Speedy crop breeding to help Japanese rice growers

New salt-tolerant varieties of rice will help Japanese farmers in tsunami-affected areas © Molly Des Jardins, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

The devastating tsunami that hit northeastern parts of Japan last March left thousands of acres of farmland damaged by saltwater. Much of this agricultural land was paddy fields, which were left with up to 25 cm of sand and mud deposited and highly saline conditions resulting from evaporation of the seawater.

Scientists from the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK, in collaboration with Iwate Biotechnology Research Centre in Japan, are screening rice varieties to find those that can grow in salty conditions. They are doing this using their new MutMap method, which provides a much quicker way of finding new crop varieties than traditional breeding methods. Read more of this post

Plantwise 2011 Highlights

As we get stuck into the New Year and look forward to all that 2012 has to offer, it seems an ideal time to take stock of all that Plantwise achieved in 2011. So, here are some of our highlights!

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Update: New Pest & Disease Records (25 Jan 12)

Coffee berry borer on a green coffee bean © Peggy Greb, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

We’ve selected a few of the latest new geographic, host and species records for plant pests and diseases from CAB Abstracts. Records this fortnight include the most devastating coffee pest, the coffee berry borer, being found in Hawaii; a new fungal disease of citrus plants in the Philippines; and insects causing damage to amaranth crops in Mexico.

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India’s Food Security Challenges

Agriculture is very important to India, employing 55% of its population and providing 16.5% of its annual GDP. The industry as a whole is worth US$ 17.5 million alone in exports. However, it’s not all plain sailing, with low productivity and regional groundwater depletion currently threatening Indian agriculture. Climate change and the demands of an ever-increasing population are also emerging as challenges that the country will soon have to adapt to.

Indian farmers threshing rice. By CIAT Flickr

Rice is one of the most grown crops within Indian agriculture. However, it has low productivity levels, with scientific literature suggesting that it’s as low as 2.9 tons of rice produced for every hectare of land used (ton/ha). China, on the other hand, has a higher productivity of 6.2 ton/ha. This higher productivity means that China is able to produce more rice per year than India, using less land (between 2000-2004).

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Quorum-sensing disruption, a new tool for disease management?

A new study by Chernin et al. has found that volatile organic compounds produced by certain Plant Growth Promoting Rhizobacteria (PGPR) can disrupt bacterial cell-cell communication (quorum sensing) in a number of plant pathogens including Agrobacterium, Chromobacterium, Pectobacterium and Pseudomonas. Application of PGPRs could in future be used as a new disease management strategy.

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Why we should all be batty about agriculture

Image from Flickr, by Michael Pennay

Bats are perhaps one of the best kept secrets of agricultural success. As nocturnal fliers they are often ‘out of sight, out of mind’, but insectivorous bats (Chiroptera) provide us with a natural, eco-friendly, and free pest control solution, saving North America alone an estimated $3.7 billion every year. Good news then? Not so much for bats. Habitat loss and fragmentation, land-use change and disease (to name just a few) are all putting bat populations under pressure, and many are reaching breaking point.

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Update: Plant Health News (18 Jan 12)

© Fresh Fruit Portal

Here’s a taste of some of the latest news stories about plant health, including apple troubles in Brazil, strawberries suffering from resistant moulds, and pests hitching a ride in Australia.

Click on the link to read more of the latest plant health news.

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Stopping Striga before it’s started

The flowers might look pretty but Striga has affected millions of hectares of crops in Africa © IITA Image Library (Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0 license)

Striga, or witchweed, is the main weed affecting many cereals including rice, maize, sorghum and millet. One species, Striga hermonthica, is responsible for more crop loss in Africa than any other individual species of weed. Striga is a hemi-parasitic weed; its roots latch onto the roots of its host (e.g. a crop plant such as rice) and take water and nutrients from the host plant. Muhammad Jamil and his colleagues at Wageningen University in the Netherlands have found a way to reduce germination of Striga seeds, thereby preventing crop plants from being affected in the first place.

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The future might be bright, but it’s not looking so orange

Oranges – from Flickr by Rosino

I start this week’s blog with a challenge for you:

You are a smallholder farmer living in a remote village in Brazil. You have decided to grow oranges, a crop that has done well in neighbouring farms and provided a good income. It’s November and your crop is growing well, but you begin to notice symptoms of a disease on some of your oranges. You correctly identify this as black spot, and decide to look into how you’re going to treat it. You need to know:

  1. What fungicides can you use to treat ‘black spot’ in oranges?
  2. What fungicides can be legally used on citrus fruits in Brazil and in the countries that will be importing your produce, such as the US?
  3. At what levels or concentrations is the use of these fungicides acceptable in Brazil and importing countries?

You only have ten minutes before your access to the internet gets cut off, and as it is November you can only use information published before December 2011. You need to decide what fungicide to use and how much to apply.

Got your final answer?

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The problems of achieving food security for 1.6 billion people in China

Agriculture in China has grown at a remarkable rate over the past 50 years © Gabriele Quaglia (Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)

It is predicted that the population of China will stabilise at 1.6 billion within the next two decades. In order to feed this many people, crop production will need to increase by 2% each year to provide the estimated 580 million tonnes of grain that will be required. Mingsheng Fan and colleagues have published a review of past trends in agricultural production in China and the solutions that they think will allow China to produce more food in the future without an increase in available agricultural land. The main crops produced in large quantities in China are cereal crops, particularly wheat, maize and rice. The main limiting factors for the continued increase in agricultural production are water availability and soil quality. There is also the requirement to reduce use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers because they pollute the air and water.

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