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

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

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

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

Spray focus: Application methods the hot topics at SPot West field day

Image result for chemical sprayer potatoesThe first field walk of SPot West’s 2018 programme organized by AHDB Potatoes in the UK focussed on chemical control of PCN and Rhizoctonia as growers and agronomists met at Heal Farms, Shropshire to hear the latest developments on local research. Dr Matthew Back of Harper Adams University presented his research, which has shown that PCN attack helps attract the Rhizoctonia fungus towards the tuber stolons. A second demonstration compared different methods and depths of incorporating Nemathorin. The strip with incorporation to about 15cm on the bed tiller looked relatively good, but this could have been due to local variation, and treatment differences will become more apparent as the season continues. PCN initial egg counts range from 25-63, quite enough to stress Lady Rosetta in the current heat wave. Scott Cockburn of Syngenta led on a practical spraying demonstration. RVW Pugh kindly provided a Fendt sprayer, which compared four different types of nozzle at 2bar pressure. Read more

All about sustainability: Lamb Weston / Meijer supports potato growers with sustainable development plan

Sustainable potato production with healthy yields. This is the objective with which Lamb Weston / Meijer wants to support the company’s contract growers. This is why the Dutch based potato processor developed a comprehensive ‘Sustainable Agriculture’ plan in collaboration with the Center for Agriculture and Environment (CLM) in the Netherlands, which is now being turned into practice in collaboration with contract growers. The Sustainable Agriculture plan was launched this year in the Netherlands and will be rolled out internationally in the coming years. On Tuesday, July 10, Lamb Weston / Meijer officially presented its Sustainable Agriculture Plan to the outside world at the arable crops farm ‘Monnikenhof’ of grower Arnold Timmerman in Kattendijke, Zeeland. The central theme of Sustainable Agriculture is soil health. “That is the core of this plan, which is aimed at making sustainable agriculture commercially feasible,” says Dirk Peters, agronomist at Lamb Weston / Meijer. Read more

Translating research into usable ideas: Strategic Farm water trials have ‘helped me sleep at night’, says potato grower

Trials on water use completed at Elveden Farms in the UK as part of AHDB’s Farm Excellence programme have enabled Farms Director Andrew Francis to react with more accuracy during this summer’s heatwave. This was the verdict he delivered when addressing over 100 visitors to the farm for the Strategic Farm East Open Day on Thursday last week (5 July). “I don’t think any of us are sleeping very well at the moment, given the conditions, but the work we did last year has helped me get some sleep,” he said. Senior Knowledge Exchange Manager for AHDB Potatoes, Graham Bannister, said: “Growers and agronomists came together to discuss the challenges, trade solutions and increase their knowledge. This is what Farm Excellence is all about. We know how resourceful our growers are, but we are here to help accelerate innovation and the take-up of best practice if we can.” David Murdie, Potato Manager at Grampian Growers, said: “I always come away from Strategic Farm meetings with two or three things that I can share with other growers. This was an excellent, practical, event with speakers who translated research into usable ideas.” Full story

IPM: A powerful tool that offers protection for potato growers

Integrated strategies offer the strongest protection for potato growersGrowers who practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can positively impact their crop production and their bottom line. Integrated strategies offer the strongest protection for potato growers, who need a complete plan for combating every element that threatens their crop. Managing obvious threats like insects, nematodes, diseases, and weeds are often at the forefront of IPM tactics, but taking steps to monitor water management and crop rotation are also important in keeping potatoes healthy and in maximizing yield and quality. Additional components like knowing field history and developing a successful treatment plan help to fortify a successful IPM plan. As growers work at managing everything, they take the power of new technology and put it to work with age-old growing practices. It’s the careful orchestration of each of these things that makes Integrated Pest Management a success. Growers should consider the following best practices for a successful IPM program… Read more

US: Washington, Oregon potatoes running a little late, but crop development ‘near perfect’

Washington-potatoes-handsGood potato growing conditions and harvest timing running a few days later than normal are reported by Washington and Oregon potato industry leaders. “I would say we are on the later side of normal (in the Columbia Basin) by a few days,” said Dan Strebin, owner and manager of Troutdale, Ore.-based Strebin Farms LLC. Plant growth through late June was very healthy, and tuber sizing was normal, he said. “So far, literally, it has been an absolutely perfect growing season,” said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington Potato Commission, Moses Lake. While cool weather and rain earlier in the season set the crop about two weeks behind normal, Voigt said recent weather has caught the crop up to just a few days behind normal. “All the fields I’ve seen look really healthy and nice,” said Dale Hayton, sales manager for Valley Pride Sales, Burlington, Wash. Potato acreage has been stable in Washington in recent years, near 170,000 acres, and no big acreage swings are anticipated this year. Read The Packer report

Climate change in practice? Potato fields in Scotland under extreme pressure as drought conditions continue

Conditions in Scotland’s potato fields are rapidly approaching those experienced during the  drought of 1976, when yields crashed, scarcity created demand and prices rocketed to an unprecedented £300/tonne. Dr Mark Stalham, a senior research associate at world-leading agronomy institute NIAB CUF, confirmed this is just the second year in four decades when high temperatures and lack of rainfall for more than a month have placed such strains on the UK’s potato crops. However, he insisted it was unlikely that prices would reach anywhere close to £750/tonne which would be the 2018 equivalent of 1976 prices. “But we may see prices reach into the high £300s or £400s per tonne.” Dr Stalham warned growers attending the AHDB open day at Bruce Farms near Meigle that crops are already being sacrificed because of lack of rainfall as even farmers with irrigators are struggling to get round their fields to get moisture into the soil. He also predicted that the summer of 2018 is just a foretaste of climate change and what the weather will be like in 30 years. “Lessons are being learned this year about irrigation and how we need to gear up for climate change. Read more

Is an imminent oversupply situation looming in the North-Western European potato area?

Related imageBased upon the latest NEPG (North-Western European Potato Growers) estimates, the consumption potato area in the combined 5 North-Western European countries is 595.587 ha, an increase of 1% compared to last season. The British area is still based on a 5 years average. In a press release issued earlier today, the NEPG says that given prevailing market realities measured against a healthy balance between supply and demand, the increase in planted area this season this is very likely to result in an oversupply situation in the NEPG region. However, the organization says in its press release that final yields will have much more of an impact than the planted area. It is extremely dry in the NEPG countries at this point in time, and there are areas where the crop starts suffering from a lack of water. Weather forecasts indicate that widespread rain is not expected on the short term. Poland also reports dry conditions. The NEPG however stresses that it is still too early to make yield estimations at this stage of the season. Read the full press release