The future of small farms in a rapidly changing world

The future of small farms in a rapidly changing world
Syngenta Foundation Executive Director Marco Ferroni (left) and CABI CEO Trevor Nicholls (right) opening the conference. Photo: Syngenta

On 24-25 January 2017, CABI and the Syngenta foundation for sustainable agriculture hosted a conference at the Syngenta conference centre in Basel, Switzerland. The conference, entitled “The Future of Small Farms”, covered a broad range of topics aimed at assessing the state of agricultural policy in developing economies and emerging markets, and its influence on smallholder farmers around the world.

Continue reading

Herbicide Resistance Gene In Black-Grass and Rye-Grass Identified

Black-grass (Alopecurus myosuroides), a serious weed of arable fields that is widley resistant to herbicides © Bas Kers, via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Black-grass (Alopecurus myosuroides), a serious weed of arable fields that is widley resistant to herbicides © Bas Kers, via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) and Syngenta funded scientists at the University of York and University of Durham have discovered a gene called AmGSTF1 that plays a key role in controlling multiple herbicide resistance in black-grass (Alopecurus myosuroides) and annual rye-grass (Lolium rigidum). Now the gene that confers resistance has been identified, it is hoped that chemicals that inhibit the gene may be able to be used in future to make herbicides effective against resistant weeds.

Black-grass and rye-grass are widespread weeds which cause problems in cereal and oilseed rape farming. Management using herbicides is becoming increasingly difficult since both black-grass and rye-grass can acquire a single defence mechanism that confers resistance to multiple herbicides- known as multiple herbicide resistance. The genetics of multiple herbicide resistance have been poorly understood until recently, however scientists have now discovered that a gene producing an enzyme called glutathione transferase (GST) is responsible for multiple herbicide resistance. Scientists created transgenic thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) plants with the GST producing gene inserted which were resistant. GSTs are known to detoxify herbicides, but project leader Professor Rob Edwards of the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products at the University of York believes that the gene they discovered works as a kind of ‘master switch’ that activates a range of protective mechanisms in the plant. When resistant plants with the GST gene are sprayed with GST inhibiting chemicals, they become susceptible to herbicides. This demonstrates the potential for using GST inhibiting compounds in future herbicide formulations to manage resistant rye-grass and black-grass. These weeds are currently very difficult to manage due to their widespread herbicide resistance.

Continue reading

European Union Vote To Restrict Neonicotinoid Insecticide Use

Do you think the EU is right to ban neonicotinoids? Photo of a honeybee via Flickr (Brad Smith, CC-BY-NC-2.0)
Do you think the EU is right to ban neonicotinoids? Photo of a honeybee via Flickr (Brad Smith, CC-BY-NC-2.0)

After a European Commission vote yesterday (Monday 29th April 2013), Europe will enforce the world’s first continent-wide ban on neonicotinoid insecticides after concerns about their non-target impact on bee pollinators.

The vote by the 27 European Union member states on whether to suspend the use of neonicotinoid insecticides was supported by 15 nations. The UK did not support the ban.

Continue reading

A Sting In The Tale- EFSA Assesses The Risks of Neonicotinoids To Bees

Bumblebee Bombus terrestris foraging © Kintaiyo (License CC-BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Bumblebee Bombus terrestris foraging © Kintaiyo (License CC-BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Bees represent a proportion of the insects that contribute to the pollination of crops, and the potential impact of observed declines in bees on crop yields, as well as their importance as pollinators of wild flowers, has resulted in significant attention and controversy in determining the causes of bee declines. No single factor has been found to explain the decline in pollinators, and it is thought to be due to a range of interacting effects such as climate change, bee pests and diseases, pesticide use, and habitat loss. More recently, some studies have implicated neonicotinoid insecticides in the pollinator decline, although to date evidence from different studies is conflicting and the topic remains highly debated.

In April 2012 the European Commission demanded a re-examination of the risks posed by the neonicotinoids, including imidacloprid and clothianidin, primarily produced by Bayer CropScience, and Syngenta’s thiamethoxam. A report published on Wednesday by scientists at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assessed the risks posed to honeybees by these three neonicotinoids.

Continue reading