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

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

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

Potatoey wrap: Printing specialist introduces eco-friendly magazine wrap made from potato starch

Birmingham-based direct mail fulfilment and print management services provider bakergoodchild has introduced a compostable and eco-friendly magazine polywrap produced from potato starch from waste potatoes. The biodegradable mailing wrapping material is being used by a number of bakergoodchild customers. The decomposable magazine packaging wrapper carries no oil-based materials, plastics or harmful toxins. bakergoodchild sales director Adam Stafford: said: “…we have introduced a potato starch based polywrap, which is 100% biodegradable and provides a premium look and feel. As a brand we are fully behind improving the environment and are working with partners and customers to achieve various goals, which has resulted in a good uptake in using the potato starch based polywrap.” Full article

Making good better: British scientists boost popular potato variety’s blight resistance

Related imageProfessor Jonathan Jones from The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, England is investigating ways that Maris Piper potatoes can be genetically modified to develop late blight resistance. According to Professor Jones, genetic modification has real potential to offer growers agronomic benefits, particularly in terms of developing late blight resistance. Against a background of aggressive potato late blight strains, combined with increasing losses of chemical plant protection tools, crops carrying genes that confer increased disease resistance would help to take the pressure off growers. Professor Jones is leading a team which has developed a new, improved Maris Piper potato with a stack of three genes that confer resistance to late blight. These lines successfully underwent field trials in the United Kingdom in 2017 and are on track to help fight the new blight strain 37_A2, which has established itself in Northern Europe over the last few years. Read the full article by Heather Briggs on p15 in the latest issue of Potatoes Australia.

‘First of its kind’ programme to collaborate with British farmers to improve soil health

A key focus of the programme is to explore ways to prevent farmland soil being lost to waterwaysYorkshire Water and Future Food Solutions have announced plans for a collaborative land-based programme that will see farmers, global food & drink brands, non-government organisations & supply chain partners working together to improve soil quality in river catchment areas around Yorkshire. It is set to be the first of its kind in the UK. Improving soil health is recognised internationally as a core requirement to maintaining sustainable food production around the world. The project will identify new ways to improve soil management that reduces erosion, maintains moisture content and increases agricultural productivity. It follows the release of a report which states that £10 million pounds a year in England is needed to ensure the agricultural sector is still productive at the end of the century. The WWF report says soil is being destroyed at approximately 10 times the rate it is being created, costing £1.2 billion a year in England and Wales. Read more

‘Electrocuted’: Pilot programme in New Zealand puts the power into potatoes

The Pulsed Electric Field Technology (PEF) machine on display at McCain Foods in Washdyke.The humble potato is in for a shocking multi-million dollar South Canterbury makeover. An industry pilot programme, part of the Ministry for Business and Innovation funded Food Industry Enabling Technology (FIET) programme worth almost $16.8 million, is being trialled at McCain Foods in Washdyke, Timaru, in what has been described as “electrocuting potatoes”. The three month test of the new Pulsed Electric Field Technology (PEF) machine from Germany, began in Timaru on Wednesday and involves industrial-scale food processing of the popular french fry. The machine uses a brief electric pulse to modify and disrupt the membranes of cells in plant or animal material. Otago University researchers are leading the pilot trial on potato processing – with initial research showing promising results for minimising waste through having fewer broken chips during processing.  Continue reading

McCain trialing multi-species cover crop blend for rotation in Canada’s potato province

Soil organic matter (SOM) has become a popular topic of discussion in the past year in Canada. On Prince Edward Island, still Canada’s largest potato producing province, the issue of low SOM levels is also a concern. During the 2018 International Potato Technology Expo this past February, soil health was one of the topics for presentation and discussions, as much of a concern among industry stakeholders as it is for growers. One of the surprising sights at the 2018 Potato Expo was at the McCain booth, where attendees could view a slide presentation on the company’s introduction of a multi-species cover crop blend, with a bag of the seed mix on display. Bryce Drummond, territory manager with McCain Fertilizer, a division of McCain Produce, notes the soil organic matter issue has been developing for decades but that it’s become more serious in the past 10 to 15 years. In the past few years, McCain has come up with two blends of rotation crops to try and boost soil organic matter of potato fields on PEI, a one-year (annual) and a two-year. Read more

Untying the knots: Dutch researchers look at biocontrol of root knot nematodes by increasing soil disease suppressiveness

Related imageIn organic vegetable cultivation in the Netherlands, root knot nematodes are one of the major problems. According to scientists at Wageningen Plant Research, the problems with root knot nematodes is also increasing in other soil based cultivation systems. The numbers of available and effective chemical control products against soilborne diseases and pests are limited, though. In addition, the combination of different pathogens can be a problem in soil-based cultivation. The presence of root knot nematodes, for example, can increase the sensitivity to Verticillium and Fusarium. The researchers at Wageningen believe that disease suppressive soil might be a viable alternative. Disease suppression in soil is a result of various factors and therefore requires a system approach, they say. In addition, combining different measures can increase soil disease resilience through synergistic effect. A research project is currently underway looking into the possibility of increasing soil suppression against root knot nematode (Meloidogyne sp.), Pythium ultimum and Verticillium dahlia. Read more. Further information from Microbial Ecologist, dr. Marta Streminska.

Ditch the soil: British company claims 50 times higher potato yields with aeroponics technology

Hawk Energy, a knowledge-based business solutions provider based in Dubai with a research and development branch in London, has partnered with British start-up Airponix, which will harvest its first large crop of potatoes grown without soil, in a promising sign for a technology that claims it can deliver high vegetable yields with minimal costs and environmental degradation. At its new 1000 m2 greenhouse in Norfolk, Airponix has ditched soil to grow potatoes using a nutrient-rich ‘fog’ sprayed out of modified inkjet printers down long polythene tunnels of crops. Airponix, which won the Business Green Technology Awards and the Rushlight Award for its bio technology, states its growing technique can produce yields 50 times higher per hectare per year compared to commercial UK potato growers, while requiring no arable land and 85% less water than conventional agriculture. “The use of 85% less water to grow crops was one of the main factors that made us determined to introduce this pioneering technology to the Middle East Region where water for irrigation is scarce and very costly,” said Mohamad Al Shihabi, Founder of Hawk Energy. Read more

Sneaking in: Nanotechnology shown to increase penetration rate of nutrients into plants

Figure 1An innovative technology developed at the Technion, (Israel Institute of Technology, and Israel’s first university) could lead to significant increases in agricultural yields. Using a nanometric transport platform on plants that was previously utilized for targeted drug delivery, researchers increased the penetration rate of nutrients into the plants, from 1 percent to approximately 33 percent. The findings were recently published in Scientific Reports and are scheduled to be presented in Nature Press. Use of nanotechnology for targeted drug delivery is a new approach, and is the focus of the research activity being conducted at the Laboratory for Targeted Drug Delivery and Personalized Medicine Technologies at the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering. The present research, which repurposed the technology for agricultural use, was performed by the laboratory director, Assistant Professor Avi Schroeder, and graduate student, Avishai Karny. According to Schroeder, “the present work provides a new means of delivering essential nutrients without harming the environment.” Read more. View full research paper

Innovative weed management: German companies Neudorff and Zasso create herbicide free solutions

Image result for zassoW. Neudorff GmbH KG and Zasso GmbH in Germany intensified their mutual technology cooperation and recently formed a joint venture. With the formation of this joint venture, both companies are breaking new ground in weed management. The joint venture is aimed at developing completely new methods and technologies for weed management without the use of herbicides. With the help of so-called electro-physical forces, both the shoot parts and the roots of weed plants are destroyed with Neudorff and Zasso’s new technology. This innovative and advanced technology will no doubt protect the environment and can therefore be applied in sensitive areas that until now have posed major challenges for effective weed management. Neudorff and Zasso’s approach opens up completely new possibilities for weed control.  Continue reading

Come eat me: Some potato varieties yield more when grazed by pests

When some Colombian potato varieties are lightly grazed by a pest, the plants respond by growing larger tubers, at times doubling their yields. Although many types of plants can repair pest damage while maintaining productivity, it’s rare to find species that actually overcompensate and increase productivity. Cornell and the Universidad Nacional de Colombia researchers first discovered this effect in a commercial Colombian potato in 2010. Now, a new study by the research group investigates whether certain conditions might allow farmers to exploit this response to reduce insecticides and increase productivity. “The option of increasing productivity based on the compensatory plant response could open the door to a decrease in insecticide use. It could be a sustainable way to produce food based on a plant’s natural response to herbivory,” said Katja Poveda, assistant professor of entomology and the paper’s lead author.  Continue reading

Lamb Weston saves energy with installation of modern refrigeration equipment

Potato processor Lamb Weston recently implemented new refrigeration equipment in its Hermiston plant in the US, which company executives said will save 12 million kilowatt hours annually. Project manager Brian Jackson said the new equipment has been operational for about a year, and similar technology will be implemented at the new facility, currently being built in Hermiston. According to Project Manager, Brian Jackson: “It’s a state-of-the art engine room and refrigerating system. “It’s newer technology, and requires less horsepower for the same freezing functions.” Since 2010, Lamb Weston has participated in energy efficiency programs and has saved 34 million kilowatt hours per year – the equivalent of 3.100 homes. Lamb Weston invested $3.5 million for efficiency upgrades, and energy savings were 18 percent higher than expected. (Source: East Oregonian)