Research
December 12, 2017, State College, PA – Unmanned aircraft (UA) – commonly called drones – are a new technology that can quickly collect, quantify, and record a variety of important data about orchards that many growers inherently measure by eye.

Simple examples include location of nonproductive trees, quantity of blossoms in the spring, stress on trees in the summer, and crop load in the fall. To this end, the State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania (SHAP) is supporting an initiative by Joe Sommer and Rob Crassweller at Penn State University to help growers use UA for orchard management. While single images and/or videos captured during manually controlled flight can be useful, this project focused on flying autonomous missions to capture hundreds of images that can be stitched together into a much larger orthomosaic map of a block of trees or even a small orchard. For example, a DJI Phantom 4 quadcopter ($1,500) can inspect 60 acres over 15 minutes flight time at 200 feet above ground level (AGL) and reconstruct a large orthomosaic map of an orchard with one-inch per pixel resolution.

Efforts during the first year developed a user manual for mission planning and orthomosaic stitching of images as well as geo-referencing (locating latitude-longitude) for individual trees.

Growers who are interested in learning more details can visit Unmanned Aircraft for Agricultural Applications or send an email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Published in Research
December 8, 2017, Mississauga, Ont – Bee Vectoring Technologies recently announced successful trial results in blueberries.

The trial was conducted near Parrsborough, NS, in low bush blueberries with the Wild Blueberry Research Program at Dalhousie University. The trial utilized BVT's newly developed honeybee system, consisting of a honeybee hive outfitted with dispenser technology through which BVT's proprietary plant beneficial microbe, BVT-CR7, can be delivered to crops. The trial was designed to determine the effectiveness of the BVT technology in controlling Botrytis blight (gray mold) and Monilinia blight (mummy berry), two common and devastating diseases affecting blueberry crops across North America, compared to untreated control and current chemicals standards. The trial also examined increases in productivity of the crop measured by marketable yield.

"Our yields went up quite substantially when we used the BVT system, whether alone or in combination with chemical fungicides, but they didn't go up where we used the fungicide alone," said Dr. David Percival, blueberry research program director and professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. "I was really surprised by the first results. I went back and double-checked the raw yield data, then the spreadsheet to make sure the statistical program was correct. The results indicate the potential for floral blight disease control and increased berry yields with the use of BVT technology. Future work will allow us to fine tune the use recommendations."

“These are excellent results once again for the company and firmly establishes another major market opportunity,” said Ashish Malik, CEO of BVT. “Notably, this was the first time we tested our honeybee delivery system in a replicated R&D study, and we got great results. Having a proven system that works with honey bees alongside our first system designed to work with commercial bumble bee hives allows us to reach a far wider market and gives us options to deliver solutions for growers based on the specific needs for their crops."

Blueberries are a high-value crop, fetching as much as US $18,000 in revenue per acre in certain regions. There are almost 300,000 acres of blueberries cultivated in the US and Canada with total farm gate value of US $ 1.1 billion. Blueberry production in North America represents 54 per cent of the worldwide cultivation of the crop with key growing regions including the Atlantic provinces and British Columbia in Canada, Washington, Oregon, Georgia, Michigan, California, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Florida in the U.S.
Published in Research
December 5, 2017, Kimberly, ID — A University of Idaho researcher says a water-efficient irrigation method he helped devise was effective in potatoes during 2017 trials and is poised for significant expansion in the coming season.

UI Extension irrigation specialist Howard Neibling and his Washington State University counterpart, Troy Peters, worked in conjunction with Bonneville Power to develop the first pivot using low-elevation sprinkler application in 2013.

LESA sprays water in a flat pattern from low-pressure nozzles dangling about a foot above the ground — low enough to pass beneath the crop canopy and eliminate drift without excessive runoff. READ MORE
Published in Research
November 30, 2017, Ottawa, Ont – The Canada Organic Trade Association recently released its second comprehensive analysis of Canada’s organic market – The Canadian Organic Market: Trends and Opportunities 2017.

This in-depth publication provides the most up-to-date overview of the Canadian organic market, combining consumer research with sales and trade data to provide valuable insight into market size, growth trends and Canadian consumer perceptions.

“Canada’s organic sector remains on its upward trajectory, gaining new market share as consumers across Canada ate and used more organic products than ever before,” said Tia Loftsgard, executive director of the Canada Organic Trade Association. “It is an exciting time to be a part of a sector that shows such promise to bring positive economic, social and environmental change to Canada.”

According to the report:

  • Canada’s total organic market (including food and non-food items) is estimated at $5.4 billion, up from $3.5 billion in 2012.
  • The organic food and beverage market is estimated at $4.4 billion, up from $2.8 billion in 2012.
  • The compound annual growth rate of the total organic market is estimated at 8.7 per cent between 2012 and 2017. Over the same time period, the growth rate for the organic food and beverage market is at an estimated 8.4 per cent.
  • As the market has matured, growth rates have slowed but organics continues to capture a greater market share. Between 2012 and 2017, the market share of organic food and beverages sold through mainstream retailers has grown from 1.7 per cent to 2.6 per cent.
  • Ontario has the largest organic market, yet British Columbia continues to have higher organic sales per capita.
  • Two-thirds of Canadian grocery shoppers are purchasing organics weekly. Albertan’s are most likely to be organic purchasers – 74 per cent are buying organics weekly.
  • Currently, Canada tracks 65 organic imports and 17 organic exports – a subset of total organic trade. Tracked Canadian organic imports were valued at $637 million in 2016. Tracked exports are expected to reach $607 million by the end of 2017.

The report combines sales data from the Nielsen Company, consumer data from Ipsos polls, and organic trade data from Statistics Canada. The report is rounded out with secondary research and analysis carried out by the Canada Organic Trade Association, with additional insight and analysis from leading organic experts.

A copy of the report is available for purchase from COTA.

 

 
Published in Marketing
November 27, 2017, Guelph, Ont – Collaboration between vegetable growers, a farm organization, and a grower co-operative is leading to improved plant health and more efficient vegetable production in the Holland Marsh.

The Bradford Co-op, the Fresh Vegetable Growers of Ontario and individual vegetable growers in the Holland Marsh are collaborating on a project with the University of Guelph to test innovative technologies that will make their Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs for key crops like onions and carrots more efficient and cost effective.

“We work together with industry partners and growers to fund and collaborate on our IPM programs in the Marsh,” explains Matt Sheppard, Bradford Co-op general manager. “There is tremendous value in early detection and this project is helping us identify issues in real time so we can provide the correct advice and solutions to growers.”

Weekly photos are taken of the vegetable fields in the marsh using an octocopter drone. Lead researcher Mary Ruth McDonald and her team at the University of Guelph’s Muck Crops Research Station run the IPM program and use the images for early detection of diseases and insects so growers can take appropriate measures to protect their crop and prevent or minimize damage.

Downy mildew, which causes lower yields and decreased storability, is the most damaging disease for onions in the area; Stemphylium leaf blight is also a significant concern.

“The technology we are able to access through this project makes our crop scouting program more effective and lets growers be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to crop protection,” explains Sheppard. “It’s very quick for a grower to have a problem area identified early and then decide how to treat it correctly to keep the crop healthy.”

Using information generated from the aerial images to prevent or minimize problems means less and more targeted use of crop protection materials, resulting in immediate savings of $5,000 to $50,000 per grower depending on the crop and the size of the farm.

More importantly, though, use of the technology ultimately ensures growers can keep supplying the market with quality produce and consumers have access to locally grown vegetables.

The marsh’s unique soils mean growers in the area have to work together to find solutions for their crop challenges, says Sheppard, adding that funding from Growing Forward 2 has been instrumental in bringing the collaboration together.

“Muck soil like ours doesn’t exist in other areas so we have to be self-sufficient and proactive to find solutions,” he says. “The technology is expensive so it’s something we wouldn’t be able to initiate on our own, but the investment with GF2 has allowed us to access the funds to make it happen.”
Published in Research
Delta, BC, November 20, 2017 – Farmers know the importance of keeping the land, water and air healthy to sustain their farms from one generation to the next. They also know that a clean environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand.

The federal government recently announced a $1.8 million investment with the University of British Columbia to determine carbon sequestration and GHG emissions, and develop beneficial management practices (BMPs) for increasing the efficiency of fertilizer use in blueberry, potato and forage crops.

“This project will provide new science-based knowledge on net GHG emissions by accurately measuring GHG emissions and developing mitigation technologies for blueberry, potato and forage crops in the Lower Fraser Valley,” said Dr. Rickey Yada, dean of the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at UBC. “The research team will use state-of-the-art instrumentation and automated measurement techniques to quantify annual GHG emissions. While the specific research objectives are targeted to fill regionally identified gaps in knowledge, they will be applicable more broadly to similar agricultural production systems across Canada and Global Research Alliance member countries.”

This project with the University of British Columbia is one of 20 new research projects supported by the $27 million Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program (AGGP), a partnership with universities and conservation groups across Canada. The program supports research into greenhouse gas mitigation practices and technologies that can be adopted on the farm.
Published in Research
November 17, 2017, Charleston, SC – Broccoli is becoming more popular with consumers, providing plenty of nutrients in the diet. But it isn’t easy getting this cool-weather vegetable to kitchen tables. Broccoli producers face many factors that impede getting their crop to market – including unexpected temperature fluctuations and excessive heat. Heat stress while broccoli’s florets are developing can reduce crop yield and quality.

Broccoli has been grown in Europe for centuries, but it has only been grown in North America since the late 1800s, when it was probably introduced by Italian immigrants. Although California is the major producing state, broccoli is grown in nearly every other state, especially along the eastern seaboard.

The likelihood of high-temperature stress occurring in a given location or season is the main factor limiting where and when the crop can be grown. Breeding heat-tolerant broccoli cultivars could extend the growing season, expand production areas, and increase resilience to fluctuating temperatures, but efforts to do this have been limited by a lack of knowledge about the genetics of heat tolerance.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant geneticist Mark Farnham and his team at the U.S. Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina, are filling in those knowledge gaps. They have developed and characterized genetic sources of heat tolerance in broccoli. These results were published in Theoretical and Applied Genetics in March 2017.

The team evaluated a group of broccoli plants that Farnham developed for the ability to tolerate high-temperature stress during summer.

“We identified genetic markers associated with resistance to heat damage in these plants,” says Farnham. “An important finding of this work is that the resistance trait is a complex trait controlled by many genes, which makes it a bit harder to work with. However, these markers are of great interest to public and private broccoli breeders, who can use some additional tools in their work to accelerate the development of heat-tolerant broccoli cultivars.”

To determine how well Farnham’s heat-tolerant broccoli will do in different stress environments, he is working with scientists at land-grant universities on the eastern seaboard that are growing his broccoli in warm-temperature field trials. Once they verify that his broccoli will do well under adverse conditions in different locations, it will be made available for research purposes or for use by commercial seed companies and breeders.

The heat-tolerant broccoli could help expand future growing possibilities significantly, helping to meet the demand for the nutritious vegetable.
Published in Research
November 14, 2017, Edmonton, Alta – The HortSnacks-to-Go 2017/2018 webinar series continues on November 20, 2017, with Using Biocontrols in Field Scale Fruit and Vegetable Crops.

“Presenter Ronald Valentin is North America technical lead at Bioline AgroSciences,” says Dustin Morton, commercial horticulture specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “He’ll be looking at how other areas of the world are using biological controls in field scale vegetable and fruit crops and how Alberta producers can take advantage of this growing area.”

The webinar takes place at 1:30 p.m. MT and there is no charge to attend. To register, email Dustin Morton or go to https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8212513318118325250
Published in Insects
November 9, 2017, Columbus, OH – An experimental “golden” potato could hold the power to prevent disease and death in developing countries where residents rely heavily upon the starchy food for sustenance, new research suggests.

A serving of the yellow-orange lab-engineered potato has the potential to provide as much as 42 per cent of a child’s recommended daily intake of vitamin A and 34 per cent of a child’s recommended intake of vitamin E, according to a recent study co-led by researchers at Ohio State University.

Women of reproductive age could get 15 per cent of their recommended vitamin A and 17 per cent of recommended vitamin E from that same 5.3 ounce (150 gram) serving, the researchers concluded.

The study appears in the journal PLOS ONE

Potato is the fourth most widely consumed plant food by humans after rice, wheat and corn, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is a staple food in some Asian, African and South American countries where there is a high incidence of vitamin A and vitamin E deficiencies. 

“More than 800,000 people depend on the potato as their main source of energy and many of these individuals are not consuming adequate amounts of these vital nutrients,” said study author Mark Failla, professor emeritus of human nutrition at Ohio State.

“These golden tubers have far more vitamin A and vitamin E than white potatoes, and that could make a significant difference in certain populations where deficiencies – and related diseases – are common,” said Failla, a member of Ohio State’s Foods for Health Discovery Theme.

Vitamin A is essential for vision, immunity, organ development, growth and reproductive health. And Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children. Vitamin E protects against oxidative stress and inflammation, conditions associated with damage to nerves, muscles, vision and the immune system.

In Failla’s lab, researchers created a simulated digestive system including a virtual mouth, stomach and small intestine to determine how much provitamin A and vitamin E could potentially be absorbed by someone who eats a golden potato. Provitamin A carotenoids are converted by enzymes into vitamin A that the body can use. Carotenoids are fat-soluble pigments that provide yellow, red and orange colours to fruits and vegetables. They are essential nutrients for animals and humans.

“We ground up boiled golden potato and mimicked the conditions of these digestive organs to determine how much of these fat-soluble nutrients became biologically available,” he said.

The main goal of the work was to examine provitamin A availability. The findings of the high content and availability of vitamin E in the golden potato were an unanticipated and pleasant surprise, Failla said.

The golden potato, which is not commercially available, was metabolically engineered in Italy by a team that collaborated with Failla on the study. The additional carotenoids in the tuber make it a more nutritionally dense food with the potential of improving the health of those who rely heavily upon potatoes for nourishment.

While plant scientists have had some success cross-breeding other plants for nutritional gain, the improved nutritional quality of the golden potato is only possible using metabolic engineering – the manipulation of plant genes in the lab, Failla said.

While some object to this kind of work, the research team stresses that this potato could eventually help prevent childhood blindness and illnesses and even death of infants, children and mothers in developing nations.

“We have to keep an open mind, remembering that nutritional requirements differ in different countries and that our final goal is to provide safe, nutritious food to nine billion people worldwide,” said study co-author Giovanni Giuliano of the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development at the Casaccia Research Centre in Rome.

Failla said “hidden hunger” – deficiencies in micronutrients – has been a problem for decades in many developing countries because staple food crops were bred for high yield and pest resistance rather than nutritional quality.

“This golden potato would be a way to provide a much more nutritious food that people are eating many times a week, or even several times a day,” he said.
Published in Research
An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but the mould on it could destroy the fruit in storage.
Published in Production
November 6, 2017, Athens, GA – Working with an international team of breeders and genome scientists, plant biologists at the University of Georgia have sequenced the genome of garden asparagus as a model for sex chromosome evolution.

The work sheds light on longstanding questions about the origin and early evolution of sex chromosomes, and at the same time serves as a foundation for asparagus breeding efforts.

Their research, the first confirmation of early models on how sex chromosomes diverge within the same species, was published recently in Nature Communications.

While most flowering plants are hermaphrodites, garden asparagus plants are typically either male (XY) or female (XX), although YY “supermales” can be produced in the greenhouse. Growers prefer all-male plants, as they live longer and do not self-seed. Breeders produce all-male XY seed by crossing an XX female, with a YY supermale. Until now the differences between asparagus X and Y chromosomes were not understood and breeders were not able to distinguish XY males from YY supermales without time-consuming test crosses.

“One of the things that we were able to do pretty early in our collaboration was to identify genetic markers that allowed breeders to efficiently distinguish XY males from YY males and then use those YY males to produce all-male seed,” said Jim Leebens-Mack, professor of plant biology and senior author on the study.

Understanding the genetic variation in plants that allows for XY and YY males was advanced by identification of the genes that determine sex, which paves the way for more efficient development and production of valuable hybrid asparagus plants.

“In addition to more rapid identification of sex genotypes, our collaborators are now able to manipulate the asparagus Y chromosome to convert males to females or hermaphrodites. In the near future, breeders will be able to cross whatever lines they want, without having to look within a particular line for the female that has one set of characteristics, and in another line for a male with complementary traits,” Leebens-Mack said.

Questions about the great diversity of sexual systems in plants go back to Charles Darwin, and a two-gene model for the origin of sex chromosomes was coined by Danish geneticist Mogens Westergaard in the early 20th century. But the theory was impossible to test through analyses of humans and mammal sex chromosomes, where divergence of the X and Y chromosomes happened tens of millions ago.

Flowering plants like asparagus, however, have more recent origins of separate sexes and sex chromosomes, presenting an ideal opportunity to test Westergaard's two-gene model while at the same time aiding crop breeding programs.

The researchers found that, as predicted by Westergaard and others, linkage of a gene necessary for male function with a gene stunting development of female organs on a small portion of the Y chromosome was the starting point for the evolution of asparagus sex chromosomes.

“Over the last hundred years, evolutionary biologists have hypothesized several ways that a regular pair of chromosomes can evolve into an X and Y pair that determine sex,” said Alex Harkess, former doctoral student in the Leebens-Mack lab and lead author on the study. “Our work confirms one of these hypotheses, showing that a sex chromosome pair can evolve by mutations in just two genes – one that influences pollen (male) development, and one that influences pistil (female) development.”

“Breeders have dreamed about manipulating sex determination in garden asparagus for decades,” said co-author Ron van der Hulst of Limgroup breeding company in the Netherlands. “Identification of sex determination genes in asparagus will now allow us to produce plants with male, female and bisexual flowers, and greatly speed the development of inbred lines to produce elite hybrid seed.”

Co-author and Italian asparagus breeder Agostino Falavigna also noted that the reference genome for garden asparagus will enable him and other breeders to more efficiently use wild relatives as sources for genes that could enhance disease resistance, spear quality, flavour, aroma and antioxidant content.
Published in Research
October 31, 2017, East Lansing, MI – The old adage of looking to the past to understand the future certainly applies to improving potatoes.

Examining the ancestors of the modern, North American cultivated potato has revealed a set of common genes and important genetic pathways that have helped spuds adapt over thousands of years. The study appears in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Robin Buell, Michigan State University Foundation professor of plant biology and senior author of the paper, shows potential genetic keys that could ensure the crop will thrive in the future.

“Worldwide, potato is the third most important crop grown for direct human consumption, yet breeders have struggled to produce new varieties that outperform those released over a century ago,” Buell said. “By analyzing cultivated potato and its wild relatives using modern genomics approaches, we were able to reveal key factors that could address food security in 21st century agriculture.”

Cultivated potatoes – domesticated from wild Solanum species, a genetically simpler diploid (containing two complete sets of chromosomes) species – can be traced to the Andes Mountains in Peru, South America.

While the exact means of the potato migration are unknown, spuds essentially spread worldwide since their domestication some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. As potatoes were taken from the more equatorial regions of Peru and Bolivia to the southern parts of South America, they became adapted to longer summer days in Chile and Argentina.

One aspect that is known is how Spanish conquistadors introduced potatoes upon return from their South American exploits to the European continent, where potatoes were quickly adapted as a staple crop. As the explorers ventured from Europe to North America, they also brought potatoes to the new world.

Scientific explorer Michael Hardigan, formerly at MSU and now at the University of California-Davis, led the team of MSU and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University scientists. Together, they studied wild landrace (South American potatoes that are grown by local farmers) and modern cultivars developed by plant breeders. The result was the largest crop re-sequencing study to date.

Not only did it involve substantial re-sequencing of potato, but it also tackled one of the most-diverse crop genomes. The modern spuds found in today’s kitchens are genetically complex tetraploid potatoes, having four-times the regular number of chromosomes. Potatoes’ complex genome harbors an estimated 39,000 genes. (In comparison, the human genome comprises roughly 20,000 genes.)

From the large gene pool, the researchers identified 2,622 genes that drove the crop’s early improvement when first domesticated.

Studying the gene diversity spectrum, from its wild past to its cultivated present, can provide an essential source of untapped adaptive potential, Buell said.

“We’ll be able to identify and study historic introgressions and hybridization events as well as find genes targeted during domestication that control variance for agricultural traits,” she said. “Many of these help focus on adapting to different climates, fending off different pathogens or improving yield, keys that we hope to better understand to improve future breeding efforts.”

For example, wild potatoes reproduce through berries and seeds. Cultivated potatoes are asexual and are food and seed in one. (Anyone who’s left a potato in a dark pantry too long has witnessed this trait firsthand.)

The researchers present evidence of the signatures of selection in genes controlling this change. They also shed light on a role of wild species in genetic pathways for fighting pests and processing sugars for food. Diving into somewhat obscure territory, they looked at potential genetic sources that control circadian rhythm; yes, plants also have 24-hour clocks controlling biological processes. 

“We knew about their physiological traits, but we didn’t know what genes were involved,” Buell said. “As potatoes were moved, they had to adapt to longer days, more hours of sunlight. We’re now starting to understand what’s happening at the genetic level and how wild Solanum species evolved to long-day adapted tetraploid potatoes.”
Published in Research
October 30, 2017, Ames, IA – Organic agriculture practices eschew many synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, putting pressure on crops that conventional farming circumvents. That means an organic farmer who doesn’t use herbicides, for instance, would value crop varieties better suited to withstand weeds.

Enter Thomas Lubbserstedt, a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University. Lubberstedt and a team of ISU researchers recently received a four-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to advance organic corn varieties. By the end of the project, the team aims to have identified elite varieties that will improve the performance of corn under organic growing conditions.

“Our main goal is to figure out whether new genetic mechanisms can benefit organic field and sweet corn varieties,” Lubberstedt said. “We want to develop traits that can do well under organic conditions.”

Lubberstedt said the research could lead to organic corn with better resistance to disease, weeds pests and environmental stress.

Farmers who label their products as organic adhere to standards meant to restrict the use of synthetic inputs that include many fertilizers and pesticides in an effort to maintain environmental sustainability. Demand for organic products is growing as consumers become more concerned about how their food is produced and how it affects the environment, said Kathleen Delate, a professor of agronomy and member of the research team. Delate said the U.S. market for organic products reached $47 billion in 2016.

The ISU research team intends to address limitations imposed by organic practices by finding genetic mechanisms that lead to better-performing corn varieties that can still meet organic standards. Lubberstedt will focus on varieties that carry a genetic mechanism for spontaneous haploid genome doubling. This allows a corn plant to carry only the genes of its mother.

Researchers can use these haploids to create totally inbred genetic lines in two generations, whereas traditional plant breeding takes five or six generations to produce inbred lines, Lubberstedt said. These inbred lines are more reliable for evaluation in an experimental setting because they carry no genetic variation that could influence results. That makes it easier to identify lines with superior traits, he said.
Published in Research
October 26, 2017, Gainesville, FL – Consumers are confused between foods labeled as “organic” and “non-genetically modified,” according to a new study led by a University of Florida professor. In fact, researchers found that some consumers view the two labels as synonymous.

When U.S. Congress approved the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard in June 2016, lawmakers allowed companies two years – until June 2018 – to label their genetically modified (GM) food by text, symbol or an electronic digital link such as a QR code. The QR code is a machine-readable optical label that displays information when scanned.

Besides QR codes, companies can label GM foods by adding words like: “contains genetically modified ingredients” in plain text on the packages, said Brandon McFadden, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of food and resource economics, and lead author of the study.

McFadden and Purdue University agricultural economics professor Jayson Lusk conducted their research to find the best ways to communicate whether a food has GM ingredients. This research has implications for which foods consumers will buy, McFadden said.

To gauge consumers’ willingness to pay for food labeled as GM vs. non-GM, researchers conducted a national survey of 1,132 respondents.

Specifically, researchers wanted to know how much consumers were willing to spend on food labeled as “USDA Organic” vs. that labeled “Non-GMO Project Verified.” Genetically modified material is not allowed in food labeled “USDA Organic,” while “Non-GMO Project” means the food has no more than 0.9 per cent GM characteristics, according to the study.

Researchers measured respondents’ willingness to pay for a box of 12 granola bars and a pound of apples. Granola bars represent a manufactured food commonly differentiated by its absence of GM material, while apples are a fresh fruit that requires companies to tell if they contain GM material, the study said.

In this study, when consumers looked at packages of granola bars labeled “non-GMO Project,” they were willing to spend 35 cents more than for the boxes that had text that read, “contains genetically engineered ingredients.” With the “USDA Organic” label, consumers were willing to pay 9 cents more.

With apples, respondents were willing to pay 35 cents more for those labeled “non-GMO Project” and 40 cents more for those labeled “USDA Organic.”

Participants’ responses led McFadden to conclude that consumers don’t distinguish definitions of the two food labels.

“For example, it’s possible that a product labeled, ‘Non-GMO Project Verified’ more clearly communicates the absence of GM ingredients than a product labeled ‘USDA Organic,’” said McFadden.

In addition to willingness to pay for GM- and non-GM foods, researchers wanted to know how QR codes impact choices for foods labeled as containing GM ingredients. They also wanted to know how much consumers were willing to pay for food labeled as GM if that information came from a Quick Response – or QR – code. Study results showed consumers are willing to pay more for genetically modified food if the information is provided by a QR code.

“This finding indicates that many of the study respondents did not scan the QR code,” McFadden said.

That’s because if all respondents scanned the QR code, there would not be a significant difference in their willingness to pay, he said. Since there is a significant difference, one can assume that many respondents did not scan the QR code, McFadden said.

“However, it is important to remember that this study is really a snapshot, and it is possible that over time, consumers will become more familiar with QR codes and be more likely to scan them,” he said.

The new study is published in the journal Applied Economics: Perspectives and Policy.
Published in Marketing
October 23, 2017, Guelph Ont – Ontario’s cider industry is working on new ways to quench the growing thirst for locally-grown hard cider, from the ground up. In 2011, the Ontario Craft Cider Association (OCCA) formed with a mandate to develop and maintain a world-class cider industry in Ontario using local fruit and craft methods.

It was a lofty goal, considering none of the cider apple varieties were readily available to Ontario growers. But with hard cider leading the growth category at LCBO stores, the group saw an opportunity to grow the seven per cent market share Ontario cider currently has of this segment. And in the process, the effort would support locally-grown cider to strengthen this made-in-Ontario industry.

“Ontario growers have been producing local cider for years using fresh apple varieties and they make a good cider,” says Tom Wilson, owner/operator of Spirit Tree Estate Cidery in Caledon and OCCA chair. “But we know that European varieties grown specifically for the cider market contain a much better flavour profile and tannin content to make high-quality hard cider.”

One of OCCA’s first projects involved grassroots research to evaluate European cider apple cultivars under Ontario’s growing conditions to understand the agronomics of growing the varieties and evaluating the attributes of the resulting juice for cider quality.

“Our group is part of a three-phase project to build a bigger cider industry in Ontario,” says Wilson, who is a third-generation Ontario apple grower. “There is very limited information available for our members on how European cider varieties will perform in Ontario. We really need science-based information to help growers make informed choices about using cider apple cultivars that will create the type of cider the market is craving.”

The first phase of the project was to source the genetic material to grow some of the European cider apple cultivars. The second phase, supported in part by Growing Forward 2 (GF2) funding accessed through the Agricultural Adaptation Council (AAC) is where the grassroots, field research took place.

Five orchards around the province were chosen to plant 29 new cider apple cultivars to gather local performance data on how the trees grow and the attributes of the resulting juice.

While OCCA is learning the finer points of growing European cider cultivars, they also commissioned an economic impact study of the Ontario industry.

Building a stronger cider industry in Ontario will return greater economic activity for the 25 craft cider producers, and in the process deliver many spin-off contributions to the broader community.

“The latest economic impact study we commissioned in late 2016 identified a number of other benefits for our growing sector, including tourism, rural development, attracting new businesses, community events and contributing to employment and training opportunities in the areas where our members operate,” says Wilson.

OCCA’s commissioned report provides encouraging statistics about the contributions of the Ontario industry to the economy, and the results confirm a growing opportunity for Ontario growers and cider lovers. Ontario-grown cider contains all the elements of a great agri-food success. Consumers are ready and eager to support local, Ontario’s cider growers are making great strides with new cider apple varieties and hard cider is a beverage category that continues to exceed growth targets year after year.
Published in Fruit
October 12, 2017, Deschambault, Que – The Canadian government is prioritizing science and innovation and the competitiveness of the agriculture industry as a whole to create better business opportunities for producers and Canadians.

Funding was announced recently for two projects by the Centre de recherche en sciences animales de Deschambault (CRSAD), including a plan to increase the pollination efficiency of bees to achieve better yields in cranberry production.

Funding of $183,127 will enable the CRSAD to identify the best method of feeding bees with sucrose syrup and to test variations of that method to maximize the bees’ pollination efficiency in cranberry production. The outcomes of this project are designed to increase cranberry yields and decrease bee feeding costs.

“The CRSAD is very appreciative of the federal government’s strong support for its research activities,” said Jean-Paul Laforest, president of the CRSAD. “Canada holds an enviable position in the world for cranberry production, and bees are major allies of the industry. Our project will deliver positive outcomes for both cranberry production and the bees themselves.”

In 2016, the Quebec cranberry industry generated nearly $82 million in market receipts and over $30 million in exports.

 
Published in Research
October 12, 2017, Madison, WI – The colour red is splashed across gardens, forests and farms, attracting pollinators with bright hues, signaling ripe fruit and delighting vegetable and flower gardeners alike.

But if you put a ruby raspberry up against a crimson beet and look closely, you might just notice: they are different reds.

Millions of years ago, one family of plants – the beets and their near and distant cousins – hit upon a brand new red pigment and discarded the red used by the rest of the plant world. How this new red evolved, and why a plant that makes both kinds of red pigment has never been found, are questions that have long attracted researchers puzzling over plant evolution.

Writing recently in the journal New Phytologist, University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor of Botany Hiroshi Maeda and his colleagues describe an ancient loosening up of a key biochemical pathway that set the stage for the ancestors of beets to develop their characteristic red pigment. By evolving an efficient way to make the amino acid tyrosine, the raw material for the new red, this plant family freed up extra tyrosine for more uses. Later innovations turned the newly abundant tyrosine scarlet.

The new findings can aid beet breeding programs and provide tools and information for scientists studying how to turn tyrosine into its many useful derivatives, which include morphine and vitamin E.

“The core question we have been interested in is how metabolic pathways have evolved in different plants, and why plants can make so many different compounds,” says Maeda. “Beets were the perfect start for addressing the question.”

The vast majority of plants rely on a class of pigments called anthocyanins to turn their leaves and fruits purple and red. But the ancestors of beets developed the red and yellow betalains, and then turned off the redundant anthocyanins. Besides beets, the colour is found in Swiss chard, rhubarb, quinoa and cactuses, among thousands of species. Betalains are common food dyes and are bred for by beet breeders.

When Maeda lab graduate student and lead author of the new paper Samuel Lopez-Nieves isolated the enzymes in beets that produce tyrosine, he found two versions. One was inhibited by tyrosine – a natural way to regulate the amount of the amino acid, by shutting off production when there is a lot of it. But the second enzyme was much less sensitive to regulation by tyrosine, meaning it could keep making the amino acid without being slowed down. The upshot was that beets produced much more tyrosine than other plants, enough to play around with and turn into betalains.

Figuring that humans had bred this highly active tyrosine pathway while selecting for bright-red beets, Lopez-Nieves isolated the enzymes from wild beets.

“Even the wild ancestor of beets, sea beet, had this deregulated enzyme already. That was unexpected. So, our initial hypothesis was wrong,” says Lopez-Nieves.

So he turned to spinach, a more distant cousin that diverged from beets longer ago. Spinach also had two copies, one that was not inhibited by tyrosine, meaning the new tyrosine pathway must be older than the spinach-beet ancestor. The researchers needed to go back much further in evolutionary time to find when the ancestor of beets evolved a second, less inhibited enzyme.

Working with collaborators at the University of Michigan and the University of Cambridge, Maeda’s team analyzed the genomes of dozens of plant families, some that made betalains and others that diverged before the new pigments had evolved. They discovered that the tyrosine pathway innovation – with one enzyme free to make more of the amino acid – evolved long before betalains. Only later did other enzymes evolve that could turn the abundant tyrosine into the red betalains.

“Our initial hypothesis was the betalain pigment pathway evolved and then, during the breeding process, people tweaked the tyrosine pathway in order to further increase the pigment. But that was not the case,” says Maeda. “It actually happened way back before. And it provided an evolutionary stepping stone toward the evolution of this novel pigment pathway.”

The takeaway of this study, says Maeda, is that altering the production of raw materials like tyrosine opens up new avenues for producing the varied and useful compounds that make plants nature’s premier chemists.

For some unknown ancestor of beets and cactuses, this flexibility in raw materials allowed it to discover a new kind of red that the world had not seen before, one that is still splashed across the plant world today.
Published in Research
October 11, 2017, West Lafayette, IN – Apple growers want to get the most out of their high-value cultivars, and a Purdue University study shows they might want to focus on the types of apples they plant near those cash crops.

Since apple trees cannot self-pollinate, the pollen from other apple varieties is necessary for fruit to grow. Orchard owners often plant crab apple trees amongst high-value apples such as Honeycrisp, Gala and Fuji. Crab apples produce a lot of flowers and thus a lot of pollen for bees to spread around to the other trees.

“If you are growing some Honeycrisp, you want to plant something next to your Honeycrisp that bees will pick up and spread to your Honeycrisp and make good apples,” said Peter Hirst, a Purdue professor of horticulture and landscape architecture. “Growers will alternate plantings of different cultivars every few rows to promote cross-pollination, and they’ll sometimes put a crab apple tree in the middle of a row as well.”

Hirst and Khalil Jahed, a Purdue doctoral student, wondered if it mattered which type of apple pollinated high-value cultivars. To find out, they manually applied pollen from Red Delicious and Golden Delicious, and two types of crab apple – Ralph Shay and Malus floribunda – to Honeycrisp, Fuji and Gala. They put a net over the trees to keep the bees out, so they could control the pollen that was applied.

Their findings, published recently in the journal HortScience, showed that Honeycrisp pollinated with the Red Delicious variety doubled fruit set — the conversion of flowers into fruit — compared to Honeycrisp pollinated with the crab apple varieties.

In Honeycrisp, pollen tubes created by Red Delicious pollen reached on average 85 per cent of the distance to the ovary, compared to 40 per cent for pollen tubes from crab apple pollen. And fruit set with Red Delicious pollen was four times higher in the first year of the study, and eight times higher in the second, compared to crab apples.

“On Honeycrisp especially, the two crab apples we tried are not very effective at all. The pollen grows very slowly, and you end up with reduced fruit set as a consequence,” Hirst said.

The crab apples did better with Fuji and Gala but still didn’t match the effectiveness of Red Delicious pollen.

When pollen lands on the pistil of the flower, it must be recognized, and if it is compatible, the pollen will germinate and grow down the style to the ovary. Once fertilized, the ovule becomes a seed and the flower becomes a fruit.

Jahed collected flowers from pollinated trees each day for four days after pollination and measured pollen tube growth and fruit set. Overall, the Red Delicious was the best pollinizer, followed by Golden Delicious and then the crab apple varieties. Jahed said the experiment should lead apple growers to consider the design of their orchards to ensure that better pollinizers are planted near high-value crops.

“If they have a good pollinizer and a compatible pollinizer, the fruit quality and fruit set will be higher than with those that are not compatible,” Jahed said.

The research was part of Jahed’s master’s degree thesis, which he has completed. He and Hirst do not plan to continue studying the effectiveness of different pollinizers, but he hopes that others take up the research. They do plan to publish one final paper on pollination and fruit quality in 2018.
Published in Research
October 4, 2017 – Soils keep plants healthy by providing plants with water, helpful minerals, and microbes, among other benefits. But what if the soil also contains toxic elements?

In some growing areas, soils are naturally rich in elements, such as cadmium. Leafy vegetables grown in these soils can take up the cadmium and become harmful to humans. What to do? The solution goes back to the soil. Adrian Paul, a former researcher now working in the Sustainable Mineral Institute in Brisbane, Australia, is working to find which soil additives work best.

Cadmium appears in very low levels or in forms that prevent contamination in soils across the world. However, some soils naturally have more than others. It can result from the erosion of local rock formations. In some instances, it’s present due to human activity. Metal processing, fertilizer or fossil fuel combustion, for example, can leave cadmium behind.

Cadmium may decrease people’s kidney function and bone density. As a result, international guidelines set safety limits on cadmium found in food. Growers with otherwise fertile fields need to grow food within these safe levels. Their livelihood depends on it.

“Our research aims to protect producers and consumers by lowering the cadmium in vegetables. This gives producers the ability to grow safe, profitable crops,” Paul says. “Consumers need to be able to safely eat what the farmers grow.”

Paul worked with four additives: zinc and manganese salts, limestone, and biosolids [nutrient-rich organic materials from sewage processed at a treatment facility] compost.

Although each works in a slightly different manner, the soil amendments generally solve the cadmium problem in two ways. They can prevent the passage of cadmium from the soil to the plant by offering competing nutrients. They can also chemically alter the cadmium so it is unavailable.

The researchers found that a combination of compost, zinc, and limestone brought the levels of cadmium in spinach down to nontoxic levels. The next step in this work is to better determine the ideal combination of the soil amendments. Researchers also want to study vegetables besides spinach, and other elements.

“Farmlands provide for us all,” Paul says. ”Rehabilitating agricultural fields, by removing heavy metals like cadmium, means healthier soils and healthier food.”

Read more about this study in the Journal of Environmental Quality.
Published in Research
September 18, 2017, Brooks, Alta – Potato plants need a lot of nitrogen to produce tubers at optimum levels, but with more applied nitrogen comes an increased risk of nitrogen loss to the atmosphere.

Guillermo Hernandez Ramirez, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta, is studying the use and loss of that fertilizer in potato crops. He is testing various nitrogen fertilizer formulations and biostimulants to gauge their effect on potato productivity and nitrous oxide emissions. READ MORE

 

Published in Research
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