Arctic fungus spreads to UK

Scientists have recently identified the first specimens of the fungus Sclerotinia subarctica in the UK. The fungus has not previously been found this far south and may pose a risk to UK agriculture. The findings were made by scientists at the Warwick Crop Centre at the University of Warwick. Read more of this post

Aphids Run Scared from GM Wheat

Wheat fields have just become a lot scarier (Source: RaeAllen, Flickr)

Genetically Modified wheat, gifted with the ability to fight off plant pest attacks, is being grown in England. In a situation similar to the film The Happening, wheat crops are now able to defend themselves against aphids. In the barely-believable movie, plants gained the ability to release chemicals that affected people’s behaviour in order to defend themselves from the polluting ways of humanity. Whilst we are not quite at that stage yet, the ability to produce plants that can defend themselves is an important step in reducing the use of chemical insecticides. Some plants naturally evolve defences against herbivores, but in this case, the wheat crop’s chemical defences have been specifically chosen by scientists.

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Mining technology can help find nutritional crop varieties

Millet grains can be analysed for nutritional content using X-ray fluorescence © ICRISAT HOPE/Peter Casier (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)

Farmers face difficult challenges in deciding which crop variety to continue growing. They need to choose crop varieties that have a high likelihood of survival and that will have a high yield. The communities that these farmers provide crops for also have needs. Their need is focused on the access to nutritious crops that contain high concentrations of minerals such as zinc and iron. It is easy for farmers to see which crop varieties with the largest vegetative organs and those that survive longest, but how do farmers discover which crops are the most nutritious? They can’t simply look at each plant to find their nutritional content. Now agricultural scientists believe that they may have solved this problem by using X-Ray Fluorescence technology to analyse crop seeds. Read more of this post

Getting Older Quicker: Wheat’s New Ageing Problem

Wheat: Getting old before its time. Source: Markusram, Flickr

Many of us dislike getting older, but you can usually predict how it will go: next year you expect to be 1 year older and you expect your body to be 1 year older. But what if instead of continually growing over a year, your body instead decided to grow for 6 months and then stop altogether until next year? Well, I’m sure that we’d all be rejoicing in the streets.

However, farmers are soon to be facing this very possibility and are starting to worry about it. But, it’s not their own bodies that they’re worried about, instead it’s that of their wheat yields. They’re predicted to stop growing earlier, because they’re actually ageing too quickly…

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Agricultural Super Ducks

Agricultural super ducks? You may think that the entire phrase is flawed. Ducks waddle around in parks, not on farms. You probably have never thought of them as being particularly ‘super’ as they paddle around the park pond, searching for scraps of bread. However, you’d be mistaken, as I was, for the humble duck is now emerging as a new tool in the farmer’s arsenal for improving food security. Brace yourself for the rise of the agricultural super duck.

Recently, we have witnessed a rise in the use of ducks in Asian agricultural systems. They have their own book dedicated to their amazing agricultural abilities in Japan and are already employed in some of Bangladesh’s rice paddies. These agricultural superstars provide an effective pest management solution and have even been found to reduce both production costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

A Farmer's New Best Friend? Source: Flickr, Nick Fedele

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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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New Technology Sniffing out Pests

A recent meeting of crop experts has revealed some new ideas for detecting the presence of crop pests before they strike. These ideas include sampling the air for pathogen traces, measuring volatile organic compounds and detecting decreases in leaf tissue content.

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Colorado Beetle Threatening Potato Crops in Finland

Colorado Potato Beetle. Flickr/Andriux-uk

Finland is experiencing a longer and warmer summer than normal which is threatening their potato crops. The warmer temperatures have led to increases in the prevalence of the Colorado potato beetle which has been attempting to establish in Finland for the past decade. The Colorado potato beetle itself is a highly effective reproducer and necessitates a wide range of control methods to prevent its spread.

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Boosting Yields with Banana Compost

Banana plants are grown on over 52,000 acres of Egypt. Flickr/Scot Nelson

In Egypt a new ‘banana compost’ has been trialled with positive results. The compost increases crop yields whilst reducing water and fertiliser use. This new cultural method of crop management could soon be commercially produced to help Egyptian farmers

Banana plants only fruit once in their lifetime and are normally burned by farmers afterwards to make space for new banana plants. This is done on a large scale with over 52,000 acres of Egypt used to farm banana plants.

Recently scientists from Egypt’s National Research Centre have, instead of burning the banana plants, mixed them with manure and microorganisms such as yeast. This residue, called banana compost, was then applied to banana plants over 4 successive growing seasons.

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Anti-Terror Measures Allow Pest Explosion

Since 9/11 the number of invasive pests and plant diseases managing to slip into the USA has risen dramatically. Border checkpoints normally act as a first line of defence against these pests and diseases, however the increased emphasis on anti-terrorism measures has led to agricultural issues being ignored. This costs the USA a staggering $120 billion (approximately £75 billion) per year and is threatening some of the country’s most productive agricultural regions.

Homeland Security checking food imports (Eric Risberg/AP)

The increase in the number of invasive pests and plant diseases was triggered by an increased focus on anti-terrorism measures at the expense of agricultural protection. The biggest problem was the reassignment of hundreds of agricultural scientists to the newly-formed Homeland Security department after 9/11. This meant that instead of stopping invasive species at the border they were now involved in anti-terrorism duties. Many of the scientists resigned or retired and those that remained were replaced in the chain of command by officials with little knowledge of agricultural science.

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