United States

May 26, 2014, Ottawa, Ont – The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have adopted revised guidelines to manage potato cyst nematode (PCN) that will support potato growers, help facilitate international trade, and maintain protection against the pest.

Effective immediately, seed potato growers can be eligible to export three crops without any additional soil sampling and testing if their fields have been tested twice and it’s determined they are not infested with PCN. In the past, seed potato growers were required to undergo sampling and testing for every crop of seed potatoes destined for the U.S.

“The revision to the PCN guidelines is a step in the right direction, based on science, and it should reduce the demand on PCN soil sampling and testing,” said Bob Watson, chair of the Seed Potato Sub-Committee. “We were pleased to be involved throughout the revision process and the revised guidelines should benefit growers on both sides of the border.”

Small potato tuber samples may now be exported to the U.S. without any additional soil sampling and testing if they were produced in a field that has been tested and is not infested with PCN.

Overall, the revised PCN guidelines will help farmers take advantage of trade opportunities with less paperwork, fewer delays and lower costs.

“Our Government continues to work with the United States to support potato growers on both sides of the border,” said Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “This common-sense revision to the PCN guidelines is a practical, science based move that will benefit producers and help grow our economy.”

While PCN does not pose a risk to human health, it is recognized internationally as a destructive plant pest of economic importance and, therefore, a quarantine pest for the U.S. and Canada.

Growers who intend to ship seed potatoes to the U.S. are encouraged to contact their local CFIA office for more information and to schedule any soil sampling and testing that may be required.


Published in Vegetables

February 24, 2014, Bangor, ME – Two new potato varieties, developed for the French fry and potato chip industries, were recently unveiled by the Maine Potato Board and the University of Maine.

The two varieties – Easton and Sebec ­– were developed over the past 10 years in the Roger Clapp Greenhouses at UMaine with support from the Maine Potato Board. READ MORE



Published in Food Safety

February 3, 2014, Kennewick, WA — Researchers in Washington are testing new potatoes to replace the leading fresh pack variety.

The Russet Norkotah is fairly uniform with good yields and economic return, said Rhett Spear, Washington State University research assistant. But it’s also susceptible to Potato Virus Y and to verticillium wilt. The variety has poor flesh colour and flavour after long periods in storage.

Spear expects the Norkotah to remain the top fresh pack variety until researchers can find something that will appeal to growers and consumers. READ MORE



Published in Food Safety

February 3, 2014, Orono, ME — The Maine Potato Board and University of Maine recently announced the creation of two new potato varieties targeted at the french fry and potato chip industries.

The new varieties — the Easton and the Sebec — were developed in partnership with the University of Maine over the past several growing seasons, said Tim Hobbs, director of grower relations for the potato board. READ MORE



Published in Food Safety
November 29, 2013 – In test fields in New York and Washington state stand about 100 trees bearing the Canadian-designed Holy Grail of fruit science: an apple that cannot brown.

But as the Arctic Apple wends its way toward final approval in both the United States and Canada, genetic-engineering alarmists and entrenched apple interests alike are increasingly framing the new fruit as a profane creation of perverted science. READ MORE
Published in Federal
November 22, 2013 – Following a meeting with some family members of victims of the 2011 listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe from their farm, Eric and Ryan Jensen signed over a lawsuit they filed against Primus Labs to the victims.

Attorney Bill Marler, who represents 46 of the 64 victims and their families who have filed civil suits against the Jensen brothers, said Nov. 21 that he would soon file a notice of appearance in Colorado state court in the case against the Santa Maria, Calif., auditing firm. READ MORE
Published in Research
November 19, 2013 – The National Potato Council unveiled a new commodity-specific food-safety guide that NPC president John Keeling says will help maintain the commodity's safety record for those growers who follow the new template.

Since 2011, the potato industry has been developing commodity-specific food-safety guidelines for potatoes. Before beginning work on the food-safety guidelines, the potato industry commissioned a microbial and chemical risk assessment that characterized the human health risk from consuming contaminated potatoes, and found risks to human health were low. READ MORE
Published in Food Safety
September 23, 2013, Kelowna, BC – Bulk Okanagan apples are headed south of the border for the first time this fall, taking local jobs with them.

Jeff Bryde is a forklift operator for an independent packinghouse and is concerned that a new trend of exportation may mean tougher times ahead for local fruit packers. READ MORE



Published in Marketing
Jul. 12, 2013 - A recently discovered wild strawberry provides new genetic material for plant research and may lead to a new class of commercial strawberries, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist. Genes from the newly created strawberries may yield new flavors or disease resistance.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Kim Hummer, with the National Clonal Germplasm Repository at Corvallis, Ore., found the new species during several plant collection expeditions in the high peaks of Oregon's Cascade Mountains. She named it Fragaria cascadensis.

ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.

The new strawberry is a perennial plant with white flowers and green leaves, and it differs from other strawberry species of the region by having hairs on the upper side of its leaves, comma-shaped, small brown fruits called "achenes" on the strawberry surface, and 10 sets of chromosomes, unlike the eight sets in commercial strawberries.

The strawberry's distribution in the Oregon Cascades stretches from the Columbia River in the north to the vicinity of Crater Lake in the south, at elevations from about 3,000 feet up to the tree line. The northern distribution range of F. cascadensis has an average annual precipitation of 12 to 15 inches, but the southern range receives only about six inches of precipitation annually.

F. cascadensis is now included in the living collections of the Corvallis germplasm repository, which preserves plant genetic resources of temperate fruit, nut, and other crops.

According to Hummer, the new strawberry's biggest impact could come by crossing it with other strawberries having the same number of chromosomes, such as the cultivated F. vescana or the wild Russian species F. iturpensis. Those crosses could produce hybrids with disease resistance, improved flavor, or other important traits.

Discovery of the new strawberry was reported in the Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.

Read more about this research in the July 2013 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
Published in Research
May 8, 2013, Milwaukee, WI – U.S. cranberry farmers who spent millions of dollars to replant and expand bogs face a financial crisis after a huge harvest in Canada flooded the market and sent prices plummeting.

Farmers in Wisconsin, the leading cranberry producing state in the U.S., have been working for years to expand their acreage at the request of Ocean Spray and other processors who expected to see strong growth in overseas sales of juice and sweetened, dried cranberries. READ MORE 
Published in Vegetables
May 7, 2013, College Park, MD – U.S. beekeepers lost nearly one in every three honeybee colonies over the winter of 2012-2013, according to an annual survey conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership and the Apiary Inspectors of America.

This winter’s losses of 31.1 per cent represent a steep increase from the 22 per cent losses of 2011-2012, when a mild winter gave bees and beekeepers a respite. The new survey, conducted from October 2012 through April 2013, shows the respite is over, with losses running slightly higher than the 30.5 per cent average over the past six years.

University of Maryland entomologist Dennis vanEngelsdorp, who directs the Bee Informed Partnership, led a team of 11 researchers in the survey.

The 2012-2013 loss rate is more than double the 15 per cent loss that beekeepers say is “acceptable” for their businesses to remain viable. Seventy per cent of beekeepers surveyed sustained losses higher than 15 per cent.

The high losses are changing commercial bee keeping, vanEngelsdorp says. Beekeepers used to have two ways to turn a profit, he explains. They could sell honey from their hives, or rent out their colonies to growers whose crops are pollinated by bees. But with losses so high, “all the money you’re going to make in honey goes to replacing dead colonies and keeping your colonies alive,” said vanEngelsdorp. “Any money you make will be from pollination.”

Many fruit and nut crops depend on managed hives of honeybees trucked in from all over the country. Beekeepers who take their hives to California in February, when almond trees bloom, tend to have the most, and the most intensively managed bee colonies, van Engelsdorp said. Among that subset of beekeepers, losses were especially high. Nearly one in five beekeepers that pollinated almond trees this spring did so in spite of losing 50 per cent or more of their colonies over the winter.

There appear to be multiple causes for increased bee colony losses in recent years, said vanEngelsdorp, an expert on honeybee health. A report issued last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency also suggested honey bees are affected by a complex mix of problems.

VanEngelsdorp thinks one reason for the high losses in 2012-2013 may be last fall’s Midwestern drought. Bees probably gathered most of their nectar from flowering crops, which were irrigated, instead of from wildflowers. The crops’ nectar may have had unusually high concentrations of pesticides because of the drought, or there may not have been enough nectar and pollen to go around, leading to malnourishment, he said.

Honeybees also lost habitat as high corn prices caused farmers to replace prairie and shrubs with cornfields, vanEngelsdorp said. And for part of the year, beekeepers lacked an effective treatment for Varroa mites, which can kill bees, because the mites had become resistant to old miticides and a replacement product was not yet available.

The survey did not show evidence of colony collapse disorder (CCD), the still-unexplained phenomenon that causes the sudden death of all the bees in a colony. Although CCD appears to be on the wane, the overall rate of honeybee colony loss is still about the same as it was when CCD was at its peak in 2006-2007.

In 2012-2013 most colonies “dwindled away rather than suffering from the sudden onset of CCD,” said Jeff Pettis, a U.S. Department of Agriculture bee expert who worked on the survey. The survey stopped tracking the colonies at the end of April, so “the 31 per cent figure likely under-represents the losses, as we saw many weak colonies that were not actually dead.”

The 6,287 U.S. beekeepers who responded to the survey managed nearly 600,000 bee colonies at the start of the survey period, or about 23 per cent of the country's estimated 2.6 million colonies.

The abstract for the survey can be found at here.

 A complete analysis of the survey data will be published later this year.
Published in Research
April 15, 2013 – Despite objections from growers, a U.S. advisory board decided to ban the use of an antibiotic by organic apple and pear farmers to combat fire blight.

The National Organic Standards Board, at meetings in Portland, opted not to allow the use of a type of tetracycline in organic apple and pear orchards starting Oct. 21, 2014. READ MORE

Published in Fruit
April 8, 2013, East Lansing, MI – After a plant’s macronutrient (N, P, K, Ca and Mg) needs are met, there are several micronutrients that come into play that can limit maximum yields. One of the more critical micronutrients to some plant systems is boron (B).

Boron is important in protein synthesis; seed and cell wall formation; pollen grain germination and pollen tube growth and, therefore, fruit set and yield; regulation of carbohydrate metabolism; and sugar translocation. Boron is quite soluble and readily leached in some soil types, especially sandy soils typically used for vegetable production.

Vegetables vary considerably in their B requirements with those requiring high levels having quite dramatic deficiency symptoms. The growing point in deficient plants will break down, resulting in a stunted or rosette appearance; leaves may have a yellowish or reddish cast and members of the cabbage family will often have a hollow stem.

Boron requirements range from 0.5 to three pounds of available B per acre with two pounds per acre a good average. Since B is readily leached from sandy soils and it is not included in a standard soil test, growers with sandy sites should consider adding a B evaluation to their soil test. Boron should not be applied without a test since over-application can lead to toxicity, and there is not much difference between levels that help and levels that hurt. Boron applications should be made to bring mature leaf tissue to between 20 and 100 ppm. Tissue levels over 200 ppm are excessive and can be toxic.

Boron deficiencies can be corrected with foliar or ground applications. By the time foliar symptoms are observed and the cause determined, significant economic damage may have already occurred. So, the small expense of a B test on questionable sites prior to planting is well worth the cost. Once an application level has been established, future tests may be unnecessary. Growers can yearly apply the needed amount as a pre-plant broadcast application. Such small amounts of B are generally needed that granular B products should be well blended with a pre-plant broadcast of N–P–K.

Published in Vegetables
March 26, 2013 – The American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and CropLife America (CLA) announced the release of The Guide to Seed Treatment Stewardship, an industry-wide initiative to promote the safe handling and management of treated seed.

Endorsed by the National Corn Growers Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Soybean Association, the guide provides farmers and seed companies with critical information and up-to-date guidelines for managing treated seed effectively to further minimize the risk of exposure to non-target organisms.

“The guide serves as an all-in-one resource that addresses every stage of a seed’s journey from treatment to planting,” said ASTA president and CEO Andrew W. LaVigne. “It’s designed to be convenient, easy-to-understand and useful to the entire seed and crop production value chain.”

“The guide will be an invaluable resource for our members,” said Pam Johnson, president of the National Corn Growers Association. “We’re encouraging all corn growers to refer to it before, during and after the corn planting season.”

ASTA and CLA began aggregating seed treatment research and safety information from universities, seed companies, international seed associations and others in early 2012 in response to growing concern about the effect of seed treatment dust on pollinators.

“The health of pollinators, especially honey bees, is crucial to agricultural production in the U.S. and worldwide,” noted Jay Vroom, president and CEO of CropLife America.

“The crop protection industry, seed growers and breeders, seed treatment companies, equipment manufactures and farmers all play a role in supporting thriving bee populations through stewardship and sound science.”

The guide contains recommendations for such processes as:
  • Planting of Treated Seed
  • Safe Use of Seed Treatment Product
  • Safe Handling and Transport of Seed
  • Selection of Treatment Product
  • Treated Seed Labeling
  • Storage of Treated Seed
The guide, which also includes a seed treatment glossary and an exhaustive list of resources, has been shared with EPA and USDA, both of whom have applauded the industry’s initiative in this effort.

Released in advance of the corn planting dates, The Seed Treatment Stewardship Guide is available online and in PDF format at www.seed-treatment-guide.com.
Published in Provinces

February 22, 2013, St. Paul, MN – According to the USDA, California is by far the leading producer of processing tomatoes in the United States, accounting for 96 per cent of U.S. output.

The latest Focus on Tomato presentation features considerations and best practices for California’s processing tomato industry.

In Processing Tomato Production: California Practices, Gene Miyao, a farm advisor with University of California Extension, informs practitioners of the general production practices of California processing tomato growers, particularly in the Sacramento Valley.

This presentation is open access through May 31, 2013. Users can view other recent webcasts in the Focus on Tomato resource at www.plantmanagementnetwork.org/fot.

Focus on Tomato is a publication of the Plant Management Network (PMN), a nonprofit online publisher whose mission is to enhance the health, management, and production of agricultural and horticultural crops. It achieves this mission through applied, science-based resources. PMN is jointly managed by the American Society of Agronomy, American Phytopathological Society, and Crop Science Society of America.

Published in Vegetables

February 15, 2013, Davis, CA – From the small, spicy Thai chiles to the portly, mild bell pepper, researchers at the University of California, Davis, have developed a “family tree” of sorts for peppers and characterized the diversity of genes found in a collection of common cultivated pepper varieties.

Findings from the study, which sampled 30,000 genes of the Capsicum annum species, reveal intriguing details about the relationships between these different types of peppers and the incredible genetic diversity among the spicy peppers. This genetic information will be critically important to plant breeders for developing hardier, higher yielding plants for production around the world.

For example, many sources of drought- and disease-resistance are found in the tiny, wild, spicy peppers that are difficult to cultivate and not appealing to consumers. But transferring these traits through cross-pollination into more commonly cultivated peppers can take years. This process can be done more quickly and affordably with the ability to use DNA markers to follow genes important to producing different types of cultivated peppers.

The study, published this week in the online scientific journal PLOS ONE, is now available at http://bit.ly/UjDgud.

“The exciting part of the study is in the biology,” said plant scientist Allen Van Deynze, lead researcher on the study. “We have already identified marked differences in regions of the chromosomes that control fruit shape and production of capsaicin, the compound that makes peppers hot.”

There are 38 reported species of Capsicum peppers, including Capsicum annum – the most commonly cultivated pepper species in the world. These species include a variety of peppers that are grown worldwide and valued as fresh vegetables, spices, medicinals and ornamental plants. Earlier studies indicate that the wild ancestors of all peppers grew in tropical South America, in a region centered in what is now Bolivia.

Until now, there has been relatively little molecular data characterizing the genetic diversity of Capsicum peppers. In this study, the researchers selected genetic probes – strands of DNA – from more than 30,000 genes in 40 diverse Capsicum annum lines and placed them on a small glass slide. This microarray, or gene chip, was then used in a comprehensive DNA analysis to identify DNA differences – genetic markers that can be used to determine similarities and differences among the 40 Capsicum annum lines.

This work, along with ongoing efforts to place these genes on chromosomes within the pepper genome, will provide tools to facilitate breeding for pepper quality and cultivation.

Significant results of the study:

  • All of the cultivated pepper varieties tested share a similar amount of genetic change relative to their common, although unknown, ancestor.
  • Within the group of plants that produce sweet, nonspicy peppers, there was three times less diversity than within the group of pepper lines bearing pungent, or spicy, peppers.
  • Of the well-defined groups of spicy pepper types, the Anaheim and ancho group are most closely related to the sweet bell pepper types.
  • In general, lines with similar looking peppers were closely related. However, the two semi-wild pepper lines known to be resistant to the funguslike pathogen Phytophthora capsici have very similar peppers but are genetically distinct.
Published in Vegetables

February 15, 2013, East Lansing, MI – Using a strip tillage system in combination with cover crops benefits vegetable farmers as well as the land, according to long-term research by Dan Brainard, a Michigan State University (MSU) horticulture researcher.

Brainard’s research shows that strip tillage in combination with cover crops has big benefits over traditional tillage, including improved soil quality, and reduced wind and water erosion. It also conserves soil moisture, protects beneficial insects and reduces costs for the grower.

With funding from Project GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental Needs), Brainard was able to look at the costs and benefits of adopting a strip tillage and cover cropping system. Specifically, his team of scientists examined the effects of this type of system on land planted with sweet corn and cabbage crops.

“We’re experimenting with various cover crops to see which ones have the highest benefits for sweet corn and cabbage,” he says. “So far, winter rye and hairy vetch seem to be working best.”

Brainard says that weed management is the biggest challenge in strip till and cover cropping systems but that researchers are seeing improvements.

“The benefits most definitely outweigh the costs,” he said. “It’s all about reducing costs to the farmer, and in the long run, this system really does the job.”

Using this type of system over time, Brainard’s team has seen a significant improvement in soil quality, which, in turn, improves yields and crop quality. Cover cropping and strip tilling also reduce irrigation and fertilization costs by buffering erosion and helping to keep soil-applied fertilizers and pesticides in place. Less tillage also means fewer tractor trips across the fields and reduced fuel costs.

In the three years of funding left for this research, Brainard is hopeful about continuing to experiment with various combinations.

“We’re going to continue to monitor for weeds and see if we can’t make our results even more impressive,” Brainard said. “We’re only looking to help growers save money by encouraging soil conservation, and that has proven benefits that can’t be ignored.”

For more information about strip tillage, cover cropping or MSU Extension research, visit www.msue.msu.edu; to learn about Project GREEEN, visit www.greeen.msu.edu.


Published in Vegetables

February 12, 2013, Ithaca, NY – After a novel naming challenge drew more than 1,000 suggestions from around the world, a Cornell University breeder has revealed the secret identities of two new wine grapes: Arandell and Aromella.

Bruce Reisch, professor of horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, introduced the grapes at Viticulture 2013 in Rochester, N.Y., Feb. 7.

Arandell – a mash-up of “arandano,” the Spanish word for blueberry, and the “ell” from Cornell – is the first grape released from The New York State Agricultural Experiment Station’s no-spray vineyard.

Reisch hopes its hint of blueberry will attract wine lovers, while its superior resistance to downy and powdery mildews will appeal to growers interested in more sustainable practices. The name was suggested by Michael Fleischhauer, a retired computer analyst and wine enthusiast from Juneau, Alaska.

Aromella, an aromatic, muscat white wine grape, was named by Michael Borboa, a Californian winemaker and songwriter who used a lyric exercise he uses for writing songs. Aromella ranks high for winter hardiness and productivity. Reisch says its release is timely given the growing popularity of muscat wines.

The project emerged almost accidentally when Anna Katharine Mansfield, assistant professor of enology, suggested emailing colleagues to introduce two varieties ripe for naming. As news of their appeal spread through the proverbial grapevine, it attracted coverage from outlets including NPR’s Morning Edition and Bon Appétit online.

 “At one point, messages were popping up in my inbox every five to 15 seconds,” Reisch said. “People proposed names but many also shared stories.”

Family tributes were a popular theme. One person suggested a grape be named for his wine-loving mother-in-law; another thought they should be named after his lively twin sons.

“One thoughtful person asked if I had a grape named for me, suggesting Breischling,” Reisch said.

But grape naming is serious business. With 7,000 plus existing varieties on the market, new grapes face an uphill battle.

“You want something unique but it has to be marketable, reasonably easy to pronounce and conjure positive connotations,” Reisch said. Names that sound foreign or similar to existing varieties are often popular, he added.

“The trickiest part is ensuring the name isn’t trademarked or already used in the industry,” said Mansfield.

Once the list was pruned to 120, Reisch researched each name then gathered opinions on 19 finalists from growers and winemakers.

They admit it was hard crossing off personal favorites. Many submissions had Cornell associations, like Big Red (Cornell’s mascot), A.D. White (Cornell’s first president) and Llenroc (Cornell spelled backwards). Others, like Genevieve, were inspired by the grapes’ birthplace in Geneva, N.Y.

Reisch hopes winemakers will now experiment with the grapes just as people did with their naming. Double A Vineyards in Fredonia, N.Y., and Grafted Grapevine Nursery in Clifton Springs, N.Y., have vines of Arandell and Aromella available for sale.

Published in Research

February 4, 2013 – Peach growers are always looking for ways to improve their profitability and the 2013 Michigan Spring Peach Update is a good way to learn about this crop.

The meeting will be held March 5 at the Michigan State University Extension Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center with registration starting at 8 a.m. and the program starting at 9 a.m.

The meeting will focus on fresh market peaches, including new peach varieties, insect management strategies, disease control, marketing strategies, rootstocks, farm marketing and mechanical peach thinning. Special guests include peach specialist Dr. Greg Reighard of Clemson University, award-winning peach grower Robert Fralinger of Bridgeton, N.J., National Peach Council director Kay Rentzel, MSU entomologist Dr. John Wise, and MSU plant pathologist Dr. George Sundin.

Deadline for early registration is Feb. 25. Registration is $30 per person or $25 for current Michigan Peach Sponsor members, with catered lunch included. Registrations mailed after Feb. 25 or at the door is $5 more per person. To pay in advance by check or money order, please download the registration form and mail with payment by Feb. 25. After this time, you may register at the door with check, money order or cash. Credit cards will not be accepted.

An important part of the meeting will be talks by Reighard and Chalmers Carr, a South Carolina peach grower and owner of Titan Farms. The presentations will focus on peach orchard mechanization and orchard design. Two relatively new blossom thinners – the tractor-mounted Darwin thinner and the Cinch handheld thinner – are changing how peach growers manage their plantings. The Darwin thinner has plastic strings along the length of a long revolving pole that remove blossoms, thereby reducing crop and increasing fruit size. This devise requires a flat, narrow peach canopy in order to do effective blossom -thinning. The Cinch, developed by Michigan native Phil Miller, uses the same concept, but with a shorter pole with a cluster of plastic tubes, the unit mounted on a hand-held, battery-powered drill.

The Cinch, although slower and more labour intensive than the Darwin, is handy for blossom thinning more traditionally shaped open-center and central leader trees because the operator can reach inside the center of the tree, which the Darwin misses. At the Spring Peach Conference, Carr will describe the experiences and refinements made by his crew with the 18 Cinch thinners they used in 2012.

Also at the meeting, Reighard will talk about blossom thinning strategies and how to train peach orchards to take advantage of the Darwin string thinner. Current orchard systems in favour for use with the Darwin are the perpendicular Y and the quad tree, both systems with scaffolds tilted into the drive row. The tricky aspect of the Y and the quad trees is training the trees to produce scaffolds at the proper height and orientation. Poor quality, slow growing trees are a big problem for producing Y and quad trees. Typically, the newly planted tree is headed at 1.5 to 2.3 feet from the ground to get side branches. A poor tree will be reluctant to push enough limbs to get good ones in the right position.

For additional meeting information or assistance, contact the conference coordinator, Bill Shane, at 269-944-1477 ext. 205, or 269-208-1652 (cell).

The Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center is located at 1791 Hillandale Road, Benton Harbor, MI, about 2.5 miles east of I-94 exit 30 (Napier Avenue), and approximately four miles southeast of Benton Harbor/St. Joseph, MI. Numerous accommodations are available close by at I-94 exits 23, 27, 28 and 29.

Published in Food Safety

February 4, 2013 – Farmers can fine-tune their use of cover crops to help manage costs and maximize benefits in commercial organic production systems, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists.

Production expenses for high-value organic crops like lettuce and broccoli can exceed $7,000 per acre, so producers often try to streamline costs with an annual two- to three-crop rotation. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) horticulturalist Eric Brennan designed a long-term investigation that examined several different cover cropping strategies for an annual organic lettuce-broccoli production system.

The researcher selected three winter cover crops often grown in the Salinas, CA, area — rye, mustard, and a legume-rye mix — and planted each cover crop using either a typical seeding rate or a seeding rate that was three times higher. Seeding rates can influence a cover crop's ability to smother weeds.

During lettuce and broccoli production, Brennan ensured all systems received the same fertilizer and irrigation inputs and pest management.

Brennan’s results indicated that all three cover crops yielded more dry matter than the two tons of crop residue per acre often recommended for maintaining soil organic matter. The legume-rye and rye cover crops produced approximately 25 perc ent more dry matter biomass than the mustard crops. But effectively suppressing weeds with the legume-rye crops required seeding at three times the typical rate, while rye and mustard crops appeared to suppress weeds adequately with typical seeding rates.

The long-term study also provided Brennan with more data about year-to-year yield variations in the legume-rye mix, including why legumes, which make up most of the seed costs, are not consistently abundant. Brennan thinks cooler early-season weather helps legumes compete with the rye. So when a hot and dry autumn is expected, producers might want to use a rye cover crop and skip spending the money on a cover crop with legumes.

Brennan, who works at the ARS Crop Improvement and Protection Research Unit Crop Improvement and Protection Research Unit in Salinas, has published some his findings in Agronomy Journal and Applied Soil Ecology.

Published in Food Safety

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