Update: Plant Health News (23 Apr 14)

The proportion of coffee producing areas used to cultivate shade-grown coffee has reduced by almost 20% in as many years (Fernando Rebelo, GFDL)

The proportion of coffee producing areas used to cultivate shade-grown coffee is decreasing (Fernando Rebelo, GFDL)

Here’s a taste of some of the latest stories about plant health, including the postharvest pathology of beans, a reduction in the proportion of shade grown coffee and the filamentous fungus that may be effective at controlling sugarcane nematodes.

Click on the link to read more of the latest plant health news!
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Factsheet of the month: April – Wheat stem rust

wheat stem rustLast week, the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security took place in Mexico, bringing together thought leaders, policymakers, and leading agricultural research-for-development organizations to discuss the role of wheat in the future of food security. Wheat is an extremely important crop that provides around 20% of the world’s calories but this staple crop is threatened in some areas by a fungal disease called stem rust.

To find out about the symptoms and management of wheat stem rust, please click the Wheat stem rust factsheet which was produced in Rwanda (also available in Kinyarwandan).

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Crowdsourcing: citizen farmers help in the fight against climate change

Wheat is susceptible to the effects of climate change © CIMMYT (CC BY-NC-SA licence)

Wheat is susceptible to the effects of climate change © CIMMYT (CC BY-NC-SA licence)

Farmers in India are helping in to fight the effects of climate change by lending their data collection skills for research into wheat. Biodiversity International is working with partners such as the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and the IFFCO Foundation as part of an initiative called Seeds4Needs. This initiative aims to identify the crop varieties that are likely to perform best under future climatic conditions, via a number of different projects. One such project is currently being run in Vaishali, in India’s Bihar state. Seeds4Needs are using a method called ‘crowdsourcing’ to collect vital data on crop varieties, while farmers benefit by gaining access to more crop varieties. These farmers have been dubbed “citizen scientists” to reflect the time, effort and expertise they contribute to the project. As part of the work, each farmer is provided with seeds from 3 of the 10 wheat varieties being tested. The farmer grows all 3 varieties, then ranks them on characteristics such as yield and quality of grain.
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How The Gates Foundation and Carlos Slim are Supporting Innovation and Crop Improvement For Farmers

Carlos Slim, Bill Gates and Mexican Dignitaries visit CIMMYT to inaugurate the new Bioscience facilities © Eruviel Avila (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Carlos Slim, Bill Gates and Mexican Dignitaries visit CIMMYT to inaugurate the new Bioscience facilities © Eruviel Avila (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Fundación Carlos Slim have announced a partnership in support of efforts by the Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center CIMMYT) in Mexico to develop and disseminate higher-yielding, more resilient wheat and maize varieties. Read more of this post

Helping to Secure Crop Yields Globally with Land Drainage

by Tim Sissons of William Morfoot land drainage, experts based in the East of England.

Water drainage on farmland

© William Morfoot

Along with a combination of other factors, agriculture, and therefore food production depend on the proper management of water to enable crops to develop properly and yields to be healthy.

Globally, ecosystems and environments vary greatly and even the most experienced crop producers can see a drop in yields when dealt a particularly nasty deal by Mother Nature.

To provide them with sustainable agricultural development and to help secure their harvest, farmers often rely on land drainage systems to help them cope with a deluge of rain or even a lack of it.

Although it may seem like an odd statement, a sustainable land drainage system is as important in areas of low rainfall as it is in those where rainfall is high. In the first instance a correctly installed land drainage system can help to minimise soil salinisation and in the second it is necessary to prevent the water logging of soils which can lead to a whole host of difficulties.

In 2002, the FAO estimated that salinity had damaged about 20 to 30 million hectares of irrigated land, resulting in loss of crops for a number of those working in the agricultural industry globally – upsetting food security. A build-up of saline happens more regularly on irrigated land due to the addition of salts in irrigation water where natural drainage is insufficient.

Land drainage is also pivotal for securing the quality of soils, as waterlogging prevents crops accessing the vital nutrients needed to grow to their full potential.

So how is land drainage relevant across the world? And how do different ecosystems use land drainage systems to their advantage? Read more of this post

Slicing Into The Bread Wheat Genome

Bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) is a globally important crop that accounts for 20% of the calories consumed by the world’s human population. Major work is underway to increase wheat production by expanding knowledge of the wheat genome and analysing key traits, however due to the large size and great complexity of the bread wheat genome progress has been slow. Now scientists from a number of organisations including the Centre for Genome Research at the University of Liverpool, the University of Bristol, University of California and the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research service have been working to sequence the genome and identify several classes of genes involved in crop productivity. The analysis provides a resource for improving this major crop by identifying variation in useful traits such as yield and nutrient content, thereby contributing to sustainable increases in wheat production.

Wheat (Triticum aestivum), one of the world's most important food crops © David Monniaux via Wikimedia Commons (License CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Wheat (Triticum aestivum), one of the world’s most important food crops © David Monniaux via Wikimedia Commons (License CC-BY-SA 3.0)

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Earthworm-farmer friendship, redefined

Earthworms suppress fungal diseases in the soil © pfly (Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0 license)

Earthworms are known as farmers’ best friends because of the multitude of services they provide that improve soil health and consequently plant health. The density of earthworms in the soil is considered to be a good indicator of a healthy soil because they improve many soil attributes like structure, water holding capacity, moisture content etc., and also increase nutrient availability and degrade pesticide residues. As scientists understand these ‘ecosystem services’ provided by earthworms, they discover that this earthworm-farmer friendship is a lot deeper than previously imagined! 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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Which is the most important plant-pathogenic fungus?

Stem rust on wheat - one of the Top 10 plant-pathogenic fungi © Yue Jin (USDA ARS)

A survey by the journal, Molecular Plant Pathology, had 495 responses from international fungal pathologists on what they thought the most scientifically and economically important fungal plant pathogens were. Several of the ‘top 10′ fungi from these results are those that infect cereal crops, which isn’t surprising as cereals such as wheat and rice are some of the most highly produced crops worldwide. 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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