Weed control goes digital: Advanced spot-spraying precision technology in development

Weed scientist Andrew McKenzie-Gopsill with digital camera, sensor and controller mechanism that can be  mounted on a sprayer and tractor to read crop plant locations.Researchers are combining new digital tools, computer technologies and machine learning to bring cost-effective weed control solutions to the field. This weed control solution is being designed as an advanced spot-spraying precision technology that will help farmers reduce input costs and add another management tool to their integrated management systems. “We are developing a high-tech ground-based sensor technology as another cost-effective precision agriculture tool for weed control in potatoes and other crops,” says Andrew McKenzie-Gopsill, weed scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Prince Edward Island. This five-year project was initiated in 2017 and is still in the early stages of data collection. The whole control system would be mounted to an existing sprayer, including a small inexpensive camera mounted above the canopy, and a mini computer to connect to the sprayer control system to control which nozzles are turned on or off. More

Science discovery: Plants talk to each other using an internet of fungi

The roots of shoots can form a hidden network (credit: Mycatkins CC by 2.0)Hidden under your feet is an information superhighway that allows plants to communicate and help each other out. It’s made of fungi. It’s an information superhighway that speeds up interactions between a large, diverse population of individuals. It allows individuals who may be widely separated to communicate and help each other out. But it also allows them to commit new forms of crime. No, we’re not talking about the internet, we’re talking about fungi. While mushrooms might be the most familiar part of a fungus, most of their bodies are made up of a mass of thin threads, known as a mycelium. We now know that these threads act as a kind of underground internet, linking the roots of different plants. That tree in your garden is probably hooked up to a bush several metres away, thanks to mycelia. By linking to the fungal network they can help out their neighbours by sharing nutrients and information – or sabotage unwelcome plants by spreading toxic chemicals through the network. This “wood wide web”, it turns out, even has its own version of cyber-crime. More

Hi-tech: New imaging technology to spot diseases and infestations at an earlier stage

The expected benefits of adopting the equipment could have a significant impact on overall crop yieldA new type of imaging system for use in agriculture, designed to be far less expensive than existing technology and to increase crop yield, is being developed in the UK. Academics and the farming industry have teamed up to develop a new type of hyperspectral imaging (HSI) system. The UK government-funded collaboration has the potential to introduce an affordable spectral imaging technology to help agricultural businesses monitor and maximise crop production in fields and greenhouses. The sensors in development are expected to be up to 90% cheaper than equivalent equipment currently on the market. It is anticipated that adopting the technology will allow farmers to monitor various crop attributes including plant health, hydration levels and disease indicators. As a result, it is envisaged that farmers will be able to: optimise the impact of fertilisation; save water by employing more efficient irrigation methods; and, critically, spot diseases and infestations at an earlier stage, allowing them to avoid blights. Report by FarmingUK

Spore sampling project to alert growers of disease threat

A University of Idaho-led research team plans to start giving their state’s potato growers advanced warnings this season about the arrival of fungal pathogens, using a broad network of airborne spore samplers. Last summer, James Woodhall, the project’s lead and a University of Idaho (UI) assistant professor of plant pathology, and his colleagues evaluated samples collected by three spore samplers, based at their Parma, Kimberly and Aberdeen Extension centers, to prove the concept. This growing season, Woodhall said they’ll operate 14 samplers, stationed both at the UI facilities and near commercial potato fields spread from Parma through Tetonia. Woodhall intends to alert growers – initially via an email list and eventually by posting results on a special website – within a day of confirming the arrival of harmful potato pathogens including late blight, early blight, white mold, gray mold and brown spot. “It’s proven technology,” Woodhall said. “They’ve had success with this in Canada for late blight detection.” More

Factsheet: Best management practices to minimize the spread of PVY

Related imageThis factsheet is based on recent research done in Canada by Dr. Mathuresh Singh and his team in New Brunswick on PVY, which just concluded in March.  This research has been very successful in identifying which production practices are most associated with reducing the spread of PVY.  At the same time, PVY post-harvest test results in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have improved significantly in recent years, as these best practices are being more widely adopted. The factsheet was compiled by Ryan Barrett, Research & Agronomy Coordinator at the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, and published on the Peipotatoagronomy.com website. The document can be accessed here as a pdf file.

How do you make potato farming more efficient? A Canadian project aims to find out

Related imageA research project at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada aimed at making potato farming more efficient, has received funding from the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The project is one part of an initiative involving the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, Cavendish Farms, growers, Agriculture Canada and the province focused on improving yields, profitability and sustainability. Aitazaz Farooque, the lead researcher and assistant professor at the UPEI school of engineering, said he is working on technology that would tell farmers which areas to put fertilizers and pesticides in their fields, reducing the costs and environmental impact of farming. “The idea here is to develop the sustainable technology so that we can apply crop inputs, which is fertilizers, pesticides, lime application, based on the need, not everywhere,” Farooque said. More

New potato variety said to have higher proportion of nutritious “slow” carbohydrates

Image result for Mistra Biotech potatoA research group at Mistra Biotech has recently made a major breakthrough: they have developed a new potato variety with a higher proportion of nutritious “slow” carbohydrates. “This is wonderful news. This potato, with its higher content of resistant starch, has many good health characteristics,” says Xue Zhao, a PhD student researching vegetable food at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Uppsala. The new potato was developed by a group of plant breeders in Mistra Biotech, headed by Mariette Andersson. This potato’s main characteristic is its relatively high content of “resistant starch” —starch that behaves like fiber; that is, instead of being absorbed by the small intestine, it enters the large intestine undigested. This confers numerous positive health effects. For example, it reduces glucose levels and insulin reactions; optimizes bacterial flora in the gut and gives a good boost to processes in the stomach; and can also facilitate weight loss. More

Alliance for Potato Research and Education aims to fight negative stereotypes about potatoes

Do potatoes belong in a healthy diet? Following a decades-long tide of negative buzz about the potato’s role in weight gain, diabetes and a host of other ills, this is the question the potato industry would like to answer once and for all with a resounding “yes!” Thanks to a recent initiative focused on potatoes and health, the industry is a big step closer to that goal, according to John Bareman, chair of the Canadian Potato Council and a board director with the Alliance for Potato Research and Education (APRE). In 2016, APRE, a joint venture between American and Canadian growers and processors, decided to focus on funding new scientific research on the connections between potatoes and nutrition. Peter Johnston, vice-president of Quality Assurance for Cavendish and secretary-treasurer for APRE, says the organization is intent on driving new questions about the links between potatoes and health. All studies funded through APRE will be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals – regardless of the results, “because what that does is drive new questions,” says Johnston. More

Not snake oil any longer: The case of new generation nitrogen products for potatoes

Some experts say nitrogen is the most used but least understood input on potato crops. Novel forms of fertiliser have often been dismissed as snake oil, but now a new generation of products have been developed, created by scientists and led by the physiology of the potato crop. From a scientific point of view, fertiliser technology is still very much in its infancy. The forms currently widely used today have been adopted because they’re easy to source in large quantities. They’ve been designed by chemists rather than biologists and haven’t had the crop’s physiology in mind. As a result, fertiliser uptake by plants is an inefficient process, with rates of recovery for nitrogen fertilisers in the region of 25-35%. But the tide is turning. Fertiliser technologies are now being developed that are physiologically-led and underpinned by sound, peer-reviewed scientific research. Dr David Marks, managing director of Levity Crop Science, explains why these products are better and can help achieve a higher marketable yield of potatoes. Read this in-depth article on the CPM website

Late blight scare: Migrant European pathogen generated aggressive new variants in India, not yet found elsewhere globally

Image result for potato late blight indiaAn international team of scientists from several countries including India, the UK and the US examined the population structure of the Phytophthora infestans pathogen that caused the 2013–14 late blight epidemic in eastern and northeastern India. Their findings were published online recently in the journal Nature.The data provide new baseline information for populations of Pinfestans in India. It was found that a migrant European 13_A2 genotype was responsible for the 2013–14 epidemic, replacing the existing populations. Mutations have generated substantial sub-clonal variation of which 19 were unique variants not yet reported elsewhere globally. The new A2 population is aggressive and has displaced the former populations. The pathogen is resistant to the fungicide metalaxyl, a commonly used fungicide Continue reading

EuroBlight report: New emerging blight clones continue rapid spread across Europe

Image result for potato late blightEuroBlight is continuously examining the ongoing evolution of the European population of the potato late blight pathogen and now reports on the 2017 results. Almost 1500 samples were genotyped from 16 countries last growing season. In its latest report, EuroBlight concludes that three new clones (EU_36_A2, EU_37_A2 and EU_41) continue to spread in 2017 and are displacing other populations. Around 75% of the samples belonged to defined clonal lineages also observed in previous seasons. Some clones are widespread and have been present in Europe for more than a decade, but the three emerging clones increased their combined frequency from 10% in 2016 to 28% of the population in 2017. The EuroBlight model of pathogen tracking is a rapid, cost-effective and co-ordinated approach to understanding pathogen evolution on a European scale. Data on the dominant clones has been passed to growers, advisors, breeders and agrochemical companies to provide practical management advice and shape longer-term strategies. More

Canadian scientist to identify traits that will help potatoes face impacts of climate change

Dr. Keshav Dahal, a crop stress physiologist who joined Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Research and Development Centre in Fredericton, New Brunswick during summer 2017, is helping unlock how some plants sense and react to stress more effectively than others. He is also using physiological, biochemical and molecular techniques to determine how stress impacts a crop plant’s productivity and quality. “Climate change poses a major challenge to growth and yield of key crop species in several regions of Canada,” he notes. “I’m currently focusing on potatoes, but I am interested in studying wheat, rye and canola in the future.” Dahal says the impacts of climate change have already been felt by Canadian crop farmers. As a cool season crop, potatoes are considered to be sensitive to hot weather as well as drought, Dahal explains. When asked if there one “tolerance” aspect that Dahal considers more important than others in the face of climate change, he identifies drought tolerance first and then heat tolerance. More

New greenhouse complex inaugurated at Agrico Research breeding station

Potato Cooperative Agrico inaugurated its new greenhouse complex at the Agrico Research breeding station in the Netherlands last Friday, April 6. This was followed by an Open Day on Saturday at the research station. During the past 18 months, the greenhouse complex at Agrico Research has been expanded and completely renovated. The area under glass has doubled in size. Investments have also been made in the latest technology to enable more cross breeding so that new varieties can be bred more efficiently and effectively. The Agrico cooperative was founded 45 years ago on 2 April 1973. Said Managing Director Jan van Hoogen:“The extended facilities equip us for the long-term so we can breed the ideal, strong varieties of the future. There is huge demand for our varieties globally, and that is set to rise in the years ahead. The world’s population is growing and potatoes are the most nutritious crop that can be cultivated under the most sustainable conditions.” (Source: Agrico)

Drones show promise spotting PVY in potato fields

Image result for Drones potato fieldDonna Delparte, assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Idaho State University (ISU) in Pocatello, is working on using an unmanned aerial vehicle to spot PVY infected plants in potato fields and to record their specific locations for later control measures. In short, she says the technology works, but while it’s getting closer to being ready for the market, a few challenges still exist. Using a special camera, it is possible to fly a drone over a field and, within a reasonable level of certainty, determine precise locations of plants that are infected by PVY. Delparte’s team created a profile of what an infected plant looks like when seen through a special camera, called a hyperspectral camera, which scans dozens of slices of radiation, well beyond what a human eye can see. They then took that profile to the field, used it to identify infected plants and ground-truthed it using personnel on the ground, who verified which plants were infected. Using machine learning to tune the algorithm that evaluated the plants, the team reached an 89.8 percent success rate. More

Potato farm with Michigan roots reaching across continents

Image result for Potato Farm With Northern Michigan Roots Reaching Across ContinentsSixty percent of the potato chips made in the United States come from potatoes grown in Northern Michigan. It all starts at the Sklarczyk Seed Potato Farm, located in Michigan. “The greenhouse operation is something my father started in the early 80’s and my father grew up on the diversified farming operation and he was looking for a way to make a batter potato and that led him to the tissue culture lab and the greenhouse operation and it’s grown and evolved from there,” said CEO of Sklarczyk Seed Farm, Ben Sklarczyk. Once the Sklarczyk family perfected the potato – it was time to perfect the technology they use. “Now our facility is 100% hydroponics so we are growing our potatoes without the presence of soil,” he explained. It allows them to check in on the potatoes regularly since they’re not buried in the soil. “The process starts with the tissue culture lab on the cutting process and at that point we will get plants from different plant breeders from different universities throughout the United States,” he said. Read report and watch video