July 5, 2013 – New research by academics at the University of Nottingham has shown that exposure to a neonicotinoid insecticide causes changes to the genes of the honeybee.

The study, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, supports the recent decision taken by the European Commission to temporarily ban three neonicotinoids amid concerns that they could be linked to bee deaths.

There is growing evidence connecting the decline in the honeybee population that pollinates one-third of the food that we eat, and insecticides, but this is the first comprehensive study to look at changes in the activity of honeybee genes linked to one of the recently banned neonicotinoids, imidacloprid.

The study, led by Dr Reinhard Stöger, associate professor in epigenetics in the university’s School of Biosciences, was conducted under field realistic conditions and showed that a very low exposure of just two parts per billion has an impact on the activity of some of the honeybee genes.

The researchers identified that cells of honeybee larvae had to work harder and increase the activity of genes involved in breaking down toxins, most likely to cope with the insecticide. Genes involved in regulating energy to run cells were also affected. Such changes are known to reduce the lifespan of the most widely studied insect, the common fruit fly, and lower a larva’s probability of surviving to adulthood.

“Although larvae can still grow and develop in the presence of imidacloprid, the stability of the developmental process appears to be compromised,” said Dr. Stöger. “Should the bees be exposed to additional stresses such as pests, disease and bad weather then it is likely to increase the rate of development failure.”

The study was funded by The Co-operative Group, as part of its Plan Bee campaign.

“This is a very significant piece of research, which clearly shows clear changes in honeybee gene activity as a result of exposure to a pesticide, which is currently in common use across the UK,” said Chris Shearlock, sustainable development manager at The Co-operative.

“As part of our Plan Bee campaign, launched in 2009, we have adopted a precautionary approach and prohibited the use of six neonicotinoid pesticides, including imidacloprid, on our own-brand fresh and frozen produce and have welcomed the recent approach by the European Commission to temporarily ban three neonicotinoid pesticides as this will allow for research into the impact on both pollinators and agricultural productivity.”

Published in Research
June 28, 2013 – Allan Parker recently announced his retirement as president and CEO of World Potato Congress Inc (WPC Inc).

“After 13 years as a director, the last six as president and CEO, I feel it is a good time to step aside and have another person lead the WPC.” said Parker.

He noted he has recently reached official Canadian retirement age and, after having had the privilege of being president for the two very successful congresses in New Zealand and Scotland, he is leaving with a real sense of accomplishment.

“I feel I am leaving the World Potato Congress in good shape,” said Parker.

Under Parker’s leadership, WPC Inc. has been strengthened financially and has grown its global image. World Potato Congress is now an internationally recognized brand as well as a major forum for the promotion, growth and development of the global potato industry.

“The success of WPC owes a great deal to the ability and enthusiasm of the board of directors and the international advisory committee, to our sustaining partners and to our general manager, John Coady,” said Parker. “I wish to thank all of them and the members of the international potato family for supporting me and WPC. I will treasure the many friendships formed during my years at WPC.”

On behalf of the board of directors, WPC Inc. interim president, David Thompson, expressed appreciation to Parker for his commitment and drive.

“Allan has a unique, collegial leadership style, a personal approach that is very effective and appreciated by all of us at WPC Inc.,” said Thompson. “His contributions to WPC will be missed.”

As for his future, Parker will not be far removed from his peers. He remains a partner in several businesses and will continue to be active in the Russian potato industry.

Published in Associations
June 7, 2013 – A gene expression study of grapevine berries grown in different Italian vineyards has highlighted genes that help buffer the plants against environmental change and may explain the different quality performances of grapevine when grown in different “terroirs.”

The research, reported in the open access journal Genome Biology, could be used to help identify and breed grapevine varieties better suited to climate change and improve berry and wine quality.

Much to the inconvenience of winemakers and drinkers, grapevine berries vary within berries on vines grown in different vineyards and in different vintages. This means they may ripen unevenly, affecting the quality of wine from place to place and from vintage to vintage. But although the differences are known to reflect environmental change and differing grape-growing practices, the molecular mechanisms underlying this variability are unclear.

To address the issue, Silvia Dal Santo from the Plant Genetics Lab headed by Mario Pezzotti of the University of Verona, Italy, grew a single grapevine clone (Vitis vinifera, cultivar Corvina) in 11 very different vineyards across the Verona region. They then harvested berries at various stages of ripening, across three consecutive years, and used microarrays to study patterns of gene expression across the genome, linking interesting finds to the grapevine’s DNA sequence.

The team was able to highlight various environmentally sensitive genes thought to influence berry quality. These included genes regulating metabolic pathways – such as the production of phenolic compounds which contribute to taste, colour and mouth-feel of wine – that were highly sensitive towards different climates.

It was hard to pick out generalised gene expression signatures reflecting common environmental conditions or viticulture practices, instead patterns of gene expression clustered by year of growth. However, during a typical climate vintage, the authors were able to link sets of differentially expressed transcripts to particular environmental attributes or specific agronomical parameters, such as the vine trelling system.

They also showed that the early stages of berry ripening are most responsive to changes in environmental conditions, highlighting a critical period during which the winegrower is most vulnerable to the whims of the weather and, in turn, may have a great impact on the entire ripening course under different weather conditions.

Environmentally non-responsive genes, constant across vineyards and weather conditions, were also identified. These, the authors suggest, could be developed into universal markers to monitor grape ripening in the field, helping to optimise picking times and standardise wine quality.

The grapevine is the most widely cultivated perennial fruit crop in the world, with 67.5 million tons of berries produced in 2011. Climate change is expected to significantly impact agriculture, and the wine growing industry, in the near future. The new findings provide a good starting point from which to further explore the molecular processes governing berry development, and highlight the environmentally-dependent and agriculturally-important factors essential for identifying existing or breeding new, weather-tolerant grapevine varieties.

Published in Research
May 10, 2013 – Neonicotinoids are under intense scrutiny. But a ban of a broad variety of pesticides may be required to protect bees, humans and the environment.

The European Commission, on April 29, 2013, slapped a two-year ban on insecticides suspected of killing off bee colonies. This follows the European Food Safety Authority finding that they pose a high acute risk to honey bees. Studies suggest that the nicotine-like compounds fry bees’ navigation systems and leave them unable to learn, while weakening their immune system.

But scientists now warn that other nerve agents targeting insect pests may also be harming bees and other pollinators.

“These neonicotinoids are just one of hundreds of compounds being used and I would be surprised if it was all down to just these chemicals,” says Christopher Connolly, a neuroscientist at the University of Dundee, UK.

He argues that we should not allow farmers spray a toxic soup of chemicals onto their crops.

Connolly exposed bee brains to these pesticides and organo-based pesticides and reported that the nerves spun into hyperactivity and then stopped working. A combination of these two pesticides types had a stronger impact, suggesting the combined soup of pesticides could be causing more serious harm.

“I don’t understand how this was missed,” Connolly said. “As a neuroscientist, it just seemed blindingly obvious. The biggest effect was hyper-activation of the major learning centre, which was completely predictable.”

The nerve agents effects were missed because safety screens looked to see how many honey bees die after four days exposure. But harm is only evident over a period of two weeks in bumblebees and is seen when you look at entire colonies.

“So the safety test is all wrong. The thing that concerns me is that this throws a question mark over several hundred pesticides, all tested by inadequate safety screens.”

Connolly suggests pesticides use be tracked in the environment, just like we monitor drug use in patients.

Not collecting such data might even pose health issues for people.

“Bear in mind we have lots of idiopathic diseases in humans which we don’t know the cause of and given that we don’t know what pesticides are used in what combinations and when, we don’t know if these pesticides may be contributing to some or even all these unknown diseases,” Connolly warns.

He argues that research needs to be done to find out which pesticides are the least harmful. If neonicotinoids are the least toxic, then they should be used. He says governments have underfunded this research area partly because it is inconvenient to find pesticides are dangerous.

Dave Goulson, professor of biological science at the University of Stirling, UK agrees.

“There haven’t been nearly enough studies of all pesticides or interactions between them.”

He recently published a study showing neonicotinoids hit bumblebee colony growth and queen production.

“Beneficial insects, such as ladybirds and bees, are exposed to lots of different chemicals and we have a really poor understanding of what it does to them,” said Goulson.

He also points out that people need to be concerned with what these nerve agents will be replaced with.

More research may be helpful, but industry criticizes extrapolation of lab studies to field conditions. Julian Little, spokesperson for Bayer Cropscience, based in Norwich, UK, says the evidence against these pesticides has all been lab based, essentially taking a social insect and force-feeding it insecticide. It says the results cannot be replicated in the environment.

But he also agrees more monitoring of pollinators is needed.

“Where you do get large-scale bee deaths not enough has been done to know exactly what has happened,” Little says.

He says pests and loss of feeding sites and nesting sites are most likely behind bee declines.

“France has had restrictions [of neonicotinoids] over the last 10 years, yet the bees there remain as bad if not worse than they are in the UK.”

A possible solution to preserve bee populations further would be to restore the principle of avoidance of pesticide use.

“The whole ethos of pest management has gone in the wrong direction,” Goulson argues.

Whereas integrated pest management sought to use as few pesticides as possible, the neonicotinoids are a preventive strike.

“A simple analogy is that it’s like taking antibiotics in case you get ill rather than when you get ill. Everyone knows that is a silly idea, as it results in bacteria rapidly developing resistance. It is the same with these pesticides.”

However, opponents believe the neonicotinoids ban is unlikely to decrease pesticide use. Little warns that farmers may now have to resort to spraying insecticides up to four times a year, now that they cannot coat seeds in neonicotinoids.

But other experts do not agree. There are several alternatives to using neonicotinoids, and other pesticides, according to Simon Potts, professor of biodiversity and ecosystem services at Reading University, UK. This is a great opportunity for farmers to adopt these practices to protect bees and other pollinators. Indeed, he believes farmers will benefit from healthy pollinator populations as they provide substantial economic benefits to crop pollination.

"Few people would disagree that we need to protect our food production, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of damaging the environment,” Potts says, adding, “A short-term decision to keep using harmful products may be convenient, but will almost certainly have much greater long-term costs for food production and the environment.”

Published in Research
Apr. 30, 2013, Toronto, ON - Trade and market development are fundamental elements of the Canadian economy, and the Canadian Government is helping Canadian exporters create new opportunities and extended market access. In Toronto, Pierre Lemieux, Parliamentary Secretary (PS) to the Minister of Agriculture, joined other dignitaries in officially opening the 10th edition of Salon International de l’Alimentation (SIAL) Canada, one of the largest international food and beverage trade events in North America.

“Our exporters take every occasion to promote the exceptional and innovative quality of Canada’s agri-food products,” said PS Lemieux. “Our government remains focused on the economy and is, therefore, working hard to open new markets and expand access for the agri-food industry. Events like this help drive exports, leading to more jobs and increased prosperity for Canada.”

SIAL provides an unparalleled opportunity to showcase the wide range of healthy and high-quality foods offered by Canadian food processors to international clients. It also serves as a gateway to agri-business in North America. Exporters will meet face to face with Canadian trade commissioners posted abroad and forge international buyer relationships that foster positive two-way relations.

Morocco is the Country of Honour at this year’s world-class event. Last April, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz attended SIAM, a major Moroccan tradeshow, where Canada was designated the Country of Honour. Morocco has always been a valued trading partner for Canada with trade valued at $516.6 million in 2012, of which agriculture accounts for almost two-thirds.

This year, SIAL will draw over 700 exhibitors and 14,000 professional visitors from 61 countries making it a platform for Canadian agri-business and international trade. SIAL Canada is taking place at the Direct Energy Centre through May 2. For more information please visit
Published in Federal
April 10, 2013 – Syngenta and MayAgro Seed have reached an agreement regarding the sale to Syngenta of MayAgro’s greenhouse vegetable breeding programs covering cucumber, pepper and tomatoes.

Under the terms of the agreement, Syngenta will acquire MayAgro’s breeding programs including all native traits developed to improve virus and disease resistance as well as boost yields under cold conditions.
Published in Companies

Apr. 1, 2013, Ottawa, ON - The Canadian 4-H Council has announced that Victoria Kyle from Drumbo, Ontario is the recipient of the 2013 AgriVenture Global $3,000 scholarship program.

Kyle, a first year university student pursuing a commerce degree in a Food and Agriculture Business program, will take part in a 4-month program to the United Kingdom.  She will live and work on a farm in England from May through August of this year and the $3,000 scholarship will be applied towards the administration fee.

"AgriVenture trainees are ambassadors for Canadian agriculture, and we’re happy to support an outstanding 4-H member or alumni in gaining experience and exposure to the global agriculture scene,” said Allison Sarauer, AgriVenture program co-ordinator for Canada.

AgriVenture provides cultural and work experiences to young adults aged 18-30. Kyle was able to choose from dairy, beef, sheep and crop placement opportunities in England and other countries including Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand. The program offers limited opportunities in horticulture, equine, deer and beekeeping as well.  Practical agricultural experience is not a requirement of AgriVenture programs, but that opens more opportunities for placement.

Kyle was chosen by 4-H Ontario as the provincial candidate for the scholarship and joined others from Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia in the competition.  Scholarship applicants with at least two years of 4-H experience from all provinces are welcome.

For more information on AgriVenture Global, please visit

Published in Provinces

March 12, 2013, Southampton, MA – Two on-farm markets in British Columbia were among several operations receiving honours at the North American Farmers' Direct Marketing Association’s (NAFDMA) 2013 Celebrate Excellence Contest.

Lepp Farm Market of Abbotsford, B.C. won for Best Web Site and Cranberry Meadows Country Market from Pitt Meadows, B.C., won for Best Idea Video.

Member farms and businesses submitted items to be selected as the best in each of six different categories. Prior to the convention, the full membership voted to determine the top three in each category. New this year, the preliminary round winners were presented during the Hungry for Ideas Breakfast held the first day of the NAFDMA annual conference, creating an interactive learning experience. Each entry was presented, and then attendees voted on the best using electronic voting keypads.

The Celebrate Excellence contest categories change over time to include timely trends in general marketing as well as farm direct marketing and agritourism events on the farm. The Celebrate Excellence Program is based on three NAFDMA objectives to stimulate learning, celebrate excellence, and advance best practices. All entries are available for members of the association to view throughout the year as examples they can emulate to improve their own marketing endeavors.

Published in Marketing

It seems that lately, everyone has been in a tizzy about bees and neonicotinoid pesticides.

Recently, I received a short news brief from the Associated Press informing me that the European Union’s commissioner for health and consumer policy – Tonio Borg – has proposed restricting the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam – from use on a wide variety of crops, including sunflowers, rapeseed, cotton and maize. The ban is being considered in light of growing concern regarding colony collapse disorder (CCD), a phenomenon whereby large numbers of honeybees within a colony either die or disappear, and its alleged connection to the growing use of neonicotinoids, a class of pesticide considered one of the best selling in the world.

Not long after reading that brief, I received a newsletter article from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) entitled Taking Steps Toward Reducing the Risk to Pollinators.

“In the spring of 2012, coinciding with corn planting, there were approximately 200 incidents of what was likely acute bee poisoning of honeybees in Ontario,” stated the article, written by field crop entomologist Tracey Baute and crop specialist Greg Stewart. “Representatives from the Ministry of Environment, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency and OMAFRA investigated the affected bee hives, taking bee samples for residue analysis by the PMRA.”

According to initial lab results, “pesticides used on treated corn seed may have contributed to at least some of the 2012 spring bee losses that occurred in Ontario, however, there is still additional information being collected.”

It was also noted there was no evidence of off-label use of pesticides by growers.

Final results of the tests have not been released but the PMRA analysis did show the presence of clothianidin, one of the neonicotinoids currently being considered for use restriction in the EU.

And then, just a few weeks ago during the Lower Mainland Horticulture Improvement Association’s Grower Short Course, held in Abbotsford, B.C., I listened as B.C.’s provincial apiculturist Paul van Westendorp provided a summary of the concerns being voiced around the world regarding the use of neonicotinoids and decreases in pollinator populations, including a brief history of actions taken to date.

Back in 2001, he explained, a group of beekeepers in France noticed that many of their healthy bee colonies began to dwindle and die-off. The interesting thing was, these die-offs were being observed in hives near corn and potato fields.

“What made it interesting is that neither corn nor potato is an important pollinating food source for the bees, either as a pollen source or a nectar source,” explained van Westendorp. “Bees only visit these plants incidentally.”

Not long after, reports began to come in from all over Europe about similar happenings.

“This was really the first claims saying neonicotinoids were responsible for the declines,” he added.

Around the same time, Canada was considering expanding the label registration of neonicotinoids for a number of crops, said van Westendorp. Therefore, a great amount of research was conducted in North America examining the impact of the pesticide on pollinators.

“A huge amount of research was done, a lot of research papers were reviewed and re-examined to determine was there any possible link,” said the B.C. apiculturist. “And all the answers were no.”

Meanwhile colony collapse disorder continued.

Then in 2010, Dr. Henk A. Tennekes, a Dutch toxicologist, published a research paper suggesting the structure of pesticide risk assessment systems used by regulators could be flawed.

“They [regulators] were approaching it on the basis of acute toxicity that these chemicals might have on insect pollinators,” explained van Westendorp.

Dr. Tennekes’ hypothesis was that the real impact of neonicotinoids should be assessed based on chronic exposure at sub-lethal levels.

“This really changed the entire discussion because now suddenly an awful lot of researchers started to realize that perhaps they had been looking at neonicotinoids in the wrong fashion,” said van Westendorp.

According to studies where insects were exposed to sub-lethal levels of neonicotinoids, behavioural changes involving nesting, homing abilities, disease resistance and reproduction were observed.

“As of June 2012, the PMRA made the announcement that it is reassessing the three most commonly used neonicotinoids,” said van Westendorp. “The EPA came out in December with the intent of doing a thorough overview of the entire group of neonicotinoids with a special emphasis on the possible effects these chemicals have on pollinators.”

What does this mean for growers? While reassessment of neonicotinoids is being done in Canada – which is expected to take several years – the insecticides can still be used as registered. And for beekeepers? Keep a close eye on your hives and be aware of what might have been used on the crop currently being pollinated and any adjacent crops, including seed treatments.

Good luck and have a safe 2013 season.

Published in Insects

January 30, 2013 – BASF has given up seeking approval for genetically modified potatoes in Europe, the German chemical company announced, after concerted opposition from consumers, farmers and lawmakers.

BASF said it will “discontinue the pursuit of regulatory approvals for the Fortuna, Amadea, and Modena potato projects in Europe because continued investment cannot be justified due to uncertainty in the regulatory environment and threats [over the destruction of crops].” READ MORE

Published in Fruit

January 14, 2013, Las Vegas, NV – Recent consumer potato consumption trends point to significant growth opportunities for the U.S. potato industry, according to new research unveiled recently at Potato Expo 2013.

The research, conducted by Datassential, a food industry market research firm, and sponsored by Bayer CropScience, shows that nearly half (43 per cent) of consumers surveyed report they increased their potato consumption last year. Forty-six per cent report eating potatoes several times per week at home or away from home, with 14 per cent eating potatoes daily or more than once a day.

These and other insights were released by Datassential director Maeve Webster. Late last year, the firm fielded proprietary research into trends impacting potato consumption on behalf of the National Potato Council (NPC) and Bayer CropScience. Bayer CropScience is teaming up with the council to provide tools and support that will help potato growers and others within the industry improve their business by understanding and connecting with key stakeholders, such as consumers and food-industry operators.

According to the research, consumers most often eat fries (57 per cent), followed by mashed potatoes (42 per cent) and baked potatoes (37 per cent). In the future, consumers expect to order more baked potatoes when dining out (33 per cent), followed by orders of fries, sweet potato fries and oven roasted/baked sweet potatoes, all at 30 per cent.

“It’s clear that consumers like potatoes; however, to a large degree, potatoes have been left behind in all the innovation in the food-service industry,” Webster said. “Potatoes can work well in a variety of ethnic dishes, and their popularity with consumers and potential profit margins should make them extremely appealing to operators. This research and other trends we’ve been tracking indicate a significant opportunity for potato growers and processors to help reignite the industry’s passion for potatoes by working more closely with operators to create consumer demand.”

In restaurants, consumers would like to see potatoes more often as a side plated with an entrée (65 per cent). Other areas for growth on the menu include as a main ingredient in appetizers (46 per cent), as an à la carte side (44 per cent) or as an ingredient in beef entrees and in breakfast entrees, both at 43 per cent.

Research also shows opportunities to increase consumption by using potato descriptors to pique consumer interest, with consumers indicating a strong preference (60 per cent) for the term “locally sourced.”

Food-service operators indicated the potato items most likely to be added to menus include sweet potato fries (17 per cent), baked sweet potatoes (16 per cent) and mashed sweet potatoes (15 per cent). Items already offered that are most likely to have an increased presence on menus were oven baked/roasted potatoes (36 per cent), baked potatoes (33 per cent) and regular fries (30 per cent).

Webster’s presentation at Potato Expo 2013, the annual gathering of the U.S. potato industry, followed another Bayer CropScience-sponsored event – social media training for the potato industry and a panel discussion by growers who use social media to enhance relationships and drive sales.

Published in Food Safety

January 2, 2013, Chicago, IL – Drinking to ring in the New Year may have left many suffering with the dreaded hangover. According to a study in the Journal of Food Science, published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), the amino acids and minerals found in asparagus extract may alleviate alcohol hangover and protect liver cells against toxins.

Researchers at the Institute of Medical Science and Jeju National University in Korea analyzed the components of young asparagus shoots and leaves to compare their biochemical effects on human and rat liver cells.

“The amino acid and mineral contents were found to be much higher in the leaves than the shoots,” says lead researcher B.Y. Kim.

Chronic alcohol use causes oxidative stress on the liver as well as unpleasant physical effects associated with a hangover.

“Cellular toxicities were significantly alleviated in response to treatment with the extracts of asparagus leaves and shoots,” says Kim. “These results provide evidence of how the biological functions of asparagus can help alleviate alcohol hangover and protect liver cells.”

Click here to view the abstract of the study.

Published in Vegetables

November 19, 2012 – Replant diseases were the theme of the second day of The Apple in the World convention, held at Interpoma, the international apple industry trade fair held in Bolzano, Italy.

The first speakers were Robert Wiedmer, from the Alto Adige Consultancy Service for Fruit and Wine Growing, and Martin Thalheimer, from the Laimburg Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry. They illustrated practical experiences and the results of tests carried out on land hit by fruit growing replant diseases in Alto Adige.

The speakers described the problem of exhaustion of cultivated land and then illustrated how the influence of tired soil on the growth of plants varies significantly from one area to another and often even in different areas of the same orchard.

Tests carried out by the researchers have revealed that chemical treatments of the soil have a significant affect on all the areas treated, while alternative measures have shown effective results only in specific circumstances.

The second speaker, Luisa Manici from the Agricultural Research Council (CRA/CIN) of Bologna, presented the results of tests on soil fungal communities as an indicator of soil health in fruit orchards.

Rot complex caused by fungi is the main biotic cause of the decline in yield that has characterized intensive cultivation systems in Europe. Manici explained that the average growth increase of plants on disinfected soils compared to replant soils is 42 per cent, as shown by a recent biological essay conducted on nine different apple orchards.

Root response to crop residues was the topic of Davide Neri’s – from the Università Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona – presentation while Mark Mazzola, from Washington State University, described some biologically-based strategies for the management of apple replant disease.

Gerhard Baab, from the DLR Kompetenzzentrum Gartenbau, described some experiences with replant diseases in apple orchards in Germany, and added that there are different causes, many of which have not yet been fully understood. According to Baab, who described some examples of treatments with organic products, dead roots and their residues probably cause an accumulation of bacteria and fungi that attack new roots.

Terence Robinson, from Cornell University, presented some examples of rootstock resistant to replant disease, such as fire blight. Robinson explained that the keys to the success of new apple orchard systems are the high density (about 3,000 trees per hectare) and the high yield – equal to about 150 tons per hectare – in the first five years.

In addition, he said, the system offers rapid growth of the plants, high yield of mature trees (more than 60 tons per hectare) and high quality fruit.

Finally, Walter Rass from the Alto Adige Consultancy Service for Fruit and Wine Growing, presented his research on a new machine that can exchange soil in the planting row. While the cost of the machine is still too high to make it economical, it has shown good results.

Published in Research

November 6, 2012 – Acknowledging that significant progress has been made to reach the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) goals over the last four years, the PTI Leadership Council has agreed that a buyer-centered implementation focus is needed to ensure continued industry movement toward case-level traceability.

The Leadership Council, representing 32 companies in the produce industry, met recently in conjunction with the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit in Anaheim, Calif., and decided to:

  • Create a new Buyer Working Group to expedite the completion of the remaining retail/foodservice implementation steps for PTI
  • Keep the PTI governance structure intact with the Leadership Council meeting twice a year and working groups utilized as needed
  • Maintain progress of supply-side PTI implementation
  • Maintain industry education and communications via the PTI website and other channels as needed

Michael Agostini, senior director of produce with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc, accepted the position of Leadership Council co-chair as Cathy Green Burns resigned from this volunteer post due to increased work commitments as president of Food Lion.

Agostini is responsible for the merchandising of key produce categories at Wal-Mart’s U.S. Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets, which currently total more than 3,000 retail stores nationwide. He also leads Wal-Mart’s produce technology efforts, which seek to leverage technical solutions to create innovative processes for Wal-Mart’s produce supply chain. A veteran of more than 39 years in the produce and grocery industry, Agostini has recently served on the PMA board of directors and as chair of the PMA Supply Chain Efficiencies Committee.

Published in Provinces

October 3, 2012 – File this one under Doh! A research survey conducted in the UK has unearthed that one in five of Britons think that parsnips grow on trees.

According to the research, a worrying number of British grown-ups did not know the root vegetable is grown underground. Adding to the worry is the fact that another 20% of adults think that melons come from underground. And one in 20 believe they can find a Granny Smith in the potato aisle of a supermarket. READ MORE


Published in Federal

September 18, 2012 - According to Compac Sorting Equipment’s in-house newsletter, the company is busy building the world’s largest electronic sorter of cherries for Prima Frutta in Linden, Calif.

The project comes from collaboration between Compac Sorting and Van Doren Sales of Washington. Compac will provide three 12-lane sorters with Van Doren Sales providing peripheral and infeed equipment.

The new equipment is expected to process more than 42,000 cherries per hour.

“This is a huge vote of confidence in our new optical sorter” says Dave Buys, Compac’s sales and marketing director in the newsletter. “The market knows our InVision sorting system for apples and citrus and we’ve been able to leverage that in the development of this new cherry sorter, when customers understand the returns our technology provides their business they can easily justify the investment in Compac.”

According to the company, the latest project in California comes on the back of several cherry sorter sales and installations in New Zealand, Washington State and Chile.

Published in Companies

September 18, 2012 - Researchers at the Institute of Food Research are testing a new technique to ensure fresh produce is free of bacterial contamination.

Plasmas are a mix of highly energetic particles created when gases are excited by an energy source. They can be used to destroy bacteria but as new research shows, some can hide from its effects in the microscopic surface structures of different foods.

Eating fresh fruit and vegetables is promoted as part of a healthy lifestyle, and consumers are responding to this by eating more and in a greater variety. Ensuring fruit and vegetables are free from contamination by food poisoning bacteria is crucial, as they are often eaten raw, without cooking or processing that kills off bacteria.

A move away from current chlorine-based decontamination is driving the search for new, safe ways of ensuring fresh fruit and vegetables are free from bacterial contamination without reducing quality or flavour. One technique being investigated is cold atmospheric gas plasma technology.

Plasmas can effectively inactivate micro-organisms, and as they don’t involve extreme conditions, such as high temperature, they have been suggested for use in decontaminating food surfaces without affecting the structure. Dr Arthur Thompson has been investigating how well cold atmospheric plasmas (CAP) inactivate Salmonella under different conditions and on different fresh produce foods at the Institute of Food Research, which is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Publishing in the journal Food Microbiology, Dr Thompson found Salmonella can be effectively inactivated by plasmas but the length of exposure varies greatly depending on the type of produce. Other variables, such as the ambient temperature of the produce or the growth phase of the Salmonella had no significant effect. Inactivation on food surfaces took longer than on an artificial membrane filter surface.

To understand why, the researchers looked at the food surfaces with an electron microscope. At this microscopic level of detail, it was possible to see how Salmonella could hide from the effects of the plasmas. Different structures, such as the bumps on the strawberries, the pores in lettuce leaves or the cell walls of potatoes create shadowed zones that block plasma-reaching bacteria.

This study was conducted using a laboratory scale plasma device, used as part of ongoing research at IFR to study operational parameters and investigate precisely how cold plasmas destroy bacteria.

“The results suggest scaled up devices or combinations with other mild treatments could provide a very effective solution for destroying bacteria with little or no effect on the produce itself.” said Dr Thompson. “What this study shows is that it will be important to take into account the type of food and its surface structure.”

Published in Research

Sept. 7, 2012, London, UK - The G20 Nations, said a Russian representative, will decide within the next month whether to take joint action on soaring grain prices.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Russian Deputy Agriculture Minister Ilya Shestakov said that the issue will be addressed by the middle of October at the Rapid Response Forum with other senior G20 officials.

"We are not planning any emergency measures, we want to carry out analysis, discuss possible scenarios and our joint actions to calm down the market," he said. "We will take the decision on whether joint actions are needed."

For more information on what the G20 could do to help food prices, as well as whatcould happen if no action is taken, please visit the Chicago Tribune.

Published in Associations

September 4, 2012 – PepsiCo and Cambridge University have joined forces to introduce mobile technology to crop planning, with a new smartphone app that will help farmers predict future harvests.

The app, which has been trialed across 46 UK potato fields, works by photographing and analyzing the potato leaf canopy to accurately predict crop development.

Last year, PepsiCo co-developed i-crop™ - a system that helps farmers to measure and reduce their overall water usage by collecting and calculating information about crops, such as soil moisture levels. The new app will improve the ease, speed and quality of the canopy data fed into i-crop, making it easier for farmers to track the development of all types of crops across the UK.

Initial trials of i-crop are already proving the potential of the technology, with a 13 per cent increase in crop yield and eight per cent reduction in water usage across 46 of PepsiCo's UK potato farms. By providing precision information about crops, such as soil moisture levels, farmers can judge exactly how much water to use – thus reducing wastage, boosting harvests and saving money.

“This investment by PepsiCo is helping me to transform the way I farm,” said Robin Griffiths who grows potatoes for PespsiCo. “Previously, my harvest estimates were based on manual measurements and a fair amount of guesswork, but now we can get an accurate calculation simply by taking a phone into the field. Similarly, i-crop gives me the information I need to judge exactly how much water to use on my crops, reducing my wastage and saving me money.”

PepsiCo has also been one of the first companies to use Cool Farm Tool - a carbon calculator developed by the University of Aberdeen – which has enabled farmers to readily assess their carbon emissions, and to model different scenarios and strategies for reducing their footprints further. The company is also currently trialing a number of other sustainability initiatives with its UK farmers, such as identifying and using low carbon fertilizers.

Published in Research

July 31, 2012 – In retrospect, introducing the Asian ladybird into Europe was a serious mistake. The insect was introduced some 20 years ago in a conscious attempt to combat aphids. But research carried out at Wageningen UR (University & Research Centre) into the invasion of this foreign insect has shown that the disadvantages far outweigh this single advantage. The Asian species is displacing the native European ladybird and has become a pest that can contaminate homes and spoil the taste of wine.

The researchers concerned have reported their findings in the latest edition of the scientific journal PLoS One.

The Asian ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, which originated in China and Japan, is larger than its European counterpart and has an almost invisible dent towards the rear of its wing cover; the colour and dots are much the same. The foreign insect was introduced into France in the early 90s, and was first used in the Netherlands in around 1996. The Asian ladybird was a formidable weapon in the fight against aphids in greenhouses and on avenue trees, from which lice excrete sticky honeydew onto cars. However, time has shown that these insects, which have very few natural enemies in Europe, are also devouring the native ladybirds. Furthermore, colonies of the Asian variety hibernate in houses and other buildings, where their excrement can cause contamination. Last but least, it has been discovered that when the supply of aphids runs out, this insect has an appetite for grapes and spoils the taste of the wine.

In order to understand how the Asian species has been able to establish itself in Europe so swiftly and decimate the native ladybird population, PhD student Lidwien Raak from Wageningen University and researcher Marieke de Lange from Alterra, part of Wageningen UR, conducted research into the biology of this invasion. They carried out experiments on both native and Asian ladybird species. Previous laboratory tests had shown that the Asian ladybird would always win a physical fight between the two species. But the researchers from Wageningen wanted to know whether this was also true in the wild. They were keen to discover how often they encounter each other, and whether the native ladybirds could escape. The two devised a clever experiment whereby native and foreign ladybirds were placed on the leaves of lime saplings. Their behaviour was monitored for many hours. The long-term observations generated clear data that is at odds with the results of laboratory experiments. They found that native ladybirds often manage to escape their Asian counterparts by running away or dropping to the ground when under attack. However, if their attempts fail, the highly aggressive Asian ladybirds will devour the two European species and the native Dutch species. This goes a long way to explaining the success of this foreign insect.

On discovering that introducing Asian ladybirds had been a mistake, use of these insects in Europe was banned. Unfortunately, populations had already become well-established in many European countries. The best way to tackle the nuisance caused by non-native animals and plants is to introduce natural enemies. But this too can be a risky business, which is why the Netherlands has asked Wageningen University and the Plant Protection Service to draw up an environmental risk analysis for the natural enemies of non-native species.

Published in Research
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