United States
August 14, 2017, Morgan Hill, Cali. – We are pleased to announce the promotion of John Nelson as Vice President of Sakata America Holding Company and its primary operating subsidiary of Sakata Seed America, effective September 1st. John is currently the Senior Director of Sales and Marketing at Sakata Seed America, a position he’s held since 2004.

“I am truly looking forward to the next phase of my career. This industry has a lot to offer globally and Sakata will continue to be a major contributor to the well-being of our distributors, growers and consumers.” says Nelson.

John is a long-standing industry vet, beginning his career in 1985 at Northrup King in Gilroy, California, where he spent nearly five years in the marketing department.

In November 1990, John joined Sakata Seed America to manage advertising for vegetables and ornamentals. Over the years, as John’s involvement grew into the sales arena, his focus shifted to vegetables. In 2004, John took on the responsibility of director of sales and marketing for Sakata.

“John’s experience will help strengthen the Sakata team and add value to Sakata’s affiliates all over the world”, says Dave Armstrong, President-CEO of Sakata Seed America. “John brings a deep understanding of Sakata’s culture and expansive product line to his new executive position, ensuring he will be a crucial asset to our company’s strategy.”

Sakata is actively recruiting to fill the position of senior sales-marketing manager, vegetables.

Sakata Seed America, which celebrates its 40th year of business in NAFTA and Central America this year, is focused on expansion of personnel and infrastructure to continue successful growth.
Published in Companies
August 4, 2017, Ottawa, Ont – The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) recently held an AgriWorkforce Roundtable to discuss challenges and possible solutions to address the critical agricultural labour shortage in Canada.

Participants included primary producers, processors, retailers, policy makers and academics – all putting their heads together to come up with new solutions to what is becoming a persistent problem; how do you attract and retain farm workers?

Marc Smith, retired assistant director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY, and senior Extension associate, opened the discussion with an international perspective on shared agricultural labour challenges among the United States and Canada.

Smith started off by identifying several trends in the U.S. agricultural labour climate:
  • Regardless of government policy, people seeking employment in agriculture will be scarce.
  • Economic and other motivations to develop and adopt labour-saving technologies are growing.
  • Political and economic pressures will force minimal wages higher in many states.
  • Perception of agriculture as an unattractive field for careers is a perennial challenge.
The consequences of these U.S. agricultural labour trends has resulted in a 20 per cent decline in available agricultural workers between 2002-14; an annual loss of $3.1B [US] to fruit and vegetable production due to labour shortages; and a declining U.S.-born population willing to work on farms.

In Canada, the gap between labour demand and the domestic workforce in agriculture has doubled from 30,000 to 59,000 in the past 10 years and projections indicate that by 2025, the Canadian agri-workforce could be short workers for 114,000 jobs. This was a key finding of Labour Market Information (LMI) research by CAHRC entitled Agriculture 2025: How the Sector’s Labour Challenges Will Shape its Future. The LMI research also revealed that Canadian primary agriculture had the highest industry job vacancy rate at seven per cent – higher than any other industry in Canada. This resulted in $1.5-billion in lost sales.

Poor worker compensation is often cited as the primary reason for low interest in working on farms. However, Smith notes that agricultural wages in the U.S. have gone up faster than any other sector in the past 10 years with the median wage being $13.23/hr ($17.76 CDN) as of April 2017. In Canada, farm hourly rates averaged $17.50/hr in 2016.

Smith advocates that wages alone are not the issue but rather what is needed is a coordinated effort to improve labour policy, on-farm workforce needs, and farm practices.

Smith suggests that farmers need to develop realistic policies that attract and retain workers. Investment in leadership and management capacity within the agricultural industry is also needed to encourage innovation, research and development for long-term solutions to the already critical agricultural workforce.

It is not enough to simply pay required wages and comply with regulations. Employee compensation should also include how workers are treated and have their needs accommodated such as providing housing, access to the internet, transportation, communications in their own language, offering English as a second language training, job training, flexible hours, and creating a sense of community. It is important to make workers feel welcomed, valued and confident.

Finally, modifying farm practices to reduce the need for labour is another way to reduce on-farm workforce pressures. This may include adopting new technology that negates the need for human workers, changing crop mixes to less labour intensive commodities, or moving production operations to streamline efficiency.

To help attract and retain a motivated workforce, CAHRC has developed several tools to help farm managers including: AgriSkills – customizable and commodity specific on-farm training programs; Agri HR Toolkit – an online resource guide and templates to address the HR needs of any business; and Agri Pathways – promoting careers in agriculture. For more information on these and other CAHRC offerings visit www.cahrc-ccrha.ca.

In the meantime, Smith says producers should champion farmers that are doing a great job with their workers and get the word out that agriculture is a rewarding and fulfilling career with a strong future.
Published in Federal

July 28, 2017, North Carolina - Laura Lengnick is a big thinker on agriculture and the environment. She has been guided in her work by the understanding that the problems generated by the U.S. industrial food system have been as significant as its ability to produce vast quantities of food. As she sees it, it’s not enough to produce food if there’s not a reckoning of costs and benefits from an unbalanced system.

This comprehensive outlook is a hallmark of Lengnick’s work, as is her positive vision for a more equitable and sustainable future. When it comes to her career, the question is not what work Lengnick has done to explore resilient, sustainable agriculture, but what hasn’t she done. Soil scientist, policymaker as a Senate staffer, USDA researcher, professor, sustainability consultant, advocate—Lengnick has done it all.

With her home nestled in a sunny cove in the North Carolina mountains, she bio-intensively tends to her 3,000-square-foot micro-farm. (She grows everything from greens and radishes to figs and sweet potatoes.) Based on her rich experience and deep expertise, Lengnick now views herself as a science interpreter in her interactions with farmers, public officials and the public at large. (She calls it “science-in-place").

Lengnick is the author of many articles and papers for scholars, practitioners and the general public, including the useful and engaging book Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate. She was also selected as a contributor to the Third National Climate Assessment, the authoritative U.S. climate report.

Over the years she’s traveled throughout the United States to meet with farmers to investigate the challenges and successes in the field and present her findings to many different audiences. Most recently, Lengnick has been invited to collaborate with the world-renowned Stockholm Resilience Centre, which will bring her views to an even larger audience. In a series of conversations, Lengnick and I spoke about her background, career, and philosophy to better explain where she is today. READ MORE 

Published in Profiles
The tip-and-pour method, as well as poorly designed pumps, can expose workers to injury and companies to significant financial losses.

Every day, handlers and applicators transfer potentially hazardous chemicals and concentrates such as pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and liquid fertilizers from large drums into smaller containers or mixing tanks. This transfer process can have serious consequences if manual “tip-and-pour” techniques or poorly designed pumps are used.

Whether the chemicals are toxic, corrosive, or flammable, the danger of accidental contact can pose a severe hazard to workers.

In fact, each year 1,800 to 3,000 preventable occupational incidents involving pesticide exposure are reported in the U.S. A closed system of transferring chemicals reduces unnecessary exposures by providing controlled delivery of chemical products without fear of worker exposure, over-pouring, spilling, or releasing vapours.

“When handling pesticides, toxicity and corrosiveness are the main dangers, but even organic pesticides can be harmful if there is exposure,” says Kerry Richards, Ph.D., president elect of the American Association of Pesticide Safety Educators and former director of Penn State’s Pesticide Safety Education Program. “No matter what their toxicity level, all chemicals, even those that are organic are a particular contact exposure risk if they are corrosive.”

In addition to the potential for injury, there can also be serious financial ramifications for the grower or ag product manufacturing facility if pesticides or liquid chemicals spill.

“Beyond workers compensation issues related to exposure, there can be other huge potential liabilities,” Richards says. “This is particularly true if a pesticide gets into a water source, kills fish, or contaminates drinking water.”

Richards, who works with the National Pesticide Safety Education Center, has seen and heard many examples of worker and environmental exposure from pesticides during more than 30 years of pesticide safety education experience.

“Exposure risk is highest for those loading chemicals into mix tanks because it is more concentrated and hazardous before diluted with water,” she says. “Any time you lose containment of the chemical, such as a spill, the risks can be serious and spiral out of control.”

Corrosive chemicals, for example, can severely burn skin or eyes, and many chemical pesticides are toxic when touched or inhaled.

“Some organic herbicides are so highly acidic that they essentially burn the waxy cuticle off the above ground parts of plants, killing them,” says Richards. “If you splash it in your eye or on your skin, it can burn in the same way and cause significant damage.”

Some chemicals are flammable as well, and if not properly handled and contained, can be ignited by sparking from nearby motors or mechanical equipment. The danger of a fire spreading can be serious both in the field and at ag product manufacturing facilities.

In addition to the cost of cleanup or treating injuries, substantial indirect costs can also be incurred. These include supervisors’ time to document the incident and respond to any added government inspection or scrutiny, as well as the potential for slowed grower production or even a temporary shutdown at ag manufacturing plants.

“The direct and indirect costs of a pesticide spill or injury can be substantial, not the least of which is the loss of wasted chemicals,” says Richards. “Pesticides, particularly newer concentrated formulations, are very expensive so spilling a few ounces could cost you several hundred dollars in lost product during a single transfer.”

Traditional practices of transferring liquid chemicals suffer from a number of drawbacks.

Manual techniques, such as the tip-and-pour method, are still common today. Tipping heavy barrels or even 2.5-gallon containers, however, can lead to a loss of control and over pouring.

“When manually transferring chemicals from bulk containers, it is very difficult to control heavy drums,” cautions Richards. “I’d advise against it because of the significantly increased risk of exposure or a spill, and the added potential of a back injury or muscle strain.”

Although a number of pump types exist for chemical transfer (rotary, siphon, lever-action, piston and electric), most are not engineered as a sealed, contained system. In addition, these pumps can have seals that leak, are known to wear out quickly, and can be difficult to operate, making precise volume control and dispensing difficult.

In contrast, closed systems can dramatically improve the safety and efficiency of chemical transfer. California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, in fact, requires a closed system for mixing and loading for certain pesticides so handlers are not directly exposed to the pesticide.

“The availability of new technology that creates a closed or sealed system is ideal for handling pesticides or other dangerous chemicals, and should become a best management practice,” suggests Richards. “With such devices ... pesticide handlers can maintain a controlled containment from one vessel to another and significantly reduce any potential for exposure or spill.”

A sealed system delivers liquids to an intermediate measuring device and is useful for low toxicity liquids. A closed system moves the material from point A to point B through hoses using dry-break fittings on the connection points. This prevents leaking and exposure to the handler which helps guarantee safety. Liquids are transferred from the source container, into the measuring system, and then to the mix tank.

Small, versatile, hand-operated pressure pumps are engineered to work as a system, which can be either closed or sealed. The pumps can be used for the safe transfer of more than 1,400 industrial chemicals, including the most aggressive pesticides.

These pumps function essentially like a beer tap. The operator attaches the pump, presses the plunger several times to build up a low amount of internal pressure, and then dispenses the liquid. The device is configured to provide precise control over the fluid delivery, from slow (1ML/ 1 oz.) up to 4.5-gallons per minute, depending on viscosity.

Because such pumps use very low pressure (<6 PSI) to transfer fluids through the line and contain automatic pressure relief valves, they are safe to use with virtually any container from 2-gallon jugs to 55-gallon drums.

When Jon DiPiero managed Ricci Vineyards, a small wine grape vineyard in Sonoma, Calif., he sought a safer, more efficient way to transfer pesticides for mixing and spraying that complied with the state’s closed system requirement for certain pesticides.

“We had to fill 2.5-gallon containers from a 55-gallon drum,” says DiPiero. “Traditional tipping and pouring from a drum wasn’t going to work due to the potential for spills, splashes, over pouring and chemical exposure, as well as the state mandate for a closed system for some pesticides.”

DiPiero turned to GoatThroat Pumps and was happy with the results for a number of reasons.

“Because the pump is closed, sealed, and allows containers to remain in an upright position, it complied with state regulation and virtually eliminated the potential for all forms of chemical exposure,” DiPiero says.

He adds the air pressure supplied by the hand pump allows the precise flow required into a measuring cylinder.

In case of overfill, “the operator can open a valve to release air pressure and the pesticide will backflow into the tank with no cross contamination,” DiPiero says. “This gave us the exact amount we needed so there was no waste.”

According to DiPiero, a multi-directional spray attachment also enables rinsing of every corner of the container without having to pour into it and shake it. He says this helps to minimize exposure when cleaning a container for reuse and satisfies California “triple rinsing” requirements.

“Whether for pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or liquid fertilizers, a closed and sealed pump design could help with the safe production or mixing of any liquid chemical,” says DiPiero.

When Lancaster Farms, a wholesale container plant nursery serving the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions, required a lower pH to adjust its well water for a pesticide spray application, it had to transfer sulfuric acid to buffer the spray water.

According to Shawn Jones, Lancaster Farms’ propagation and research manager, the nursery chose to purchase 55-gallon drums of sulfuric acid to raise chemical pH. The drums of chemicals were much more cost effective than multiple 2.5-gallon containers and much easier to recycle. However, Jones was wary of the danger that tipping and pouring acid from the drums would pose, along with pouring bleach and another strong disinfectants for different uses in the propagation area.

“We use 40 percent sulfuric acid to buffer our spray water,” Jones says. “Our irrigation water is all recycled from ponds, with the drum storage areas relatively close to our water source, so we wanted to avoid any possibility of accidental spillage.”

Previously, the nursery had used siphon pumps to transfer the acid, bleach, and disinfectant, but Jones was dissatisfied with this approach.

“None of our siphon pumps lasted more than six months before we had to replace them, and none allowed metering with the kind of precision we required,” he says.

Instead, Jones chose to implement several closed, sealed GoatThroat Pumps, along with graduated cylinders for precise measurement.

“With the pumps, the drums always remain in an upright position so they won’t tip over accidentally,” Jones says.

The one-touch flow control dispenses liquids at a controlled rate.

“We get precise measurement into our mix tanks. We use every drop, spill nothing, and waste nothing.”

In terms of longevity, Jones’ first sealed pump has already lasted six years and outlasted a dozen previous siphon pumps.

“Our GoatThroat Pumps paid for themselves in safety and savings our first growing season, and should last a decade or more with just routine maintenance or repair,” Jones concludes. “Any grower, farmer, or nursery that needs to move or measure dangerous liquids safely and reliably should consider one.”

Agricultural chemicals are very expensive, and growers are always looking for ways to decrease the cost of inputs to help increase profits. Sealed systems and closed systems allow for accurate and precise measuring of chemicals, which ensures that you’re using only the amount of product required and not one extra drop.

Taking the guesswork out of measuring costly materials, and providing an efficient means of transferring custom blended or dilute products from original containers to mix tanks or back pack sprayers cuts input costs. This keeps expenses to a minimum, with the important bonus of increasing the safety of handlers by reducing the potential exposure to the chemical, which helps increase the bottom line and can assist with regulatory compliance.
Published in Chemicals
July 19, 2017 - In 2016, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulation Agency (PMRA) completed a re-evaluation of carbaryl, a common chemical thinning regime for Canadian apple producers.

The re-evaluation led to some changes and restrictions on the product label. This included eliminating its use in residential areas plus as an insecticide on some fruit and vegetable crops.

Apple thinning has remained on the label but at reduced rates:
  • Maximum seasonal rate of 1.5 kg a.i./ha and an REI of 14 days for hand thinning [high-density trellis production such as spindle or super spindle]
  • Maximum seasonal rate of 1.0 kg a.i./ha and an REI of 17 days for hand thinning [dwarf, semi-dwarf and full-sized trees]
As a result, research is underway to discover a new thinning regime for Canadian apple producers.

Researchers from Cornell Cooperative, CCE Lake Ontario Fruit Program educator and the Lamont Fruit farm conducted a three-year mechanical thinning trial. Watch above for more!
Published in Chemicals
July 14, 2017, Gainesville, FL – Some people love to eat a juicy, seedless watermelon for a tasty, refreshing snack during a hot summer day. University of Florida scientists have found a way to stave off potential diseases while retaining that flavour.

Consumers increasingly savour the convenience and taste of seedless watermelons, said Xin Zhao, a UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences associate professor of horticultural sciences and lead author of a new study examining rootstocks, flavour and texture of watermelons.

Many growers produce seedless cultivars because that’s what consumers want, and it’s important to maintain the fruit’s yield and taste, as seedless cultivars might be more susceptible to fusarium wilt, a major soil-borne disease issue in watermelon production, Zhao said.

For the study, UF/IFAS researchers grafted seedless watermelon onto squash rootstocks to ward off soil-borne diseases, such as fusarium wilt. In plant grafting, scientists call the upper part of the plant the scion, while the lower part is the rootstock. In the case of vegetable grafting, a grafted plant comes from joining a vigorous rootstock plant – often with resistance or tolerance to certain soil-borne pathogens – with a scion plant with desirable aboveground traits.

Grafting is a useful tool to manage soil-borne diseases, but in this study, researchers were concerned that if they grafted watermelon onto squash rootstocks, they might reduce its fruit quality and taste. Overall, study results showed no loss in taste and major fruit quality attributes, like total soluble solids and lycopene content, Zhao said. Consumers in UF taste panels confirmed the flavour remained largely consistent between grafted and non-grafted plant treatments under different production conditions.

Furthermore, said Zhao, compared with the non-grafted seedless watermelons, plants grafted onto the squash rootstocks exhibited a consistently higher level of flesh firmness.

“We are continuing our grafted watermelon research to optimize management of grafted watermelon production, maximize its full potential and seek answers to economic feasibility,” she said.

Still to come is a paper that specifically tells researchers whether they warded off fusarium wilt under high disease pressure, Zhao said. Grafting with selected rootstocks as a cultural practice is viewed as an integrated disease management tool in the toolbox for watermelon growers to consider when dealing with fusarium wilt “hot spots” in the field, she said. However, most squash rootstocks are generally more susceptible to root-knot nematodes, a potential challenge with using grafted plants. Other UF/IFAS researchers are tackling that issue.

The new UF/IFAS study is published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
Published in Research
July 14, 2017, Durham, NH – Researchers with the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of New Hampshire have succeeded in quadrupling the length of the strawberry growing season as part of a multi-year research project that aims to benefit both growers and consumers.

Strawberry season in the Northeast U.S. traditionally lasts only four to six weeks. However, researchers working on the multi-state TunnelBerries project were picking day-neutral strawberries in Durham last November. Last year, researchers harvested strawberries grown in low tunnels for 19 consecutive weeks from mid-July through the week of U.S. Thanksgiving. They also found that the low tunnels significantly increased the percentage of marketable fruit, from an average of about 70 per cent to 83 per cent.

Now in its second year, the TunnelBerries research project is being conducted at the UNH Woodman Horticultural Research Farm. It is part of a larger, multi-state U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded initiative to optimize protected growing environments for berry crops in the upper Midwest and northeastern United States. UNH’s component is focused on improving berry quality and the role day-neutral varieties may play in extending the length of strawberry season in the Northeast.

“[Strawberries] are a very valuable early season crop for farmers,” said graduate student Kaitlyn Orde, who is working with experiment station researcher Becky Sideman on the project. “Unfortunately, though, this season is very brief, limiting the period in which … producers are able to meet consumer demand for the fresh fruit. A longer strawberry season is good for both grower and consumer.”

The UNH project consists of two parts. Researchers want to determine the yield and fruiting duration of day-neutral strawberry varieties. Day-neutrals are a different plant-type than the traditional June-bearers; day-neutrals (or ever-bearing) have been shown to fruit continuously for four to six months in the region. In addition, day-neutrals fruit the same year they are planted, which is not the case with June-bearers.

“We are growing one day-neutral variety on three different mulches to determine if there are any differences in total production, production patterns, runner production, and fruit characteristics among the mulches,” Orde said. “We also are investigating the role plastic covered low-tunnels play in improving berry quality, and what the microenvironment is within low tunnels, especially late season. To do this, we are evaluating five different plastics for the low tunnels.”

Researchers in Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, and New York have conducted preliminary research on similar systems. There also are limited growers in the Northeast who already cultivate day-neutral varieties, and even fewer who have experimented with low-tunnels in combination with the strawberry crop.

For more information, visit www.tunnelberries.org.
Published in Research
July 4, 2017, Regina, Sask. - As Canadians enjoy fresh, local fruit this summer, producers can expect mixed results from the fruits of their labour this fall.

In 2016, Canadian and United States fruit growers increased their production, but didn't necessarily see the demand to match, leading to an oversupply and lower prices for many fruit sectors. As a result, Farm Credit Canada’s (FCC) agriculture economists are predicting a mixed outlook for fruit growers in 2017.

“It’s a balancing act to produce enough fruit to meet demand, but not so much as to cause an oversupply that puts downward pressure on prices,” said J.P. Gervais, FCC chief agricultural economist. “Fortunately, a low Canadian dollar has been supporting prices for Canadian fruit producers and will help offset the full impact of a large supply in some sectors of the industry.”

Gervais added the real benefit will be to the Canadian consumer, who may see lower prices for some fruit – such as apples – at the grocery store.

Wine-making grapes fetch better prices

Grapes that are grown for wine-making in Ontario and British Columbia squeezed out an average three per cent price increase, which helped offset the lower prices for fresh grapes in 2016. Overall, the industry had a good year in 2016, as production increased by 22 per cent from the previous year.

Market prices for grapes are mixed based on the variety, quality and the end use, however, prices currently remain strong for wine grapes as demand is expected to continue growing in 2017.

Increased cranberry yields help offset lower prices

The cranberry industry has had several years of low prices due to growing North American supplies of cranberries.

In Canada, acreage devoted to growing cranberries has remained steady in British Columbia, but has increased in Quebec over the past five years. While prices remain low, rising production and better yields have compensated for low prices, boosting farm cash receipts.

In 2016, Canadian cranberry receipts reached a record $132.6 million, for an increase of 8.8 per cent, an all-time record high. There is also a growing demand for specialized markets segmentation in the cranberry industry, such as organic. Profitability depends on producers’ ability to continually improve their productivity.

Large 2016 harvest pushes apple prices lower

Canadian apple production was up 14 per cent while U.S. apple production increased by four per cent from 2015.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s monthly apple storage report indicates apple supplies are 98 per cent higher than last year’s level, so a large supply remains a challenge. As a result, Canadian retail apple prices are down 13 per cent in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016, but still remain above the previous five-year average. The same trend has impacted U.S. fresh apple market prices, which are down 12 per cent in 2017 and remain near the previous five-year average.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook indicates that 2017 apple prices should remain below 2016 levels given storage numbers. This price pressure is expected to persist until inventories decline.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2015, 31.5 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and older, roughly nine million people, consumed fruit and vegetables five or more times per day.

To celebrate the international fruit day on July 1, Canadians can eat more fruit throughout 2017 knowing their local grocery store will likely be well stocked with delicious and reasonably-priced Canadian fruit this summer and fall.

For an in-depth look at Canada fruit outlook for 2017, visit the FCC Ag Economics blog post at www.fcc.ca/AgEconomics.
Published in Marketing
June 16, 2017, Boise, ID - In Idaho, potatoes are both a humble stereotype and a half-billion dollar crop.

According to the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, every spring farmers plant more than 320,000 acres of potatoes valued at between $550-$700 million. Yet unbeknownst to most consumers, roughly 30 percent of the potatoes harvested spoil before they reach a grocery store shelf.

Boise State University researchers Harish Subbaraman, David Estrada and Yantian Hou hope to change that.

In a recently awarded one-year $413,681 Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM) grant, Boise State is collaborating with Idaho State University and industry partners Isaacs Hydropermutation Technologies, Inc (IHT) and Emerson to develop a wireless sensor network that would be able to detect temperature, humidity levels, and carbon dioxide and ammonia levels in real time, to help with early detection of rot.

The cloud-enabled sensor system will feature three-dimensional hot spot visualization and help predict on-coming rot or deteriorating quality of stored potatoes. This will allow owners to use the real-time sensor data, along with a miniature air scrubber system IHT is developing, to respond to potential problems quickly, as they develop.

“The current problem is, there are no sensors that can do early detection of rot,” said Subbaraman, an assistant professor of electrical engineering. “But if you can identify rot at an early stage, you can prevent crop loss on a large scale.”

“Rot spreads on contact. The way the system works now is, a farmer walks into their facility, smells rotten potatoes and that’s it,” added Estrada, an assistant professor of materials science. “But our sensors can detect parts per million, or even parts per billion, and can tell us in exactly which bin the sensor is detecting rot. That way, farmers can go out, pull out a few rotten potatoes and save the rest of the batch.”

Estrada explained that the cost of printing sensors could be as low as a few dollars apiece. Not only would the monitoring system hopefully prevent waste, it could help preserve the quality of potatoes in the facility.

Subbaraman and Estrada plan to have their sensors tested in a facility by the end of their year-long grant cycle by working with industry partner Emerson PakSense. But Estrada points out that this project has been three years in the making and will continue long past the IGEM grant.

“The College of Business and Economics and the College of Engineering have been invested in building a printed electronics community in Idaho for several years,” Estrada said. “Most recently, our Advanced Nanomaterials and Manufacturing Laboratory has partnered with the NASA Ames Research Center, Air Force Research Labs, and American Semiconductor to develop flexible electronics technologies.”

Subbaraman noted, “We’re also very interested in partnering with others interested in this technology. It’s a great economic impact for the state and we see that growing in the future.”

Not only would the cloud-enabled wireless sensory system save Idaho farmers millions in revenue, it could have a billion-dollar impact on the national potato industry and help address larger socio-economic issues such as food scarcity in parts of the world.

“The benefit of this system is it’s extremely low cost,” Subbaraman added. “This dual detection and air scrubbing system could later be extended to other stored crops as well.”
Published in Research
June 13, 2017, Tampa, FL – Harvest CROO Robotics announced the introduction of their autonomous vehicle. This is a major step towards the completion of the Alpha Unit, which is expected to be picking strawberries in Florida next winter.

As part of Phase I of the National Science Foundation Grant, Harvest CROO Robotics is developing software and hardware tools. They include the vehicle’s GPS navigation system, LIDAR technology, and other camera and sensor features.

The mobile platform is a modified version of a Colby Harvest Pro Machine. With four-wheel steering, turning movement will be smooth and precise, providing a zero turning radius for greater maneuverability than a standard tractor. Special levelling hardware and software has been developed and added to allow the vehicle to compensate for varying bed heights.

The vehicle will carry 16 picking robots through the field and span 6 beds of plants, picking the four middle beds. The Harvest CROO machine is equipped with a dual GPS system. The Harvester uses both GPS systems to interpolate the position of the platform to be able to position the robots precisely over the plants.

“Having the machine navigate the fields autonomously is the culmination of years of work and prototyping,” said Bob Pitzer, Co-Founder and CTO of Harvest CROO. “It is very gratifying to see our team effort come to fruition.”

Harvest CROO Robotics continues to develop and test the latest technology for agricultural robotics. Using the proprietary vision system, all ripe berries will be harvested from the plants.

The fruit will then be transferred up to the platform level of the machine using a series of conveyers. There, the packing module of the machine will perform a secondary inspection and grade the fruit.

Depending on quality, it will either be packed into consumer units, diverted to process trays, or discarded. The use of this technology will improve the quality of the berries picked, reduce energy usage, and increase strawberry yields.

In December, the National Science Foundation awarded a grant worth up to $1 million. Harvest CROO Robotics used part of these funds to bring several highly qualified and experienced individuals on board the project. Scott Jantz, Electrical Engineering Manager, said, “We all feel like we are part of something special.”

While fundraising for the project has been ongoing, the current investment round will likely be closed at the end of July, when field testing of the vehicle is completed. “We will possibly open a new investment round early next year, at a higher valuation.”, stated Gary Wishnatzki, Co-Founder. “The new unit price will reflect the successful deployment of the Alpha Unit, a key milestone.”
Published in Harvesting
June 8, 2017, Vernon Bridge, PEI - The company, based in Vernon Bridge, recently received a loan of $250,000 from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to purchase and install packaging equipment.

J&S Visser will add a baler and bagger system, which allows the company to move quickly between types of potatoes and various packaging sizes.

Increasing the variety of its potato products meets market demand and attracts new consumers. The company’s products are sold across Canada and in the United States. READ MORE
Published in Companies
June 5, 2017, Montreal, QB – The Agri-business Division of La Coop fédérée has just signed a strategic agreement with a major player in digital agriculture in California.

This easy-to-use online solution presents a comprehensive approach to data collection and analysis in crop production. Combined with the agronomic knowledge of the Agri-business Division, it will enable Canadian farmers to maximize productivity and profitability on their farms.

La Coop fédérée retailers will also benefit from this tool which will enable farmers and advisors to work closer together.

This partnership fully supports the digital transformation of the Agri-business Division as it provides farmers, advisors and retailers with innovative tools to assist in the management of their farms.

In addition to precision farming, the solution will include improved management of record keeping and regulatory compliance requirements at the provincial and national levels. Canadian agricultural farmers and retailers will benefit from the analytical capabilities of more accurate data from inter-connected tools such as satellite imagery.

This digital solution will also enable users to take charge of their agronomic planning in an efficient and sustainable manner from their mobile devices.
Published in Equipment
May 29, 2017, Ontario - A ban on fresh cherries from Ontario shouldn’t affect Canadian exporters or U.S. consumers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the ban on May 23, citing “multiple detections” of the European cherry fruit fly. Host plants for the pest are cherry trees and honeysuckle vines.

Canada exports 3.3 million pounds of cherries to the U.S., most of them to eastern states, according to Statistics Canada. New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania take 1.4 million pounds; Michigan imports 600,000 pounds of fresh cherries from Canada. READ MORE
Published in Federal
May 29, 2017, Rougemont, QB - Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions (CED)
Businesses need to be able to rely on adequate resources to create and market innovative products.

The Government of Canada is committed to supporting innovative Canadian enterprises. A real economic engine, innovation is the key to success, generating growth that benefits businesses and communities.

Acting on behalf of the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister responsible for CED, Pierre Breton, Member of Parliament for Shefford, announced that the McKeown Cidery Inc. has been granted $188,550 in financial assistance, in the form of a repayable contribution, to acquire specialized equipment and implement a marketing strategy in the United States.

Founded in 2004, the McKeown Cidery is a deeply rooted business that makes its cider from apples hand-picked from its orchards in Rougemont.

The company's many prize-winning products are available across Quebec and in Great Britain, Norway and China. For the company to grow, it has to conquer foreign markets, including the American cider market, where there is increasing demand for craft cider in cans.

The funding provided under CED's Quebec Economic Development Program (QEDP) will enable the company to acquire a canning line, a coding machine and a shrink sleeve applicator to meet the requirements of the American market and to promote its products there.

CED is one of the six regional development agencies under the responsibility of the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.
Published in Companies
May 26, 2017, Ontario - The U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is banning imports of fresh cherries from Ontario, following “multiple detections” of the European cherry fruit fly.

The May 23 U.S. Department of Agriculture-APHIS order applies to commercial and non-commercial imports.

Black, mahaleb, sour and sweet cherries are included in the ban. Wild honeysuckle, the fly’s other host plant, also is banned.

Restrictions for Ontario cherries will be in effect until the pest is eradicated from the province, APHIS legislative public affairs specialist Yindra Dixon said.

The pest has not been found in the U.S., but it could establish populations in northern regions of the U.S., Dixon said.

“The climatic tolerance and available hosts of this fruit fly would allow (it) to establish in the United States if introduced from Canada,” Dixon said. “This fruit fly is a serious economic pest of commercial cherries in Europe, where imports of cherries are also restricted.”

On Feb. 4, 2016, USDA identified a fruit fly photographed in Mississauga, Ontario, as likely a European cherry fruit fly. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) began surveys for the pest in Ontario in April 2016. In June 2016, one of the flies was found on honeysuckle in southeastern Ontario. READ MORE
Published in Federal
May 25, 2017, Palm Desert, Calif. - Armed with new data from the 2017 Fresh Trends consumer survey, Greg Johnson and Pamela Riemenschneider kicked off the West Coast Produce Expo with a lively 45-minute interactive produce quiz show that examined consumer trends on avocados, kale, watermelon, berries and organic produce.

Johnson, editor of The Packer and editorial director of Farm Journal Media’s produce group, and Riemenschneider, editor of Produce Retailer, first took up statistics around the emergence of kale as a trendy item at the May 20 event.

Using instant polling technology with radio frequency identification clickers, Riemenschneider asked the West Coast Produce Expo audience if they purchased kale.

With 59% of the audience indicating they buy kale, she said The Packer’s Fresh Trends showed just 17% of about 1,000 consumers surveyed said they bought kale in the last year.

However, kale retail promotions are up more than 350% compared with five years ago and per-capita kale availability has surged 50% since 2000, Riemenschneider said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines availability as production, minus average shrink for specific commodities.

Kale is the No.1 purchased organic fresh produce category, with more than 50% of consumers stating they buy organic exclusively or buy both organic and conventional kale, according to Fresh Trends. READ MORE
Published in Research
May 17, 2017, Mississauga, Ont. – Bee Vectoring Technologies is pleased to announce successful, verified results from large commercial scale demonstrations of its proprietary crop production system, with strawberry growers in Florida.

The demonstrations were conducted in the Plant City area of Hillsborough County, Florida, the main winter strawberry growing region in the U.S. which produces around 20 million flats of strawberries on 11,000 acres every year.

Three influential growers who combined, control about 30 per cent of the production in the region, expressed interest in gauging how the BVT System, consisting of a bumble bee hive with proprietary dispenser technology through which BVT's proprietary plant beneficial microbe BVT-CR7 is delivered to crops using bumble bees, could improve the productivity of their farming operations and how it could be incorporated into their crop production practices on a commercial scale.

The demonstration fields were assessed for both (a) control of botrytis gray mold, a costly disease in strawberries which causes the fruit to rot and reduces the shelf life of berries, and (b) the ability to improve marketable yield.

"These are significant results and confirm that the positive results we have seen in the numerous field trials we have done over the last couple of seasons, also apply in commercial fields under real-life conditions," stated Ashish Malik, CEO of BVT. "We have been able to demonstrate that the BVT system improves yields 1) in the presence, or even in the absence of botrytis disease pressure, which is significant since it shows our system brings value to growers regardless of the severity of the disease which will follow a natural cycle from year to year; 2) with full or reduced amounts of chemical fungicides giving the grower flexibility in how they want to use the system."

Jay Sizemore, owner of JayMar Farms where one of the demonstrations was done said "These are some encouraging results. Growers are always looking to improve what we do since our margins keep getting thinner. I thought the BVT system had a lot of promise when I first learnt about it which is why I was eager to try it, and I am pleased to see my thoughts confirmed with the positive results from the demo. It is especially compelling since this is an all-natural way to seemingly improve productivity of the berry crop."

Mr. Malik added "It is notable that, based on the yield increases that have been recorded because of using the BVT system on the three test sites, if the entire Plant City strawberry crop was treated, it could theoretically lead to the production of 1.2M to 5.8M additional flats of strawberries, or put another way, generate between $10 million to $50 million in additional revenue for the growers in the area. We are very thankful to our three grower partners for their cooperation and look forward to continuing our discussions with them on how best to integrate our system into their long-term farming operations."

"Large-scale commercial demos represent the final pre-commercial stage in the well-established path to commercialization that forms the basis of any major adoption of new on-farm technology. We expect these latest demos to further accelerate demand for our technology and allow us to successfully complete our go-to-market plans," said Mr. Malik.

In the first demonstration, conducted on 40 acres at JayMar Farms, the field was divided into three sections: one section was treated with chemical fungicides alone, the second section was treated with the BVT system and the same chemical program used in the first section, while in the third section the BVT system was used with a 50 per cent reduction in the chemical sprays.
  • The two sections with the BVT system had statistically significant reductions in incidence of botrytis gray mold (3 per cent vs 13 per cent)
  • The section where the BVT system was used with a 50 per cent reduction of the chemical fungicides had the best marketable yield, 26 per cent better yield than chemicals alone in direct comparisons
  • The section where the BVT system was used together with the full chemical program produced a 6 per cent higher yield than where the chemicals were used alone in direct comparisons
The second grower demonstration was conducted on 20 acres with three sections: one section was treated with chemical fungicides alone, while the other two were treated with the BVT system in addition to the chemical fungicide program.
  • All sections of the field had low levels of botrytis gray mold
  • The two sections where the BVT system was used produced 6 per cent and 24 per cent more marketable yield respectively than chemical fungicides alone
  • On average for the season, plants in the sections where the BVT system was used produced 11 per cent more berries per plot compared against the chemical fungicide section
The third grower demonstration was conducted on 10 acres with two sections: one with a chemical program, and the other with the BVT system plus the same chemical program.
  • Both sections of the field had low levels of incidence of the botrytis disease
  • The section with the BVT system had a 29 per cent higher marketable yield across two observations when compared against the chemical only section
The Company is continuing to successfully execute on its documented growth strategy while driving towards commercialization of its proprietary system. BVT is selectively expanding its market opportunities while continuing towards securing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory approval of its BVT-CR7 beneficial microbe.

In the next six months, the Company will complete its go to market planning for the commercial launch including finalizing the business model, pricing and distribution partnerships, and is planning trials in additional crops and countries, including sunflowers in the U.S. and in strawberries and tomatoes in Europe.
Published in Research
Days may be numbered for carbaryl, an insecticide and apple-thinning agent commonly sold under the brand name Sevin by Bayer.

Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulation Agency (PMRA) completed a re-evaluation of carbaryl in 2016, which led to some changes and restrictions on the product label. This included eliminating its use in residential areas plus as an insecticide on some fruit and vegetable crops. Apple thinning has remained on the label but at reduced rates:
  • Maximum seasonal rate of 1.5 kg a.i./ha and an REI of 14 days for hand thinning [high-density trellis production such as spindle or super spindle]
  • Maximum seasonal rate of 1.0 kg a.i./ha and an REI of 17 days for hand thinning [dwarf, semi-dwarf and full-sized trees]
As a result, research is underway to discover a new thinning regime for Canadian apple producers.

“We’re restricted to one application per season with further restrictions on re-entry into the orchard,” explained Dr. John Cline, apple researcher and associate professor at the University of Guelph. “We’re looking for an alternative that works as well as carbaryl.”

He recently shared the initial findings of his work, which he undertook with the assistance of graduate student Michelle Arsenault, during the Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Convention held in Niagara Falls, Ont.

“Apple thinning is something done to prevent over cropping and small fruit,” said Dr. Cline. “When we thin early, we are able to focus more energy resources into the fruit that persist until harvest. When you have larger fruit, harvest efficiencies increase dramatically.”

Hand thinning is the least desirable way of managing crop load because it has the least effect on return bloom and final size at harvest but it is still an option. It also requires a large labour requirement.

“We rely on bio-regulators or chemical thinners as a result,” Dr. Cline said. “We have to remember that fruit drop in early June is a natural process. The tree goes through this process naturally and the bio-regulators are meant to augment it.”

There are a number of bio-regulators registered and these affect the plant metabolism and add to the natural process of fruit drop. The registered products in Canada are Sevin XLR Plus [carbaryl], MaxCel [6BA] and Fruitone [NAA]. The industry is hopeful some alternatives will become available. One product registered in the U.S. is Ethephon or Ethrel, which involves ethylene needed for fruit drop.

Dr. Cline’s research team’s objectives were to determine the optimal concentration of new and existing plant bio-regulators for the thinning of Gala during fruit set. Doing an early spray followed by a second spray was the focus of their work plus what thinners perform the best, and what the final crop load, yield and final size would be.

The first experiment was done on Gala using a hand-thinned control plot and compared to carbaryl and 6BA/MaxCel sprays.

Late frost in 2015 forced the researchers to find another orchard where they applied thinners at the 17 mm stage. The treatment was thought to be ineffective because it was conceivably applied too late. Compared with 2014, they found fruit set was 40 per cent, considered too high for a commercial crop, and 2015 was slightly less than that.

“In 2014, we found that 6BA tank mixed with NAA reduced fruit set by 50 per cent, whereas the ACC compound did not work at all,” Dr. Cline said. “In 2015, 6BA tank mixed with 5ABA and ACC reduced fruit set to a level comparable with carbaryl.”

The crop load at harvest was reduced with thinners in 2015, explained Dr. Cline. The hand thinned was just under three fruits per trunk cross-sectional area while the target was about five to seven, so crop load was light so the trees probably didn’t need the aggressive thinning that might be needed in a heavy crop year.

The researchers tried high and medium rates with the thinners and found a reduction in yield but no effect on quality factors, such as sugars, titratable acidity, starch index and fruit firmness.

Conclusions on the two-year study suggest that at low rates, the ethylene precursors were effective the one year. However, crop loads were light in both years of the study and response could change with a heavier crop. Dr. Cline said the study needs to be repeated over several years to get a more definite answer.

ACC and 5ABA appear to be effective alternatives for Gala if carbaryl is removed from registration, he added.

“I think the results are encouraging.”

In a study working with Gala conducted over 2013 and 2014 – before the concern with carbaryl came up – researchers wanted to know if growers applied the first thinning spray at 8 mm, what happened when the second spray was applied? This was a concern for growers who wanted to know if they should go in with a second spray and, if so, what should they use.

In 2013, researchers used a standard rate of carbaryl, as recommended for Gala, and applied at 8 mm, then again with a second spray in seven days, near the closing of the window for thinning. It seemed to work, Dr. Cline said, adding carbaryl did reduce fruit set.

“A tank mix of 6BA and carbaryl applied at 8 mm followed by carbaryl at 15 mm thinned the most.”

Fruit size, for the untreated, was around 140 grams. In 2013, 6BA followed by a carbaryl spray produced the largest fruit size.

“Yields always go down when you thin but hopefully you are compensated by the higher price of the fewer but larger fruits,” Dr. Cline said.

“To summarize, 12 to 14 days was required from the time of the first spray to initiate fruit drop. A single application at 8 mm, applied separately or tank mixed, of 6BA and carbaryl was the most effective.”

When it comes to future research, new thinning techniques and mechanical blossom thinning are on the list to be examined. According to the industry, string thinners are more effective now with the movement toward high-density, spindle-type orchards. New products, such as Metamitron – a herbicide registered in the EU and U.S. – are also of interest.

“We will ... be looking at that,” Dr. Cline said.
Published in Chemicals
May 15, 2017, Augusta, ME – With little fanfare, the Maine Board of Pesticides Control recently approved the registration of three new types of genetically engineered potatoes that have been developed by a major Idaho agribusiness company.

The move means that the J.R. Simplot Co.’s Russet Burbank, Ranger Russet and Atlantic potatoes could be planted in Maine fields at any time. These potatoes were created by adding genes from a wild potato plant and are designed to be resistant to late blight. READ MORE
Published in Vegetables
May 11, 2017, Grapevine, TX – Kubota Tractor Corporation introduces four new specialty ag tractors designed for narrow and low-clearance applications. 

The new M-Series introductions include the M4N-071, M5N-091 and M5N-111 narrow tractors, and the M5L-111 low profile* tractor.

Engineered to combine Kubota power and performance with versatility and reliability, the new M-Series specialty tractors bring more variety, performance and operator options to the orchard and vineyard markets. These tractors are available at Kubota dealerships now.

The new M-Series models feature updated engines, intelligently revamped operator stations and improved hydraulics.

The new M-Series specialty models also feature highly versatile transmissions designed to provide superior power and efficiency for the most rigorous specialty environments.

The M5L-111 low profile tractor features a telescopic ROPS frame, engineered for work in orchards or other applications requiring a low profile design.

The M4N/M5N narrow tractors deliver Kubota’s renowned M-Series power in tractors engineered specifically for work in vineyards, orchards and other narrow environments.

M-Series Power You Can Count On – And Then Some
Each new M-Series specialty tractor features a Kubota-designed and Kubota-built V-3800-Tier IV engine, performance-matched to bring Kubota durability to the strenuous demands of specialty agricultural applications.

The updated engines feature increased alternator capacity, larger radiator and larger diameter cooling fan. All engines include a common rail fuel system, intercooler and exhaust gas recirculation, while employing a diesel particulate filter (DPF) and selective catalytic reduction for minimizing emissions. Standard RPM memory settings for repetitious actions enhance performance efficiency.

The Kubota M-Series specialty tractor transmissions are performance-matched with each Kubota engine, providing versatility and increased productivity for demanding specialty applications.

All tractors are available with 12F x 12R speed, offering six speeds in two ranges, with an electric over hydraulic shuttle shift.

The M5N has the option of a 24F x 24R speed. The M4N/M5N comes standard with Kubota’s exclusive BI-SPEED turning system to cover more ground in less time, and both the M5N and the M5L have overdrive to save fuel. Creeper options are available to add even more precision to specialty tasks, with a 36-speed creeper available on the M5N models and an 18-speed creeper option on the M4N-071 narrow and M5L-111 low profile tractor.

Designed with Operator Comfort in Mind

A newly designed operator station features enhanced comfort while logging long hours in vineyards, orchards or other crop fields. Ergonomic steps lead to an operator’s station with increased floor area on the M5L-111, and floor pedals on the low profile tractor have been adjusted for improved comfort.

A redesigned cab on the M4N/M5N models features an updated dashboard with a multi-function, multi-view Intellipanel™ and LED cluster lighting. The M4N/M5N steering wheel has 40 degrees of tilt, making it easier to get in and out of the suspension seat. The control panel is ergonomically designed, with all main controls on the right side of the four new M-Series tractors. The M5N also features luxury items such as dual side mirrors and an optional air ride seat.

Improved Hydraulics

The new M-Series specialty tractors have more hydraulic valve options, ready to accept implements requiring multiple valves with different flow requirements. The new models offer two self-cancelling detent deluxe built-in flow control valves, with an option to add up to five total valves on the M4N/M5N.

Each tractor features a Category II 3-point hitch with easy adjust stabilizers to handle the wide range of specialty implements, and the M5L-111 low profile tractor’s strong rear lift capacity ranks top-of-class.

Standard Shielding on M5L-111 Low Profile Tractor

The M5L-111 utility tractor has a newly-designed solid-steel sloping hood and fenders that help reduce damage while tending to high-value specialty crops.

The SCR/DPF components are incorporated under the hood – an industry first – and steel shields for the fuel and DEF tanks are standard. The operator console, left foot area and clutch area are all shielded from heat and potential obstacles, adding another safety element for the operator.
Published in Equipment
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