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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Breakthrough in Crop Defence Mechanism

Barley is an important cereal crop. CIMMYT.

New research at Washington State University shows that barley plants are able to recognise stem rust spores (Puccinia graminis) and begin to activate their plant defences within just 5 minutes of the spore touching the leaf surface. This goes against the previously held view that pathogens had to penetrate a plant in order to trigger the internal plant defence mechanisms. This new knowledge could revolutionise the way that farmers deal with pathogens of cereal crops such as stem rust.

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Information Diffusion Key to Pest Management

A recent study has found that integrated pest management programs can experience significant lags in their implementation due to slow ‘information diffusion’ within farmer communities. Cooperation between farmers in developing countries was found to be key to ensure the successful coordinated implementation of such programs.

IPM tries to avoid dangerous pesticides. USAID Afghanistan

Integrated pest management (IPM) programs are biological approaches to dealing with invasive pests without using expensive and environmentally damaging pesticides. These can range from using pest traps, erecting insect barriers or introducing natural predators that prey only upon the pests and can fit into the ecosystem without any undesirable effects.

The study, published last week in PLoS Computational Biology, has found that these IPM programs are adversely affected by slow information diffusion within farming communities. In this case ‘information diffusion’ refers to the movement of knowledge from the scientists in charge of the project, to the individual farmers implementing this knowledge on their farms. The success of IPM programs depends on the fast information diffusion to farmers to allow a coordinated response to invasive pests. A coordinated response can eradicate an invasive pest, however a patchy response will leave small areas where the pest will still exist.

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Coffee Berry Borer thriving due to Climate Change

A newly published paper has found that temperature increases are benefiting coffee berry borers in East Africa. The insects are causing more damage to coffee crops and it has also been reported that their distribution range has also expanded. The researchers behind the study also predict that the damage caused by the borers will worsen in the future.

Adult Coffee Berry Borer. Georg Goergen/IITA Insect Museum, Cotonou, Benin

The coffee industry is worth $90 billion dollars and involves around 25million coffee farmers across the tropics. It is an important crop for many farmers in developing countries and all efforts need to be taken to reduce pest damage.

The coffee berry borer, Hypothenemus hampei, is the most important pest of coffee worldwide. The Plantwise distribution map shows over 150 areas in which it has been reported. Continue reading

Sunscreen for temperate crops

British researchers have discovered how corals are able to resist harmful UV light through their relationship with algae. They have found more than 20 sun-protection compounds within corals that could be used to benefit farmers in developing countries.  The new compounds could bolster the current sun protection processes found in temperate crops to allow them to thrive in tropical conditions.

Coral by flightsaber (flickr)

The team from King’s College London, supported by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, made the discovery by analysing coral samples from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

They found that the mutually dependent relationship between coral and algae is the key to the coral’s ability to survive the sun’s exposure. The team suggested that the algae produce a compound that is transported to the coral which then modifies it for use as a sunscreen. This protects the coral and allows the algae to also benefit as it allows their mutually beneficial relationship to continue.

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