New initiative looks at ways to develop ‘smart farms’ in Britain

Leeds University has launched its 'smart farms' initiative to encourage farmers to think modernA new initiative will work closely with the farming industry and government to explore ways to develop ‘smart farms’ in the UK. Farmers and agri-businesses are facing more challenges, including political climate changes, fluctuating trading patterns and the need to increase efficiency and productivity. The Smart Agri-Systems initiative spearheaded by the University of Leeds seeks to give rural businesses a competitive advantage and to increase value. The aim of the initiative is to work with farms and businesses to develop solutions, from advanced monitoring technology to big data analytics. Examples of smart farming to be looked at include the incorporation of sensors on the farm – either fixed, or on drones and robotic crawlers. These can monitor soil temperature and humidity, map crop growth and density, assess ground water composition, and track the weather, with data analysed to project crop performance. Read more

CIP study: Poor quality seed, bacterial wilt holding back higher potato yields in Africa

Image result for POTATO PRODUCTION IN AFRICA CAN BE INCREASED BY 140%: FIND OUT HOWPotato, the third most important food crop after rice and wheat, is globally consumed by over a billion people. According to FAO statistics, potato production in Africa tripled from 1994 through 2011, from 8 to 24 million metric tons, but largely due to the increase of cropping area. Half of this production comes from sub-Saharan Africa where a recent study carried out by the International Potato Center (CIP) and its partners from 2013 to 2016 has shown that this level of production could be increased by 140% if identified causes of yield gap were addressed. In this study, the research yield gap is defined as the difference between the research yield and the potential yield, whereas the absolute yield gap is derived from the difference between the average farmer’s yield and the potential yield. Modeling work conducted by CIP and its partners in ten SSA countries showed that farmers’ yield gap (24 t/ha) exceeds the current farmers’ yield (8 t/ha). A six month online survey outlined twelve most important yield gap challenges out of an initial list of thirty. Poor quality seed was the top-ranked yield gap cause identified by survey respondents, followed by bacterial wilt. Read more on the CIP website. The full Report can be downloaded as a pdf file

Solar Farms by Agri-Stor provide instant saving to growers

Hindsight has a way of making even the most brilliant of ideas seem obvious and elementary. It’s easy to wonder, “Why didn’t somebody think of this years ago?” In 2016, the folks at Agri-Stor Companies called a meeting to address what was, at the time, a depressed potato market. The Twin Falls, Idaho-based company has developed and built potato storages for over 50 years. There is a prevailing belief at Agri-Stor that they have a responsibility to help growers succeed in whatever ways they can. So in that stressful economic environment for the region’s potato industry, the Agri-Stor folks were looking for solutions just as earnestly as growers were. Jesse Vierstra is a forward-thinking kind of guy. Though he was still a fairly new hire at Agri-Stor at the time, he spoke up and voiced a big idea in that meeting: “Why don’t we get into solar?”  Continue reading

Syngenta develops RNA-based biocontrols for crop improvement

Image result for colorado potato beetleSyngenta is developing a new line of biocontrols based on RNA. The biocontrol can be designed to be very selective so that it only affects the target pest(s). So when it is sprayed onto the plant the biocontrol targets a crop pest such as the Colorado Potato Beetle, which can destroy entire crops; our initial data indicate that beneficial insects and even closely related species are not harmed. The RNA-based biocontrol is then broken down in the environment and does not affect the plant. Syngenta is committed to being transparent in how they are developed and to periodically make its data available. Syngenta is the first agrochemical company to share RNA-based biocontrols research as open data in order to engage in a new type of dialogue with scientists and researchers. Syngenta partners with the Open Data Institute to publish their data to the best practice standards in the industry. This data can be used by anyone for research and analysis. Watch how the biocontrol works on Colorado potato beetle. Read more

Skin deep is great: The underrated nutritional value of potato skins

Potatoes are filling, delicious, and an incredibly diverse ingredient, which has made them a staple in plant-based diets. This is mainly due to the symbiotic and highly nutritious relationship between the potato meat, or ‘flesh’, and the potato skin. Potatoes are filling and versatile and the flesh offers a wide range of vitamins and minerals, as well as healthy carbs. Yet, potato skins are completely underrated. These rough and unattractive protective wraps offer about half of the nutritional value of the whole potato. When it comes to the nutrition facts, what the meat lacks the skin provides and vice versa, including essential nutrients such as fiber, iron, and vitamin C and B-6. Yet, the skin outranks the meat in some important categories. With that said, let’s break it down to numbers… Read more

Thirsty spuds: Irrigation a hot topic at SPot Scotland Open Day in Britain

After three weeks without rainfall, AHDB’s Strategic Potato (SPot) Farm Scotland Open Day took place on the light loams of Bruce Farms near Meigle, Perthshire on Tuesday 10 July. Around 70 growers, agronomists and industry representatives attended, as Bruce Farms Potato Manager, Kerr Howatson and industry expert, Dr Mark Stalham of NIAB CUF, headed both morning and afternoon sessions to advise attendees on crop response in dry conditions. With only 39mm of rain at Bruce Farms, June’s rainfall was less than half the 20-year average, a huge difference in terms of what is required. Kerr Howatson said: “We’ve been without rain since the 20 June, so we’re now beginning to see the effects of a prolonged dry spell, something that we’re not really used to. Typically we would only need to irrigate once, maybe twice every four to five years but we’re now looking at our fourth round of irrigation of the season. This is absolutely vital at the moment to keep the soil moisture deficit from rising too high, so the best advice would be to top up little and often.” Read more

Emerging economies fuel potato peeler and slicer equipment market

The humble potato has long been a staple of the hospitality industry palette, and accordingly to prepare this and other vegetables on a commercial scale requires specialist appliances. But what is the market outlook for this type of kit – should manufacturers be entering the sector or upping their stocks, or should distributors be sitting up and taking note of any trends? To assist any curious minds, India-based research company 360 Market Updates has published the ‘Potato Peeler and Slicer Equipment Market Report’, focusing on the potato processing equipment sold by distributors to end users in commercial and industrial set-ups. The research focuses on the 2017-2021 period and forecasts a compound annual growth rate of 7.66% throughout that term. According to the research firm, this positive prediction is mainly due to increasing replacement demand from developed economies, the growing number of foodservice establishments, and rising demand for new units of potato peeler and slicer equipment from emerging economies.  Continue reading

Ways to reduce the impact of black scurf on potatoes

Image result for black scurf potatoesRhizoctonia solani causes a number of common disease symptoms found in potato
crops including black scurf, leading to skin disfiguration, stunted plants and restricted
stem and plant growth. Syngenta Technical Services Lead Dave Antrobus in Australia examines the best management practices potato growers can undertake to minimise the damage caused by this disease. Writing in the latest issue of Potatoes Australia, he says Rhizoctonia solani causes a number of common disease symptoms found in potato crops including black scurf, leading to skin disfiguration, stunted plants and restricted stem and plant growth. There are specific conditions that help AG3 to survive and thrive. Its impact on potato crops depends largely on soil conditions at, and soon after, planting. Cool, wet soils typical of this time of year can often result in significant economic damage. The thing to remember with this disease is that complete
control is not possible, however the severity of the pathogen can be limited to a relatively small impact with best practice management. Read article on p36 of the June/July issue of Potatoes Australia

The Netherlands: Tiny country; agricultural giant – showing what the future of farming could look like

Related imageIn a potato field near the Netherlands’ border with Belgium, Dutch farmer Jacob van den Borne is seated in the cabin of an immense harvester before an instrument panel worthy of the starship Enterprise. From his perch 10 feet above the ground, he’s monitoring two drones—a driverless tractor roaming the fields and a quadcopter in the air—that provide detailed readings on soil chemistry, water content, nutrients, and growth, measuring the progress of every plant down to the individual potato. Van den Borne’s production numbers testify to the power of this “precision farming,” as it’s known. The global average yield of potatoes per acre is about nine tons. Van den Borne’s fields reliably produce more than 20. That copious output is made all the more remarkable by the other side of the balance sheet: inputs. Almost two decades ago, the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry “Twice as much food using half as many resources.” Since 2000, van den Borne and many of his fellow farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90 percent. How on Earth have the Dutch done it? Read the full article in National Geographic

Researchers discover natural product that could lead to new class of commercial herbicide

Plants and unseen microorganisms in the soil all need precious space to grow. And to gain that space, a microbe might produce and use chemicals that kill its plant competitors. But the microbe also needs immunity from its own poisons. By looking for that protective shield in microorganisms, specifically the genes that can make it, a team of UCLA engineers and scientists discovered a new and potentially highly effective type of weed killer. This finding could lead to the first new class of commercial herbicides in more than 30 years, an important outcome as weeds continue to develop resistance to current herbicide regimens. Using a technique that combines data science and genomics, the team found the new herbicide by searching the genes of thousands of fungi for one that might provide immunity against fungal poisons. This approach is known as “resistance gene-directed genome mining.” Read more

Growing food for a growing planet: Three perspectives on modern American farming

Image result for Growing food for a growing planet: Three perspectives on American farmingToday’s agriculture is going through an important revolution. From tech breakthroughs like smart irrigation to robot-enabled harvesting, the industry is using new innovations to help feed a growing population. And it’s a big job. The United Nations says global food output must increase by 60 percent over the next three decades to keep up with the boom. As modern farming evolves, a diverse range of players is stepping up to this challenge with unique approaches to growing sustainable food. There’s Bill Horan, a farmer for decades, who continuously adapts and embraces new technologies, with an eye toward helping future generations carry on the farming tradition. Jay Hill is bringing a fresh sense of entrepreneurship to his traditional farming practice and using social media to show the world all the hard work—and fun—that are part of farming life. And Abbey Carver, an agronomist and recent college grad, is part of the next generation of tech-enabled growers. She mixes her knowledge of ag-tech and hard science with a passion for the land to help keep the world sustainably fed. Read about these people’s perspectives on modern farming in America in this Washington Post article

The new ‘plastic’: These potato based biodegradable bags dissolve in water, burn like paper, and are edible

envigreen1Bags made of potatoes could replace plastic as the biodegradable and recyclable alternative for grocery bags in India – a country where slow yet firm steps are being taken towards getting rid of plastic grocery bags. These environment friendly bags are manufactured and distributed in several cities in India by startup business EviGreen. The bags look like plastic bags, but are made of materials like natural potato and tapioca starch and vegetable oil derivatives. If placed in a glass of water at normal temperature, an EnviGreen bag dissolves in a day. And when placed in a glass of boiling water, it dissolved in just 15 seconds. These bags take less than 180 days to biodegrade naturally once discarded. So users can throw them away without worrying about harming the environment. The bags are even edible and will cause no harm to animals if ingested.  Continue reading

Tiny but effective: Researchers developed new nano-material as potato sprout inhibitor

Related imageIn a research paper published recently online in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, scientists from Hefei Institute of Physical Science in China claim they have developed a nano-material that inhibits the sprouting of potatoes. The material is named “hydrophobic nano silica” (H-SiO2) and was developed through the modification of nano silica by amino silicon oil (ASO) – and then applied as a sprout inhibitor on potato tubers. The researchers say the material suppresses the formation of toxic glyco-alkaloids that typically is associated with the sprouting process. They further claim that treated tubers did not show a negative effect as far as germination is concerned when planted as seed. The material is said to be easily removed by washing prior to cooking since it does not penetrate the skin of tubers and thus does not pose a food safety risk. Although not commercialized at this point in time, the new material does seem to be of interest to those who specializes in potato sprout inhibitors. An abstract of the research and contact details can be found on the website of the ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering journal.

Sobering thought: This Fryday, embrace the crinkle cut, the french fry ideal!

Image result for crinkle cut friesBaptized in oil, anointed with salt, the fry stands alone. Of all the culinary wonders and the many connections made in our lives by food, fries are the threads that bind the steak frites of Paris bistros and the rural American roadside dive. The humble potato, pulled from the earth and living at the very center of our deep fried hearts. National Fry Day is July 13 this year in a mystical aligning of planets or french fries, falling on a Friday. Literally Fryday. For the blessings of hand-cut, shoestring, big ole steak fries and curly, for all the good done by duck fat and the endless charm of cousin tater tot, there is but one french fry ideal. Excuse me, frydeal. That is the crinkle cut, the jagged, unapologeticly-frozen-yet-redeemed-by-hot-oil pinnacle of crunch, starch and salt. Those ridges and valleys, all those pointy ends all add up to the pound for point most perfect fry… Read further

On this National French Fry Day, ORE-IDA introduces Potato Pay, the future of mealtime bribery

Image result for This National French Fry Day, ORE-IDA Introduces Potato Pay, the Future of Mealtime BriberyToday is National French Fry Day in the US. In a press release issued earlier today, potato processor ORE-IDA says the company knows it’s at times hard to get kids to eat their dinner. Mealtime serves up tantrums and tears regularly. It usually takes some sort of bribe or game to get them to eat that one piece of broccoli, the company says. So, why change a method that we all know already works, when it can simply be renamed? Meet Potato Pay, a new and easy way to get your children to eat their dinner. Each fry is a piece of crispy golden currency designed to be the most satisfying bribery tool possible. Just pay your child with the ORE-IDA fries they love to eat, in return for bites of the foods that they don’t. For example, one bite of chicken = one fry, a mushroom = three fries and a spoonful of quinoa = five fries. Refer to the easy-to-use mealtime bribery chart, or “Frynancial Guide,” to see the fry value of various food items. Ore-Ida says the idea for Potato Pay is simple yet powerful —mealtime can be a real struggle for parents… Full press release