Closed-loop concept could be future of sustainable farms

Closed-loop concept could be future of sustainable farms

Dr. Eunsung Kan sees his concept of a closed-loop dairy farm – which reuses wastewater, emits zero waste and powers itself on manure – as the future.

Canada’s newest potatoes

Canada’s newest potatoes

One has dark pink flesh and red skin, making it rich in antioxidants and perfect for niche marketing. Another increases yields by as much as 35 per cent when compared with the industry standard Russet Burbank, which is good news for french fry processors. Several others offer particular disease and pest resistances.

Smaller sweet cherry trees

Smaller sweet cherry trees

Bigger may not be better for sweet cherry trees.

Compost bedding good for cow claw health

Compost bedding good for cow claw health

The use of wood shavings and sawdust in dairy barns instead of straw bedding is especially good for cow claw health according to a study by Austrian researchers

VRIC to develop new apple, tomato varieties

VRIC to develop new apple, tomato varieties

The Vineland Research & Innovation Centre is receiving a $920,000 federal investment from the federal government to develop disease-resistant apple varieties

video
Herbicide Resistance Summit 2016 May 11, 2016...
Which glyphosate-resistant weed is most problematic to Ontario growers? Peter Sikkema answers this question and provides control and management strategies for dealing with glyphosate resistance in this exclusive interview from the 2016 Herbicide Resistance Summit.
video
Herbicide Resistance Summit 2016 May 4, 2016...
How can farmers preserve the herbicides they are so dependant on? Neil Harker, a weed scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Lacombe, Alta., suggests strategies to help slow down herbicide resistance in this week’s exclusive video from the 2016 Herbicide Resistance Summit.
video
Herbicide Resistance Summit 2016 April 27, 2016...
Jason Norsworthy, a professor in the department of crop, soil and environmental sciences at the University of Arkansas, spoke at the 2016 Herbicide Resistance Summit about the status of herbicide resistance in the United States. In this exclusive video, Norsworthy offers insight on the future of herbicide resistance, and suggestions for best management practices.
video
Herbicide Resistance Summit 2016 April 20, 2016...
Harvest weed seed control is a management practice that has seen great success in Australia. In this week’s exclusive video from the 2016 Herbicide Resistance Summit, Breanne Tidemann and Michael Walsh discuss the potential for adapting this strategy to Canada, and the benefits and challenges of harvest weed seed control.

Research

Agronomy

Miscanthus 2.4 times more productive than switchgrass Miscanthus 2.4 times more productive than switchgrass

  Jan. 20, 2017 - US researchers have maintained that miscanthus, long speculated to be the top biofuel producer, yields more than twice as much as switchgrass in the US using an open-source bioenergy crop database gaining traction in plant science, climate change, and ecology research. "To understand yield trends and variation across the country for our major food crops, extensive databases are available — notably those provided by the USDA Statistical Service," said lead author Stephen Long, Gutgsell professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois. He added: "But there was nowhere to go if you wanted to know about biomass crops, particularly those that have no food value such as miscanthus, switchgrass, willow trees, etc." To fill this gap, researchers at the Energy Biosciences Institute at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology created BETYdb, an open-source repository for physiological and yield data that facilitates bioenergy research. The goal of this database is not only to store the data but to make the data widely available and usable. | READ MORE.  

Plant Genetics

Inhibiting expression of the SP5G gene with CRISPR causes rapid flowering, leading to earlier fruits. A modified tomato plant is on the right, shown the same number of days after planting as the Gene editing yields tomatoes that flower, ripen earlier

Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Using a simple genetic method to tweak genes native to two popular varieties of tomato plants, a team at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has devised a rapid method to make them flower and produce ripe fruit more than two weeks faster than commercial breeders are currently able to do. This means more plantings per growing season and thus higher yield. In this case, it also means that the plant can be grown in latitudes more northerly than currently possible – an important attribute as the earth’s climate warms. “Our work is a compelling demonstration of the power of gene editing – CRISPR technology – to rapidly improve yield traits in crop breeding,” said CSHL Associate Professor Zachary Lippman, who led the research. Applications can go far beyond the tomato family, he added, to include many major food crops like maize, soybean, and wheat that so much of the world depends upon. Lippman clarified that the technique his team published in Nature Genetics is about more than simply increasing yield. “It’s really about creating a genetic toolkit that enables growers and breeders in a single generation to tweak the timing of flower production and thus yield, to help adapt our best varieties to grow in parts of the world where they don’t currently thrive.” At the heart of the method are insights obtained by Lippman and colleagues, including plant scientists at the Boyce Thompson Institute in Ithaca, NY, and in France led by Dr. José Jiménez-Gómez, about the evolution of the flowering process in many crops and their wild relatives as it relates to the length of the light period in a day. Genetic research revealed why today’s cultivated tomato plant is not very sensitive to this variable compared to wild relatives from South America. Somehow, it does not much matter to domesticated plants whether they have 12 hours of daylight or 16 hours; they flower at virtually the same point after planting. A well-known hormonal system regulates flowering time – and hence the time when the plant will generate its first ripe fruit. The hormone florigen and a counteracting “anti-florigen” hormone called SP (for self pruning) act together, in yin-yang fashion, to, respectively, promote or delay flowering. In one phase of the newly reported research, the investigators studied a wild tomato species native to the Galapagos Islands – near the equator, with days and nights close to 12 hours year-round. They wanted to learn why, when grown in northern latitudes with very long summer days, this plant flowered very late in the season and produced few fruits. The wild equatorial tomato, they learned, was extremely sensitive to daylight length. The longer the day, the longer the time to flowering, whereas “when you have a shorter light period, as in the plant’s native habitat, they flower faster,” Lippman said. This suggested there was a genetic change in tomato plants that occurred at some point before or during the domestication of wild tomato plants. Lippman suspected these changes likely had already occurred when the Spanish conquistador Cortez brought tomatoes to Europe from Mexico in the early 16th century, beginning the era of the plant’s widespread adoption in mid-northern latitudes. Lippman and colleagues traced the loss of day-length sensitivity in domesticated tomatoes to mutations in a gene called SP5G (SELF PRUNING 5G). It’s a member of the same family of florigen and anti-florigen genes that were already known to regulate flowering time in tomato. Growing the wild tomato plant from the Galapagos in greenhouses and fields in New York, Lippman and colleagues observed a sharp spike in the expression and activity of the anti-florigen hormone encoded by the SP5G gene, causing flowering to occur much later. In domesticated tomato plants, in contrast, that surge of anti-florigen is much weaker. The team’s principal innovation – generating varieties of cherry and roma tomatoes that flower much earlier than the domesticated varieties on which they are based – arised from the observation that while domesticated plants are notably insensitive to day length, “there was some residual expression of the anti-florigen SP5G gene,” Lippman said. This led the team to employ the gene-editing tool CRISPR to induce tiny mutations in the SP5G gene. The aim was to inactivate the gene entirely such that it did not generate any anti-florigen protein at all. When this tweaked version of SP5G was introduced to popular roma and cherry tomato varieties, the plants flowered earlier, and thus made fruits that ripened earlier. Tweaking another anti-florigen gene that makes tomato plants grow in a dense, compact, shrub-like manner made the early flowering varieties even more compact and early yielding – a trait the team calls “double-determinate.” “What we’ve demonstrated here is fast-forward breeding,” Lippman said. “Now we have a simple strategy to completely eliminate daylight sensitivity in elite inbred and hybrid plants that are already being cultivated. This could enable growers to expand their geographical range of cultivation, simply by using CRISPR to rapidly ‘adapt’ tomato and other crops to more northern latitudes, where summers have very long days and very short growing seasons.” “Variation in the flowering gene SELF PRUNING 5G promotes day-neutrality and early yield in tomato” appeared online December 5, 2016, in Nature Genetics. The authors are: Sebastian Soyk, Niels A. Müller, Soon Ju Park, Inga Schmalenbach, Ke Jiang, Ryosuke Hayama, Lei Zhang, Joyce Van Eck, José M. Jiménez-Gómez and Zachary B. Lippman. The apper can be accessed at: http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/vaop/ncurrent/index.html. CUTLINE  

Environment Research

Managing organic waste in agricultural regions Managing organic waste in agricultural regions

January 30, 2017, Madison, WI – Wisconsin is known as America's dairy land – more than one-third of all the cows in America live on some 3,000 farms in the state. Those bovine residents contribute to a thriving dairy industry, but milk is not the only thing that they produce in prodigious quantities. That many cows inevitably leads to a significant amount of manure, and managing that organic waste is an important problem for everyone living in the state. "It is a horribly complex problem and we all contribute to it and are affected by it," says Victor Zavala, the Richard H. Soit assistant professor in chemical and biological engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Farms generate the manure and we are all affected by its environmental impacts. But manure production is driven by strong economic forces originating from urban areas that demand dairy products." Phosphorus runoff from manure causes algal blooms in water bodies. Manure also releases pathogenic bacteria and methane gas. Technologies do exist to process organic waste, while at the same time recovering valuable products such as biogas and struvite for fertilizer; but these technologies are expensive and affordable only for large farms. Yet, deciding on a suitable solution involves much more than technology cost alone: Where to locate manure processing plants, how to transport the waste, and who should pay for the equipment are all challenging questions. With so many competing interests, no single individual can realistically keep track of all the costs, benefits, and constraints. "This problem is too complex. You need to find simpler and more direct ways to explain the interactions between social, economic and technology aspects to people making decisions," says Zavala. Conflicting stakeholder interests complicate the problem further; most of the time such conflicts arise unnecessarily because of a lack of data about technology and logistical constraints. A decision-making framework can help people to better grasp the large number of factors that need to be considered and to narrow down the options to a few potential solutions – and Zavala and his colleagues are developing such a framework to help people reach agreements in complex and potentially controversial decisions such as manure management. By systematically quantifying costs, environmental impacts, and people's opinions and priorities, these tools can help lead to compromise solutions that maximize collective stakeholder satisfaction. With support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Dane County in Wisconsin, Zavala is creating decision-making frameworks that government and industry can use to identify optimal strategies to tackle the manure management problem. "We are hoping that with this framework, we can have a more informed negotiation process. Instead of just telling stakeholders what they should do, we want to provide better frameworks for people to negotiate on what the manure management infrastructure would do," says Zavala, who is leading the effort along with Rebecca Larson, an assistant professor of biological and systems engineering at UW-Madison. Importantly, the researchers will include quantitative measures of stakeholders' satisfaction in their models to ensure that the opinions of all groups – rural and urban communities, farmers, politicians, environmental regulators, and scientists alike – are heard and considered. "We try to come up with fair solutions that please as many stakeholders as possible, with the important observation that you will very rarely be able to please everyone," says Zavala. "The framework can also be used to inform stakeholders on how their opinions influence (or not) the final decision. That is a powerful piece of information." In related research, Zavala and colleagues recently completed a project on organic waste management in Dane County, WI. That team included UW-Madison/UW Extension collaborators from the Departments of Biological Systems Engineering, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Soil Science, and Water Resources Management. Funding for the project was provided by Dane County. The team's analysis of the livestock in the Upper Yahara Watershed study area indicates an excess of up to nearly double the manure phosphorus in comparison to crop uptake. The level of excess indicates a need to redistribute the manure outside the study area.

Aquaculture Research

Ag sector’s reliance on temporary foreign workers is growing Ag sector’s reliance on temporary foreign workers is growing

December 5, 2016, Ottawa, Ont – Canada’s agriculture sector faces a persistent lack of sufficient workers with the right skills and in the right places. Labour shortages have doubled over the last decade and are projected to double again to 113,800 positions before 2025, according to a new Conference Board of Canada report. This report relies on research findings from a three-year agriculture labour market research project conducted by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) in collaboration with the Conference Board. “The agriculture sector is having difficulty recruiting and retaining domestic workers. As labour shortages have expanded, the sector has increasingly turned to temporary foreign workers to fill the labour gap,” said Michael Burt, director of industrial economic trends with the Conference Board of Canada. “Finding solutions to the labour shortages in the years to come is critical for the future growth of the sector.” The report – Sowing the Seeds of Growth: Temporary Foreign Workers in Agriculture – examines why temporary foreign workers (TFWs) play such an important role in the agriculture sector’s workforce. It finds that the industry faces unique recruitment and retention challenges that are contributing to its growing labour shortages. These challenges include an aging workforce, the rural location of many operations, and negative perceptions about working in the sector. Highlights of the report include: Labour shortages within Canada’s agriculture sector have doubled over the past decade and are expected to double again by 2025. At its seasonal peak, the sector needs about 100,000 more workers than at seasonal lows. Three-quarters of the sector’s labour gap has been filled by temporary foreign workers. The most prominent challenge is the large seasonal fluctuations in employment. At its seasonal peak, the agriculture sector needs about 100,000 more workers than at its seasonal lows, which represents a 30 per cent fluctuation. The average difference between the seasonal peak and low in employment for all other sectors is just four per cent. These seasonal fluctuations are why more than three quarters of agricultural TFWs arrive as part of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. TFWs have become a key part of the sector’s continued operations and will likely continue to play a growing role in the future. TFWs have been able to fill three-quarters of the industry’s labour shortage gap and now represent one-in-10 workers in the sector. In addition to easing much of the sector’s labour shortages, TFWs have contributed to the growth in agricultural production over the past decade and have supported the employment of Canadians in the sector. Many farm operators indicate that they would have closed, leading to Canadian job losses, had they not had access to TFWs. Finding solutions to the sector’s growing labour gap in the years to come is important. However, just paying more or buying more machines are not the panacea they would seem. For example, wages in agriculture have risen relative to the average for all sectors over the past 15 years, but the number of Canadians willing to work in agriculture has shrunk. At the same time, a dramatic increase in the amount of machinery employed per worker has contributed to agriculture experiencing the strongest labour productivity gains of any major sector over the past 20 years. Yet, the sector’s labour gap has continued to expand. One potential solution may be re-evaluating the effectiveness of Canada’s immigration programs so that they better meet the needs of the agriculture sector. With federal immigration policies geared toward attracting high-skilled workers, they offer few pathways for permanent residency for lower-skilled workers, even though agriculture has a critical need for them. A path toward permanent residency for migrant workers, who are filling a permanent market need, would assist farm operators in finding a permanent solution to their labour challenges. This research was funded by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC).