Ultimate Canola Challenge 3.0

Ultimate Canola Challenge 3.0

The Ultimate Canola Challenge (UCC) 3.0 ran in 2015 to further assess the effects of boron fertilizer on canola yield across the Prairies.

Tracking soybean pathogens

Tracking soybean pathogens

In order to control diseases in the infamous seedling disease complex – including seed rot, root rot, seedling blight and damping off – you have to track the pathogens responsible.

Algae enlisted to produce biofuel using discarded papayas

Algae enlisted to produce biofuel using discarded papayas

USDA scientists in Hawaii are working to produce a renewable source of oil for conversion into biodiesel to help meet the island state's energy needs.

The dark side of black cutworm

The dark side of black cutworm

Just because black cutworms don’t overwinter in Canada doesn’t mean they aren’t a threat to potato crops. The insects spend their winters in the southern United States but travel north on low-level jet streams and, once they cross the border into Canada, they look for a tasty food source.

Drought, deluge, drought, deluge…

Drought, deluge, drought, deluge…

In recent decades, Prairie producers have taken steps that enable them to survive short droughts.

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Expert Dr. Susan Watkins discusses Water Sanitatio...
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Production

Someday, astronauts will apply Mike Dixon's research to growing food crops in space, but today his findings are benefiting Earth. Meals on Mars:

May 3, 2016 - Plants are hardier than people. It’s a lesson Dr. Mike Dixon has learned in his lab, where he grows plants under “weird” conditions. Someday, astronauts will apply his research to growing food crops in space, but today his findings are benefiting Earth. Dixon is Director of the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility at the University of Guelph. The lab is the most advanced facility of its kind in the world, housing equipment such as hypobaric chambers that allow researchers to experiment with unusual growth conditions such as reduced atmospheric pressure. “In our lab we started out 15 years ago asking how low we could take the atmospheric pressure and still have plants producing all the functions of human life support,” Dixon says. “Now we’re simulating other scenarios – like, what if you have a greenhouse on the moon and it gets punctured? And what if it takes a couple of hours to repair the hole?” In Dixon’s lab, researchers discovered plants will grow at approximately one-tenth of the earth’s atmospheric pressure, and one-third of earth’s oxygen level. Recently, in collaboration with NASA scientists on site, Dixon’s team dropped the pressure dramatically and created a vacuum to mimic greenhouse damage in space. “The plants didn’t like it, and when we brought the pressure back up they had a little frost damage, but they survived,” Dixon says. “You and I? We would be history.” Biological life support is an essential component of any long-term mission for space exploration. Scientists estimate each crew member would require 60 to 80 square metres of plant production to survive. And, while there’s no mission to grow a plant on the moon or Mars today, Dixon says there are plenty of opportunities to grow plants in other inhospitable places, like the deserts of Kuwait, in Antarctica or in the Canadian North – where he has research projects in place. “Mostly we’re working with crops from a conventional garden – a nutritious, vegetarian, psychologically-appealing diet,” Dixon says. “That part isn’t rocket science. It really is conventional agriculture, squeezed into a relatively small space.” Dixon’s team has designed special modules that maximize space for growing plants, while carefully controlling conditions. Next, Dixon’s team is working to address a technical challenge he shares with greenhouse growers on earth: Managing greenhouse effluent.“It’s a huge technical challenge I have to fix, because there’s no such thing as garbage in space,” Dixon says. “We have to learn how to recycle or reuse every atom of every thing we take with us, to the best of our ability.” Dixon’s team is working with the Canadian Space Agency and Canadian industry partners to develop individual ion sensors that will allow them to monitor the status and quality of recycling nutrient solutions. Dixon says it’s part of the plan to incrementally advance to the point where there is a self-sustaining ecosystem in a controlled environment – but it will offer technology transfer opportunities on Earth as well.

Equipment

Changying “Charlie” Li – an associate professor in engineering at the University of Georgia – holds up the Berry Impact Recording Device (BIRD), which he created. The off-white ball rides along with the berries in the plant while its electronic chip records the bumps and bruises inflicted on the fruit. Handling blueberries with extra care

  Since a blueberry is mostly water, any touch has the potential to bruise it. While most human pickers are gentle enough to pick the berries without bruising them, the same cannot be said for mechanical pickers. Bruising is almost guaranteed when berries drop more than 30 cm onto a hard surface, generally the case on today’s picking machines. As more growers turn to machine picking to offset the increasing cost and decreasing availability of labour, bruising has become more of an issue. Researchers have developed a new BIRD (blueberry impact recording device) sensor to more accurately measure bruising in mechanical pickers and on packing lines. Roughly the size and shape of a blueberry, the BIRD weighs about six grams and can be dropped in a machine just like a blueberry. “It’s very good at measuring impact,” says U.S. Department of Agriculture research horticulturist Fumiomi Takeda, who is based at the Appalachian Fruit Station in West Virginia. The BIRD has shown that no two packing lines are the same and has pinpointed transition points as creating the most impacts. Even if each impact is small, the cumulative effect of multiple impacts is enough to create bruising and reduce overall fruit quality. While the BIRD sensed little damage in hand harvesting, it found severe impacts in picking machines, particularly from the catch plates. Even if bruises aren’t apparent to the naked eye, they exist, Takeda told growers and packers at the recent Pacific Agriculture Show in Abbotsford, B.C. “Ten per cent of the [machine-picked] fruit you put into cold storage is damaged.” Primary ways to lessen bruising are to develop a firmer berry that can stand up to machine picking or to build a picking machine that can handle berries more delicately. Berry breeders, researchers and engineers are working on both options. “Growers have identified machine harvestability and firmer fruit as their highest priority and that’s one trait we’re focusing on,” says B.C. berry breeder Michael Dossett. Success is still a long way away. The commercial release of a new variety can take up to 15 years and the B.C. blueberry breeding program is in its ninth year. Even if Dossett releases a new variety in the next six years, there is no indication his earliest selections have the firmness growers want and need. Takeda says engineers are making some headway, noting they have created a new catcher plate design that “virtually eliminates bruising.” Another promising design picks from the top using angled rotors and drops the berries onto a soft surface. “It has the same fruit quality as hand harvesting,” Takeda says. Researchers have also tried a walk-a-long unit (not much improvement) and a semi-mechanical machine with multiple shakers to eliminate some of the mechanical movement. Last year, Naturipe Farms – one of the world’s leading blueberry growers and marketers – issued the Blue Challenge, inviting “innovators, developers and technology integrators to help transform the way we will harvest blueberries in the future.” It has promised $10,000 and a joint development agreement for up to five semi-finalists, which were selected in January and February. The first person to deliver a working prototype with a demonstrable ability to be a viable commercial automated system will receive a $200,000 prize. While they await a winner, Takeda says one thing growers can do is pad their catch plates so berries don’t drop straight onto hard plastic. Packers should also consider rejigging their lines to reduce the number of transition points.      

Research

Someday, astronauts will apply Mike Dixon's research to growing food crops in space, but today his findings are benefiting Earth. Meals on Mars:

May 3, 2016 - Plants are hardier than people. It’s a lesson Dr. Mike Dixon has learned in his lab, where he grows plants under “weird” conditions. Someday, astronauts will apply his research to growing food crops in space, but today his findings are benefiting Earth. Dixon is Director of the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility at the University of Guelph. The lab is the most advanced facility of its kind in the world, housing equipment such as hypobaric chambers that allow researchers to experiment with unusual growth conditions such as reduced atmospheric pressure. “In our lab we started out 15 years ago asking how low we could take the atmospheric pressure and still have plants producing all the functions of human life support,” Dixon says. “Now we’re simulating other scenarios – like, what if you have a greenhouse on the moon and it gets punctured? And what if it takes a couple of hours to repair the hole?” In Dixon’s lab, researchers discovered plants will grow at approximately one-tenth of the earth’s atmospheric pressure, and one-third of earth’s oxygen level. Recently, in collaboration with NASA scientists on site, Dixon’s team dropped the pressure dramatically and created a vacuum to mimic greenhouse damage in space. “The plants didn’t like it, and when we brought the pressure back up they had a little frost damage, but they survived,” Dixon says. “You and I? We would be history.” Biological life support is an essential component of any long-term mission for space exploration. Scientists estimate each crew member would require 60 to 80 square metres of plant production to survive. And, while there’s no mission to grow a plant on the moon or Mars today, Dixon says there are plenty of opportunities to grow plants in other inhospitable places, like the deserts of Kuwait, in Antarctica or in the Canadian North – where he has research projects in place. “Mostly we’re working with crops from a conventional garden – a nutritious, vegetarian, psychologically-appealing diet,” Dixon says. “That part isn’t rocket science. It really is conventional agriculture, squeezed into a relatively small space.” Dixon’s team has designed special modules that maximize space for growing plants, while carefully controlling conditions. Next, Dixon’s team is working to address a technical challenge he shares with greenhouse growers on earth: Managing greenhouse effluent.“It’s a huge technical challenge I have to fix, because there’s no such thing as garbage in space,” Dixon says. “We have to learn how to recycle or reuse every atom of every thing we take with us, to the best of our ability.” Dixon’s team is working with the Canadian Space Agency and Canadian industry partners to develop individual ion sensors that will allow them to monitor the status and quality of recycling nutrient solutions. Dixon says it’s part of the plan to incrementally advance to the point where there is a self-sustaining ecosystem in a controlled environment – but it will offer technology transfer opportunities on Earth as well.

AgAnnex Events

Farming Smarter Plot Hop I Thu Jun 09, 2016 @ 9:00am - 01:00pm
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Alliston Potato Festival Fri Aug 05, 2016 @ 8:00am - 05:00pm
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2016 North American Manure Expo Wed Aug 03, 2016 @ 8:00am - 05:00pm
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