Archive for the ‘Pests’ Category

Why an integrated approach is best

By Bill KerrAugust 26, 2021 at 10:30 am

Farmers are finding more and more natural enemies to keep tomato leaf miners in check instead of resorting solely to chemicals, says Bill Kerr.

Why an integrated approach is best
These cherry tomatoes were planted long after the other plants in the tunnel, and so ripened much later. Despite this, no Tuta absoluta attacked them, proving the effectiveness of biological pest control. Photo: Bill Kerr

I once used a biological product to control Tuta absoluta (tomato leaf miner) in my own tomato crop. Unfortunately, the manufacturer ceased production of the product. But because I was using my crop solely for breeding purposes, I decided to stop spraying for the pest.

Last year, the plants suffered a fair amount of damage; this year, there was much less. I planted my first tunnel as soon as the frost was past and the final tunnel started maturing in March. There is very little damage to these tomatoes, despite the fact that I have never sprayed them or used traps.

I planted a quarter of the tunnel to a cherry tomato variety much later than the rest of the crop. This is just starting to set fruit, whereas the rest have been ripe for some time; yet there is no sign of the pest or larvae on this batch.

Taking a closer look at the plants, I recently found a number of Macrolophus spp in various stages of development, as well as the occasional Nesidiocoris tenuis. Both are mirid bugs that prey on T. absoluta and other pests. Macrolophus is now gaining control of T. absoluta in my tunnel.

Slight plant damage
More than 20 European countries are now using Macrolophus for pest control, and these are sold to tomato farmers.

When their prey is not available in sufficient numbers, Macrolophus spp can survive by feeding on the tomato plants themselves, and there are records of flower drop and other damage when their populations are very high. Nonetheless, they prefer insect eggs and first-instar larvae.

Generally, the small amount of potential damage is worth the protection provided by the bugs. They also feed on whitefly, aphids and thrips.

We still have much to learn about the local Macrolophus bugs. They may, for example, be better adapted to our conditions than those imported from the Netherlands. Whatever the case, they are apparently easy to rear.

Another group of beneficial insects is Trichogramma spp parasitoids. These are minute wasps that parasitise the eggs of the tomato leaf miner and other pests. There are many in the genus, with some being more specific in what they control and others having a wider range of prey.

In time, more natural enemies will make their presence felt. It is reported that some of the imported natural predators are not well adapted to high temperatures. As the inside of my tunnels can get particularly hot, this might indicate that our local bugs are better adapted.

Another approach is to set pheromone traps, which are available from suppliers of local biological products. These are an effective tool for lowering tomato leaf miner populations.

A combined approach
Control of this pest is not a matter of a one-size-fits-all approach and there is still a steep learning curve ahead. What is certain is that, eventually, we shall have to go over to integrated pest management with a combination of beneficial insects and insecticides that do not harm the natural enemies of T. absoluta.

This approach also means that tomato farmers have to carry out far more scouting and study to truly get the better of this highly destructive pest.

Bill Kerr is a vegetable specialist and breeder of a range of vegetables.

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The prototype will be presented at Macfrut by the Italian company Bagioni

How to weed organic asparagus mechanically

A system that keeps the asparagus field clean of weeds, through mechanical weeding, without increasing costs is Aurenzo Bagioni’s latest solution which will be presented at Macfrut, during the Asparagus Days.

The Forlì-based company Bagioni, which already produces asparagus harvesting machines, will present this new concept in Rimini, Italy. This accessory is mounted on the back of the asparagus harvesting machines and is particularly aimed at organic farms but can also be used by those who cultivate using conventional methods. Basically, the concept is based on a weeder that allows the central part (30-50 centimeters) – where the asparagus grows – to remain free, but moves the soil laterally at each harvesting operation, to an adjustable depth of 1-3 centimeters. You don’t have to do any extra work, but the device works when you harvest.

Given that the harvest takes place every day, the idea was to attach a weeder to the back of the machine, keeping the central 50 centimeters free for the asparagus to grow. This daily operation should keep the soil moving and prevent the grass from growing.

We had already seen this prototype in June 2021, but Bagioni asked not to announce it until the end of August, because he was thinking of filing a patent.

“This concept is being presented with the aim of understanding whether the idea is interesting to customers and then possibly start building it,” concluded the owner.

For more information: 
Bagioni Alfiero Snc 
Via Bologna 100
47121 Forlì – Italy
+39 0543 703993

Publication date: Thu 26 Aug 2021

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Pigweed shows resistance in spots to glyphosate, ALS, HPPD and PPOs

Eric Jones/NCSU_Eric Jones_NCSU-Waterhemp.jpgWes Everman urges farmers to be on the lookout for water hemp on their farms.Everman stresses the importance of pre-emergent herbicides, postemergent herbicides and residuals.

John Hart | Aug 24, 2021SUGGESTED EVENT

Events Page - Farm Progress Show 2021

Farm Progress ShowAug 31, 2021 to Sep 02, 2021

North Carolina State University Extension Weed Specialist Wes Everman continues to urge North Carolina farmers to be on the lookout for resistant waterhemp, redroot pigweed and Palmer amaranth across the state.

Speaking at the Blacklands Farm Managers Tour Aug. 4 at Turnpike Farms in Pantego, N.C., Everman said Palmer amaranth is now showing resistance in spots across North Carolina to glyphosate, ALS, HPPD and PPO technologies. He noted that testing is also underway to see if Palmer amarnath is resistant to atrazine. He also said resistant redroot pigweed is popping up in spots across the state. https://dc33b5251deac1ea475e6c827fe410e1.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Once again, Everman urged farmers to use multiple modes of action as the key to resistance management. He stressed the importance of pre-emergent herbicides, postemergent herbicides and residuals.

“I see folks going out with jut 2,4-D, just dicamba, or just Liberty with no residual in the tank, no other  product in the tank. That’s a recipe for disaster,” Everman told the crowd at the Blacklands tour.

Everman noted that when one product quits working, farmers shift to another and then switch again and switch again. “We don’t get away from resistance by doing that. We want to use these residuals, our Group 15s, Dual, Warrant, Zidua, and our Group 14s, Valor, Spartan and Reflex.”ADVERTISING

The use of both pre-emergence and postemergence herbicides is a must. He said such products as Flexstar, Cobra and Blazer can generally be used across the farm. He also said metribuzin is generally a safe option as well. He stressed the importance of rotating Liberty, Enlist and Xtend traits.

“If we can rotate them in a season, even better. We can’t just pick one technology and wear it out and then hope to go to the next. I don’t think that’s going to work, and we’re only talking about three products. How long do we have if we don’t start switching now?” Everman said.

Everman pointed out the new weeds are coming into the state primarily through equipment that is purchased from Midwestern states and then brought into North Carolina. He also said waterfowl can move weed seed from one part of the state to another. He said it has been confirmed that water hemp was introduced into North Carolina from a combine purchased in the Midwest and brought to North Carolina.

He urged farmers to be on the lookout for water hemp on their farms. It is different than Palmer and redroot pigweed in that it has thin leaves and shorter petioles. He said it is hairless, like Palmer.

“If you have a weed that looks like it might be Palmer, but looks a little funny, get in touch with your county agent or Charlie (Cahoon, also a North Carolina State Extension weed specialist) or me. We want to make sure. We don’t want to see water hemp pop up in too many places,” Everman said.

In addition to keeping an eye out for water hemp, redroot pigweed and Palmer amaranth, Everman urged Blackland farmers to be on the lookout for common ragweed. He said just north of the Blacklands, in northeastern North Carolina, common ragweed has shown three-way resistance to glyphosate, ALS and PPO inhibitors.

“It (common ragweed) could move on equipment down here. Water hemp came to North Carolina from the Midwest. Pretty much everything we have identified in North Carolina has moved on equipment. They brought it here and they brought along seed issues,” he said.

“The No. 1 piece you can move weed seeds with is a combine. If you have a weedy patch, if you’re bringing a combine from another farm, if you’re getting help from somebody, if you have time and you have the opportunity, clean that thing from front to back. Try  to get as much seed out of it as you can. This is an inherited problem, something that came along with the equipment,” Everman said.

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Is THIS the key to wiping out ? Removal of moisture has a 100% success rate at killing the invasive plant – and is much more effective than herbicide, study finds

  • Scientists said removing moisture from Japanese knotweed kills invasive plant
  • They had a ‘100 per cent success rate’ after drying out plants in lab conditions
  • Their discovery shows that the plant it ‘not as indestructible’, researchers said
  • Japanese knotweed is a plant found in many areas of Europe and North America


PUBLISHED: 07:06 EDT, 19 August 2021 | UPDATED: 07:39 EDT, 19 August 2021

Japanese knotweed is a devastatingly invasive plant that can leave homeowners and gardeners in a bind. 

But scientists might just have a new solution on how to kill it that they say is much more effective than herbicide.

It involves removing moisture from the plants by drying them out in a lab, although researchers said more tests in the field are needed to see how this would work in the real world before any advice or commercial product is made available to the public.https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.476.0_en.html#goog_1797203280PauseNext video0:24Full-screenRead More

The study by the National University of Ireland Galway and University of Leeds found that removing moisture had a ‘100 per cent success rate’ in killing Japanese knotweed, which can break through bricks, concrete and mortar.

Their discovery shows that the plant is ‘not as indestructible’ as thought, according to the study’s co-author Dr Mark Fennell.Scientists might just have a new solution on how to kill Japanese knotweed that they say is much more effective than herbicide. Pictured are some of the samples they experimented with+6

Scientists might just have a new solution on how to kill Japanese knotweed that they say is much more effective than herbicide. Pictured are some of the samples they experimented withJapanese knotweed (pictured) is a problematic plant found in many areas of Europe and North America. Notably, in the UK, the species can cause issues with mortgage acquisition+6

Japanese knotweed (pictured) is a problematic plant found in many areas of Europe and North America. Notably, in the UK, the species can cause issues with mortgage acquisition

Japanese knotweed 

Japanese Knotweed is a species of plant that has bamboo-like stems and small white flowers.

Native to Japan, the plant is considered an invasive species. 

The plant, scientific name Fallopia japonica, was brought to Britain by the Victorians as an ornamental garden plant and to line railway tracks to stabilise the soil.

It has no natural enemies in the UK, whereas in Asia it is controlled by fungus and insects.

In the US it is scheduled as an invasive weed in 12 states, and can be found in a further 29.

It is incredibly durable and fast-growing, and can seriously damage buildings and construction sites if left unchecked.

The notorious plant strangles other plants and can kill entire gardens. 

Capable of growing eight inches in one day it deprives other plants of their key nutrients and water.https://5772890968515b3f00a684ae0e95aa20.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The research found that incorrect herbicide treatment cannot control the growth and regeneration of Japanese knotweed, but that fully drying the plant material in a lab environment allowed it to be returned to the soil without risk of regrowth.

It also showed that if there are no nodes attached to the rhizomes (root-like underground shoots) there is no regeneration. Nodes are the points on a plant’s stem where buds and leaves originate.

Senior author of the study, Dr Karen Bacon, from NUI Galway, said: ‘Our finding that the removal of moisture has a 100 per cent success rate on killing Japanese knotweed plants and preventing regrowth after they were replanted also raises an important potential means of management for smaller infestations that are common in urban environments.’

She said it ‘requires additional field trials’ that her university hopes to carry out soon.

Japanese knotweed is a problematic plant found in many areas of Europe and North America. Notably, in the UK, the species can cause issues with mortgage acquisition. 

It can grow up to 10ft in height and can dominate an area to the exclusion of most other plants. 

Controlling Japanese knotweed is complicated by its ability to regenerate from small fragments of plant material; however, there remains uncertainty about how much rhizome is required and how likely successful regeneration is under different scenarios. 


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‘Ten years ago this was science fiction’: the rise of weedkilling robots
A robot made by Carbon Robotics kills weeds on farmland using lasers. Photograph: Carbon Robotics

MON, 16 AUG, 2021 – 14:16PÁDRAIG BELTON

In the corner of an Ohio field, a laser-armed robot inches through a sea of onions, zapping weeds as it goes.

This field doesn’t belong to a dystopian future but to Shay Myers, a third-generation farmer who began using two robots last year to weed his 30-acre crop. The robots – which are nearly three metres long, weigh 4,300kg and resemble a small car – clamber slowly across a field, scanning beneath them for weeds which they then target with laser bursts.

“For microseconds, you watch these reddish colour bursts. You see the weed, it lights up as the laser hits, and it’s just gone,” said Myers. “Ten years ago this was science fiction.” Other than engine sounds, the robots are almost silent and each one can destroy 100,000 weeds an hour, according to Carbon Robotics, the company that makes them.

Carbon Robotics, in common with other agri-robotic startups, emphasizes the environmental benefits these machines can bring to farming by helping to reduce soil disturbance, which can contribute to erosion, and allowing farmers to heavily reduce or even eradicate the use of herbicides.

Farmers across the globe are under increasing pressure to reduce their use of herbicides and other chemicals, which can contaminate ground and surface water, affect wildlife and non-target plants, and have been linked to increased cancer risk. At the same time, they are battling a rise in herbicide-resistant weeds, giving extra impetus to the search for new ways to kill weeds.

“Reduced herbicide usage is one of the spectacular outcomes of precision weeding,” said Gautham Das, a senior lecturer in agri-robotics at the University of Lincoln in the UK. Destroying weeds with lasers or ultraviolet light uses no chemicals at all. But even with robots that do use herbicides, their ability to precisely target weeds can reduce the use by about 90% compared with conventional blanket spraying, Das said.

Five years ago there were almost no companies specializing in farm robots, said Sébastien Boyer, the French-born head of San Francisco-based robot weeding company FarmWise, but it’s now “a booming field”.

The global market for these agricultural robots – which can also be designed to perform tasks such as seeding, harvesting and environmental monitoring – is predicted to increase from $5.4bn (€4.58bn) in 2020 to more than $20bn (€16.98bn) by 2026. “Things scale up very quickly in agriculture,” said Myers.

FarmWise found its first customers in California’s Salinas Valley, which grows lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and strawberries and is known as “America’s salad bowl”. Ten of the US’s 20 largest vegetable growers, in California and Arizona, now use the company’s robot weeders, according to Boyer. “In the beginning, they started working with us as an experiment, but now they are heavily relying on us”.

Removing pests, such as aphids, thrips and lygus bugs, is a next step for FarmWise. Robots can markedly reduce the use of fungicides and pesticides, said Boyer, by applying them more precisely, using computer vision.

As well as concerns over farming chemicals, labour shortages also play a part in robots’ advance into farmland. Farm labour can be “expensive, hard to come by and dangerous” for people involved, said Myers. 

There are still big challenges to wider-scale adoption. One problem is working in places where a battery recharge is not always readily available, which is a reason some robots – including those made by Carbon Robotics and FarmWise – use diesel for power, which itself produces harmful emissions and pollution.

Danish company FarmDroid’s machines and a herbicide-spraying robot made by Switzerland’s Ecorobotix are both solar-powered.

With batteries rapidly becoming lighter and gaining capacity, farm robots could soon be electrified, said Paul Mikesell, head of Carbon Robotics. This must be accompanied by charging infrastructure on farms, said Rose. “I don’t think we’re far away at all,” he added.

In the meantime, using fewer herbicides may be worth some diesel use, said Richard Smith, a weed science farm adviser from University of California at Davis. “In comparison to all the other tractor work that is done on intensive vegetable production fields, the amount used for the auto-weeders is a small per cent,” he said.

Another challenge is cost. These robots are still expensive, though broader adoption is likely to bring costs down. Carbon Robotics’s robot costs roughly the same as a mid-size tractor – in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

FarmWise sells robots’ weeding labour, rather than the robots themselves, charging roughly $200 (€170) an acre. Selling a weeding service instead of selling robots requires less upfront investment from farmers, said Boyer, and helped get the robotics business off the ground.

“These service models should reduce the cost barrier for most farmers, and they do not have to worry too much about the technical difficulties with these robots,” Das said.

Covid has been a problem, too, impeding access to clients, investors and semiconductors from Asia. The pandemic has “squeezed startups out of the runway”, says Andra Keay, head of the non-profit Silicon Valley Robotics.

But, beyond weeding robots, Covid has also spurred interest in how robots can shorten supply chains.

Robot-run greenhouses can use hydroponics – growing plants without soil – to produce food closer to large population centres like New York, instead of in places like California where soil is richer.

Iron Ox, a robot-powered greenhouse company based in California, has devised a robotic arm which scans each greenhouse plant and creates a 3D model of it to monitor it for disease and pests.

“Not a lot has changed in agriculture, especially in fresh produce, in the last 70 years,” said Brandon Alexander, the head of Iron Ox who grew up in a large Texas farming family. “Robotic farming offers a chance for humanity to address climate change before 2050,” he said.

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Scientists Find a Carnivorous Tobacco Plant That Could Act as Natural Insecticide

By Devrupa Rakshit

Aug 16, 2021

Image Credit: Maarten Christenhusz

Researchers have discovered a wild tobacco plant that traps and kills insects, and may potentially serve as a “natural insecticide” of sorts.

Nicotiana insecticida demonstrates well the adage that ‘tobacco kills‘… although in this case it is insects that become ensnared on its sundew-like glandular hairs and die,” Mark Chase, a scientist at the Royal Botanic Gardens in the U.K., who co-authored the study, said in a statement.

Published last week in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, the study details the discovery of the new plant in a Western Australian highway. The plant has sticky hair on its surface, which enables it to trap insects, and causes it to resemble a “mass grave for small insects — flies, gnats, and aphids,” Mongabay reported.

However, N. insecticida doesn’t dissolve the insects to soak in nutrients from them, and hence isn’t per se “insectivorous.” The purpose behind the plant’s sticky hair is to prevent itself from being eaten by insects.

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So, Chase believes the plant could serve as a “biological control agent” for killing fungus gnats and other undesirable insects in greenhouses.

While N. insecticida hasn’t been approved for commercial use by the Australian government yet, the prospect of a plant doubling up as an insecticide to protect other plants is quite fascinating. Especially so, since chemical-based pesticides and insecticides not only contaminate the environment, but can also be toxic to animals consuming the plants treated with chemicals. In fact, they can harm the human nervous system, endocrine system, and reproductive system too.

“Many plants have sticky glands, but generally they do not kill insects in such numbers… Tomatoes (a relative of the tobaccos) have glands that trap and kill some insects, but not in these numbers and not so regularly,” Chase told Mongabay, suggesting, perhsps, how promising N. insecticida can be as an insecticide — just as it’s name suggests.


Devrupa Rakshit is an associate editor with The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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Benefit of cover crops: Covering up weed seeds

on August 12, 2021

More in All latest News:

Cover crops are not free, but they don’t have to be a cost. In fact, they can save farmers money. Researchers and farmers talked about the benefits during a recent session hosted by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association in Canada, as Matt McIntosh reports for Farmtario.

While there is always variability, weed suppression and population reduction are the chief – though not necessarily only – ways cover crops can better a farm’s bottom line. Cover cropping could be justified as another tool to help keep down weed populations as farmers struggle with more herbicide-resistant weeds.

More weeds equal more weed seeds if left uncontrolled. Over time, the weed seed bank within a given area can be substantial, requiring more time, resources and cash to address the problem. Herbicide-tolerant weeds can increase the price tag of effective control. 

Cover crops don’t have to be expensive or complex to have noticeable impacts. Cowbrough’s work shows oats, a comparatively cheap and available cover crop option, broadcast with potash at 50 pounds per acre, add an extra $16 per acre to production costs. Weed populations were much lower. 

Mike Cowbrough, weed management specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, says cereal rye is another cheap “gateway” cover crop option that can drastically reduce weed populations, including those of common and problematic pigweed species, lamb’s quarters and others. 

“Smaller plants are much easier to kill with your herbicide program,” says Cowbrough. 

Source: Farmtario.com. Full story here
Cover photo: Start simple with cover crops and choose species based on goals. Courtesy Farmtario

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Protecting Plants Will Protect People and the Planet

ISA Inerpress News Agency

By Barbara WellsReprint |         |  Print | Send by email

ROME, Jul 26 2021 (IPS) – Back-to-back droughts followed by plagues of locusts have pushed over a million people in southern Madagascar to the brink of starvation in recent months. In the worst famine in half a century, villagers have sold their possessions and are eating the locusts, raw cactus fruits, and wild leaves to survive.

Barbara WellsInstead of bringing relief, this year’s rains were accompanied by warm temperatures that created the ideal conditions for infestations of fall armyworm, which destroys mainly maize, one of the main food crops of sub-Saharan Africa.

Drought and famine are not strangers to southern Madagascar, and other areas of eastern Africa, but climate change bringing warmer temperatures is believed to be exacerbating this latest tragedy, according to The Deep South, a new report by the World Bank.

Up to 40% of global food output is lost each year through pests and diseases, according to FAO estimates, while up to 811 million people suffer from hunger. Climate change is one of several factors driving this threat, while trade and travel transport plant pests and pathogens around the world, and environmental degradation facilitates their establishment.

Crop pests and pathogens have threatened food supplies since agriculture began. The Irish potato famine of the late 1840s, caused by late blight disease, killed about one million people. The ancient Greeks and Romans were well familiar with wheat stem rust, which continues to destroy harvests in developing countries.

But recent research on the impact of temperature increases in the tropics caused by climate change has documented an expansion of some crop pests and diseases into more northern and southern latitudes at an average of about 2.7 km a year.

Prevention is critical to confronting such threats, as brutally demonstrated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on humankind. It is far more cost-effective to protect plants from pests and diseases rather than tackling full-blown emergencies.

One way to protect food production is with pest- and disease-resistant crop varieties, meaning that the conservation, sharing, and use of crop biodiversity to breed resistant varieties is a key component of the global battle for food security.

CGIAR manages a network of publicly-held gene banks around the world that safeguard and share crop biodiversity and facilitate its use in breeding more resistant, climate-resilient and productive varieties. It is essential that this exchange doesn’t exacerbate the problem, so CGIAR works with international and national plant health authorities to ensure that material distributed is free of pests and pathogens, following the highest standards and protocols for sharing plant germplasm. The distribution and use of that germplasm for crop improvement is essential for cutting the estimated 540 billion US dollars of losses due to plant diseases annually.

Understanding the relationship between climate change and plant health is key to conserving biodiversity and boosting food production today and for future generations. Human-driven climate change is the challenge of our time. It poses grave threats to agriculture and is already affecting the food security and incomes of small-scale farming households across the developing world.

We need to improve the tools and innovations available to farmers. Rice production is both a driver and victim of climate change. Extreme weather events menace the livelihoods of 144 million smallholder rice farmers. Yet traditional cultivation methods such as flooded paddies contribute approximately 10% of global man-made methane, a potent greenhouse gas. By leveraging rice genetic diversity and improving cultivation techniques we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance efficiency, and help farmers adapt to future climates.

We also need to be cognizant that gender relationships matter in crop management. A lack of gender perspectives has hindered wider adoption of resistant varieties and practices such as integrated pest management. Collaboration between social and crop scientists to co-design inclusive innovations is essential.

Men and women often value different aspects of crops and technologies. Men may value high yielding disease-resistant varieties, whereas women prioritize traits related to food security, such as early maturity. Incorporating women’s preferences into a new variety is a question of gender equity and economic necessity. Women produce a significant proportion of the food grown globally. If they had the same access to productive resources as men, such as improved varieties, women could increase yields by 20-30%, which would generate up to a 4% increase in the total agricultural output of developing countries.

Practices to grow healthy crops also need to include environmental considerations. What is known as a One Health Approach starts from the recognition that life is not segmented. All is connected. Rooted in concerns over threats of zoonotic diseases spreading from animals, especially livestock, to humans, the concept has been broadened to encompass agriculture and the environment.

This ecosystem approach combines different strategies and practices, such as minimizing pesticide use. This helps protect pollinators, animals that eat crop pests, and other beneficial organisms.

The challenge is to produce enough food to feed a growing population without increasing agriculture’s negative impacts on the environment, particularly through greenhouse gas emissions and unsustainable farming practices that degrade vital soil and water resources, and threaten biodiversity.

Behavioral and policy change on the part of farmers, consumers, and governments will be just as important as technological innovation to achieve this.

The goal of zero hunger is unattainable without the vibrancy of healthy plants, the source of the food we eat and the air we breathe. The quest for a food secure future, enshrined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, requires us to combine research and development with local and international cooperation so that efforts led by CGIAR to protect plant health, and increase agriculture’s benefits, reach the communities most in need.

Barbara H. Wells MSc, PhD is the Global Director of Genetic Innovation at the CGIAR and Director General of the International Potato Center. She has worked in senior-executive level in the agricultural and forestry sectors for over 30 years.https://platform.twitter.com/widgets/follow_button.f88235f49a156f8b4cab34c7bc1a0acc.en.html#dnt=false&id=twitter-widget-0&lang=en&screen_name=IPSNewsUNBureau&show_count=false&show_screen_name=true&size=l&time=1629524871809

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New Study Shows Climate Change May Increase the Spread of Plant Pathogens

The Smithsonian

Models suggest that higher latitude crops will experience higher infection rates and a greater number of threats

Coffee rust
The fungus Hemileia vastatrix strikes a plant on a coffee farm in Aquires, Costa Rica. (Edwin Remsberg via Getty Images)

AUGUST 5, 202142246

The agricultural impact of climate change would be a little more straightforward, if it occurred in a world where crops were free of their microbes. Research published today has found that in this hypothetical landscape, rising global temperatures will boost global agricultural productivity, partly by opening up new arable lands near the poles that were once too frigid for farming.

But this outcome is oversimplified, says study author Dan Bebber, an ecologist at the University of Exeter in the U.K. Global warming will also increase the spread of plant diseases, according to results published in the same study in Nature Climate Change. These plant pathogens may undermine any potential crop yield increases that arise from climate change.

Most modelling studies so far have focused on the impact of climate change on agricultural produce sans their microbial squatters. Bebber and his colleagues mapped the distribution of 80 species of virulent fungi and oomycetes—organisms known as “water molds” that cause blights and rots.

“One of the things that’s missing [from existing crop models] is the biological component—the pests, pathogens,” says Bebber. “One of our long-term aims is to start building in a pathogen component … so we have a better appreciation of what the future might look like.”

The study provides the most comprehensive bird’s-eye view of pathogen proliferation yet, says Jeremy Burdon, a retired evolutionary biologist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Australia who wasn’t involved in the study. “This paper, I would argue, is a very important and valuable contribution to … understanding the interaction between crops and their pathogens.”

Plant diseases are one of the leading causes of crop failures worldwide. Pests and pathogens inflict an estimated 10 to 40 percent of agricultural losses in five of the world’s most important crops, such as wheat and rice. History is pockmarked with accounts of mass starvations incurred by plant diseases, such as the Irish potato famine in the 19th century and the 1943 Bengal famine in India that was precipitated by rice crop failure. Presently, the sunny Cavendish banana variety that graces grocery stores is on the brink of disaster due to a spreading fungus.

To extrapolate pathogens’ collective threat to humanity’s agricultural future in the face of climate change, Bebber and colleagues applied four different climate models and three crop models. The researchers first compared the projected yields of 12 species of crops between 2011 and 2030, and 2061 and 2080. The models predicted more bountiful harvests at higher latitude for all crops, ranging from sugar beet to pea to soybean, while regions closer to the equator would experience either modest yield increases or declines. Overall, the results showed climate change spells higher agricultural productivity for the entire planet.

But adding pathogens into the picture paints a grimmer scenario. To do so, the researchers combed through published field data on the temperature tolerances of fungal and oomycete pathogens. Then they computed each pathogen’s risk of infecting crops based on the predicted temperatures. According to the calculations, as the frontier of arable lands creep poleward, pathogens that were once sequestered in the warmer zones follow. Thanks to climate change, countries seated closer the poles will eventually become conducive enough for more pathogens to settle in and wreak havoc on crops. Not only will crops further north and south be more susceptible to new infections than their equatorial counterparts, a wider variety of malignant microbes will also be more likely to pop up nearer the poles.

For now, Bebber’s team can’t predict crop yield numbers from the pathogenic infection rates, because the same pathogenic strain may behave unpredictably on different soils. He gives the example of the sudden oak death pathogen—it decimated oak populations on the U.S. West Coast, but left British oaks untouched; instead, it went after the Japanese larch trees in the U.K. Moreover, the researchers only looked at temperature as the sole driver for pathogen spread; but the reality depends on a concoction of factors, including the local changes in rainfall, a community’s readiness to combat new diseases and shifts in farmers’ choice of crops in the future.

In the maw of climate change, local farmers in developing countries closer to the tropics may suffer more than others, says Camille Parmesan, a climate change biologist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research who didn’t participate in the study. “Those people are already really getting hit very hard,” she says. These growers may not be prepared to deal with the new suite of pathogens due to poverty and outdated farming practices. And these local farmers may not be able to afford importing food from the global north or south. “They can’t just suddenly be buying food from Canada,” she says.

In the future, society needs to focus on tackling crop losses to reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture, say Bebber. Agriculture is the second largest producer of climate emissions in the world, only after the energy sector. “Tackling pests and diseases is one way of making agriculture more efficient,” he says. However, reining in the spread of parasites will be complicated. Common strategies often come with the knock-on effects, such as increased fungal resistance from fungicide overuse. “Societies have to make decisions about disease [and] pest control—what people are willing to spend and how to do it,” he says. Like this article? SIGN UP for our newsletter  

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About Shi En Kim

Shi En Kim

Shi En Kim is a writer and researcher at the University of Chicago who studies the physics of nano-sized objects. Outside the lab, she freelances for various publications, including National Geographic, Scientific American, Science News, Slate and others. She is Smithsonian’s 2021 AAAS Mass Media Fellow. Follow her on Twitter at @goes_by_kim.Read more from this author | Follow @goes_by_kim

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Controlling banana Xanthomonas Wilt Disease in East Africa

Africa contributes about one-third of the global banana production. The Great Lakes region of Africa (GLA), including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is the largest banana-growing and consuming area with the most significant consumption at 220-460 kg per person annually. It provides 30%–60% of the daily per capita calorie intake in these countries.

Bananas are considered primary energy sources for millions of people in East Africa. About 55% of the total cultivated area for bananas across Africa is in the GLA region(FAOSTAT, 2019). Apart from a staple food, banana also provides income for the smallholder farmers according to a report on www.openaccessgovernment.org

Bananas are indigenous to tropical Indomalaya and Australia. Hundreds of varieties of bananas are cultivated and consumed globally. However, the Cavendish type of dessert banana is grown mainly by large-scale farmers for local and international markets. Additional dessert varieties such as Gros Michel, Sukali Ndiizi, Silk , Pome and Mysore are also grown on a small scale. Moreover, the East African Highland Banana, Bluggoe, plantain, and Pisang Awak  are also grown in Africa for cooking, roasting and brewing.

Banana diseases and pests are significant constraints to banana production, creating a vast yield gap. In Africa, the banana is one of the main crops used for staple food and income. In the GLA, the emphasis on improving food should be on banana rather than cereal crops. The genetic improvement of bananas extends excellent prospects for enhancing food security as it supports more people per unit area of production than other staple crops.

Since banana is a vegetatively propagated crop, its production is affected due to the build-up of several pests and pathogens, particularly where several co-exist. The most significant diseases are banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW), Black Sigatoka, fusarium wilt, banana bunchy top disease, and banana streak disease and pests such as nematodes and weevils.

Figure 1: Banana plantation damaged by BXW disease
Source:  www.openaccessgovernment.org

Impact of banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW) on crop production
BXW, caused by Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum, is considered one of the most devastating limitations for the production of bananas in the GLA region of East Africa. The disease affects all cultivated varieties of bananas and its impact is huge and rapid. It has destroyed whole plantations in many of the affected areas . Overall, economic losses from BXW were estimated at $2 to $8 billion over a decade. BXW disease has affected the food security and income of smallholder farmers, who depend on the banana for their livelihood.

Developing resistance to BXW disease
The use of disease-resistant varieties for many plants has been a productive and economically viable strategy for managing diseases. Yet, no source of resistance has been found against BXW in any cultivated banana varieties; only the wild-type diploid banana progenitor “Musa balbisiana” exhibits resistance to this pathogen. 

Click here for the full report 

Publication date: Thu 19 Aug 2021

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Why Kerala has a coconut problem

Coconut production has been dwindling and the Coconut Development Board (Amendment) Bill passed by Parliament has failed to enthuse many growers and industry stakeholders


Jeemon JacobKochiAugust 10, 2021UPDATED: August 11, 2021 07:42 IST

A coconut vendor in Kolkata, on Sept. 2, 2020; (PTI Photo)

Approximately 12 million Indians depend on coconut cultivation for a livelihood. Coconut is a crucial part of the rural economy in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, with an estimated 1,950 million hectares under cultivation (other states account for only 160 million hectares). Around 3.16 million families in these four states are into coconut farming.

India’s annual coconut product exports, excluding coir items, were pegged at Rs 2,295.6 crore for 2020-21. Over the years, though, coconut cultivation has been on a decline, with farmers ruing that they do not get good returns. A major problem is the threat from root wilt disease. Agricultural scientists have failed to find a solution to the problem or develop a seed that can resist the disease.

On August 4, Parliament passed the Coconut Development Board (Amendment) Bill, which among other things paved the way for the appointment of a non-executive chairperson for the board. While tabling the bill, the Union government said it would benefit coconut farmers. “The bill will facilitate development of the coconut industry. The bill also amends the composition of the Coconut Development Board to improve its management and administration,” said Union agriculture and farmers’ welfare minister Narendra Singh Tomar.

But coconut farmers and industry stakeholders are unimpressed. They say the problems faced by growers require a deeper intervention than “cosmetic changes” to the board. The Coconut Development Board was constituted in 1981. According to Thomas Mathew M., a former chief executive of the board, “The amendment passed by Parliament may not benefit coconut growers in southern India, especially Kerala. There were attempts earlier to shift the headquarters of the board from Kochi to other states.”

A senior official of the Coconut Development Board, requesting anonymity, said: “Changing the composition of the governing body of the board is no solution to the problems of coconut growers. We need to develop seeds that give a higher yield and an industrial support system that promotes value added products from coconut.” He added that diversified product development and development of root wilt disease-resistant seeds hold the key to developing coconut clusters in India. “The first root wilt disease case in coconut trees was detected in 1920 in Kerala’s Kottayam district. Even after 100 years, we have not been able to find a remedy.”

India tops the world in coconut production. Around 90 per cent of the total production is accounted for by Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. “Between 2016-17 and 2020-21, production fell from 23,904 million nuts to 21,206 million nuts. The decrease in yield was due to the various reasons. For instance, Cyclone Gaja hit the coconut-growing districts of Tamil Nadu in 2018 and the state also suffered due to white fly infestation. Production was affected in Karnataka due to pests, disease and drought,” according to a performance review by the Coconut Development Board.ADVERTISEMENT

In 2020-21, Maharashtra reported the highest coconut yield—around 17,485 nuts per hectare, as per the board’s evaluation. It was followed by Andhra Pradesh (13,969 nuts per hectare) and Tamil Nadu (12,280 nuts per hectare). Kerala produced only 9,175 nuts per hectare despite having the largest area under coconut cultivation in India.


“Coconut growers are doomed as coconut farming is labour and water intensive. Drought and disease also ruin the coconut palms. A majority of farmers are in debt,” says Jojo Karedan, who specialises in integrated coconut farming in Muthalamada village in Kerala’s Palakkad district.

While Karedan’s attempts to develop diversified products from coconut failed due to the pandemic, Abdulla Mundappuram from Kerala’s Kannur district has scripted a success story.

Mundappuram’s company, Nata Nutrico in Taliparamba, has developed 11 diversified products from coconut, such as jelly and vinegar from coconut water. “We have developed the technology to distil coconut water and produce vinegar from it. Indian coconut products can be in great demand overseas and the government must offer incentives for developing them,” says Abdulla.

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