The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortScience electronic journal web site: hortsci.ashspublications.org/content/49/5/637.

Published in Fruit

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