Research
Farmers know the importance of keeping the land, water and air healthy to sustain their farms from one generation to the next. They also know that a clean environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand.

The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Member of Parliament for Delta and Minister of Public Services and Procurement, recently announced a $1.8 million investment with the University of British Columbia to determine carbon sequestration and GHG emissions, and develop beneficial management practices (BMPs) for increasing the efficiency of fertilizer use in blueberry, potato and forage crops.

This project with the University of British Columbia is one of 20 new research projects supported by the $27 million Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program (AGGP), a partnership with universities and conservation groups across Canada. The program supports research into greenhouse gas mitigation practices and technologies that can be adopted on the farm.

"This project will provide new science-based knowledge on net GHG emissions by accurately measuring GHG emissions and developing mitigation technologies for blueberry, potato and forage crops in the Lower Fraser Valley. The research team will use state-of-the-art instrumentation and automated measurement techniques to quantify annual GHG emissions. While the specific research objectives are targeted to fill regionally identified gaps in knowledge, they will be applicable more broadly to similar agricultural production systems across Canada and Global Research Alliance member countries," said Dr. Rickey Yada, Dean, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, UBC.
Published in Research
While there are no "silver bullets" for combating wireworm, with ongoing research, Island farmers do have more options.

Dr. Christine Noronha, of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, has unveiled an effective wireworm trap. "The trap is a very simple light trap, called the NELT. It uses a solar powered light source to attract the adults of wireworms, click beetles. The beetles walk to the light and fall into a cup buried in the ground under the light,"  Noronha explained.

This is the first trap that catches female click beetles. Trapping the egg-laying females will gradually help reduce the wireworm population in the field. For the full story, click here
Published in Crop Protection
A genetically improved potato designed to have resistance to a devastating global plant disease has successfully come through the first year of field trials.

The field trial conducted by The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) in Norwich involves incorporating late blight resistant genes from a wild potato relative into a cultivated Maris Piper potato. READ MORE
Published in News
Researchers from Ohio State University and the Italian National Agency for New Technologies have developed a "golden" potato with significantly increased levels of vitamins A and E.

Findings from a new study were published recently in PLOS ONE in an article entitled "Potential of Golden Potatoes to Improve Vitamin A and Vitamin E Status in Developing Countries."

The research team found that a serving of the yellow-orange lab-engineered potato has the potential to provide as much as 42 per cent of a child's recommended daily intake of vitamin A and 34 per cent of a child's recommended intake of vitamin E. For the full story, click here
Published in Technology
Examining the ancestors of the modern, North American cultivated potato has revealed a set of common genes and important genetic pathways that have helped spuds adapt over thousands of years.

Cultivated potatoes, domesticated from wild Solanum species, a genetically simpler diploid (containing two complete sets of chromosomes) species, can be traced to the Andes Mountains in Peru, South America.

Scientific explorer Michael Hardigan, formerly at MSU and now at the University of California-Davis, led the team of MSU and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University scientists. Together, they studied wild, landrace (South American potatoes that are grown by local farmers) and modern cultivars developed by plant breeders. For the full story, click here.
Published in Traits and Genetics
In an effort to shine a light on the current status of herbicide resistance in Canada, Top Crop Manager (TCM) has launched the Herbicide Use Survey!

As an industry leader providing up-to-date information and research, TCM is looking to gather input from producers across the country in order to develop a more thorough understanding of the state of herbicide resistance in Canada.

TCM's Herbicide Use Survey will offer participants the ability to help tell the story of these important crop protection tools by having farmers like you share how herbicides are being used.

The survey takes less than 10 minutes to complete, and will ask details like soil and farm acreage, types of weeds being targeted, as well as management practices. All submissions will remain anonymous.

Those who complete the survey will be entered into a random draw for a $500 visa card! Complete the survey here.

The Herbicide Use Survey ends December 8th. Results will be collected and presented at the 2018 Herbicide Resistance Summit in Saskatoon, Sask., on February 27 and 28.

Published in News
Some new high tech tools will soon give farmers a way to keep weeds down, cut costs and herbicide use dramatically and work around weed resistance to herbicides.

In collaboration with a University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) engineer, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada weed specialist Andrew McKenzie-Gopsill is turning to sensors, cameras and computer algorithms to detect the exact location of weeds in a field.

The digital technology will create a data base of images to identify weeds, essentially pinpointing only the areas where herbicide is required.

The technique could cut down herbicide use to a fraction of what it is now and could significantly reduce operating costs for growers.

Some hurdles remain to smooth out the sensor imaging, but the goal is to create field data that can be fed into software that farmers can purchase for use on their sprayers.

Initial equipment costs of around $20,000 could be recouped over a couple of years with the savings from reduced herbicide purchases.

Much like antibiotic resistance in human medicine, the number of weeds that are resistant to commonly used herbicides is on the increase.

Herbicides that were once worked well now offer limited control and the overuse of herbicides is a major factor in weed resistance to sprays.

McKenzie-Gopsill is now doing experiments to find out how resistant various commons weeds on PEI are to herbicides.

His research shows there is weed resistance to metribuzin, the active ingredient in the #1 herbicide used by potato growers.

Weeds collected from tests at AAFC Harrington Research Farm tolerated very high rates of metribuzin. Some fields where metribuzin was applied showed no weed control. This research has the potential to address this challenge while helping growers to continue to provide Canadians with healthy, high-quality food.
Published in Research
In September, potato storage began in the Netherlands. Many crops, including potatoes, are harvested. These potatoes are then stored for several months.

A new atomiser, specifically for sprout inhibitors during this 'storage period', has been designed.

The atomiser, known as the Synofog, uses a new technique - electro-thermal atomisation. The advantage of this new piece of apparatus is that it does not have an open flame. This ensures its safe use with all kinds of sprout inhibitors. READ MORE
Published in Technology
Digging early in the morning is fine, but the combination of high temperatures and humidity in the afternoon makes harvesting potatoes very risky. I have started digging the variety trials, and some of the new entries look promising. They all yield well, but I have had these varieties in trial for only one year. I have attached a few photos of these 4 promising varieties. Here are my field notes:
Published in News
Representatives of the potato industry had a chance recently to view some potential new varieties that could someday find their way into Island fields.

Close to 50 industry representatives took the opportunity to take part in the annual Variety Day at Harrington Farm showcased potential entries for the Accelerated Release program of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, variety trials conducted by the PEI Potato Board, as well as a tour of the organic potato acreage.

There was also a chance to view a soil building rotation trial being conducted in conjunction with the Enhanced Agronomy Initiative-- a fund established in 2016 by processing growers. READ MORE
Published in News
A company started by six Mount Allison students sees a place for potato peels in furniture, flooring and ceiling tiles.

Enviroot's goal is to reduce waste by using food remains, especially potato peelings, to make a safe material for use in the home.

The company received a national business prize of $20,000 from Enactus Canada, a student-led entrepreneurial organization, and the McCain Social Enterprise Project Partnership to get the project going this summer.

"We use the potato peels that we get from McCain Foods here in New Brunswick in our particle board as a kind of filler," said Justin Trueman, Enviroot CEO and fourth-year biology student.

The potato peels are plasticized by melting them a little bit, and a bond between the potato peels' particles is created.

This allows them to bind products together without need of formaldehyde, which is the glues of some household furnishings, walls and stairs made from composite wood materials. READ MORE
Published in News
From planting and digging potatoes to observing insects feeding on plants to learning about coloured spuds, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's (AAFC) Fredericton Research and Development Centre opened its doors and wowed visitors with plenty to see and do.
Published in News
Chinese scientists will attempt to grow potatoes on the moon as part of a forthcoming lunar mission.
Published in Research
Whether its disease resistance, tolerance to stress in the environment or better cold-storage capabilities, research scientists have been incorporating wild potato genetic resources into breeding lines for years to develop more resilient potato varieties. At Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's (AAFC) Fredericton Research and Development Centre, this practice is being increasingly refined in order to meet the needs of the industry which range from higher yields to disease and drought resistance.
Published in Traits and Genetics

First identified in Ontario potatoes in 2015, Dickeya is shaping up to be a problem. Photo courtesy of Tracy Shinners-Carnelley. 

Potato growers are familiar with the problems that stem from blackleg and are adept at managing it. However, two new strains have been identified and one has been spreading in North America for the last two years. Dickeya dianthicola has been affecting potatoes in Europe since the 1970s, but is now found frequently in the United States, particularly in Maine and south along the eastern seaboard. Dickeya is most probably spread on seed and is shaping up to be a problem in North America.

“Dickeya may have two problem features,” says Amy Charkowski, a potato specialist at the University of Wisconsin. “It needs fewer cells to cause disease and it can remain in a kind of dormancy until the right conditions trigger the disease.” She adds the bacteria thrives under wet conditions and is an equal opportunity pathogen so can be found on other vegetables and some ornamental plants. Dickeya does not seem to favour grains and legumes, which makes crop rotation a good option to lessen its spread.

Blackleg seems to resemble the common cold because it changes. Growers use management practices to control the disease, but this new species is not so easily harnessed using this familiar method. Crop protection products are not effective on Dickeya dianthicola. Meanwhile, researchers have identified Dickeya solani in Europe that is very aggressive and is not easily controlled, but it has yet to cross the ocean. This proves that complacency, when it comes to blackleg control, is not an option.

“We found Dickeya in Ontario potatoes in 2015,” says Gary Secor, a plant pathologist from North Dakota State University in Fargo. “The seed came from Maine, which is an example of how easily it spreads.”

To minimize the spread of Dickeya, both Charkowski and Secor recommend not cutting seed and, instead, using the whole tuber. Since it does not survive well in soil, they also recommend diligent crop rotation. “There are no food safety issues, but there is still a lot we don’t know about Dickeya,” Secor says. “We also don’t have any idea what the economic thresholds might be.”

“We are applying for grants to allow us to focus more research on Dickeya,” Charkowski says. “We want to learn what breeders need to know to enable them to breed for resistance, and we need to determine what the thresholds are for seed.

The symptoms are similar to the strains of blackleg growers are familiar with, so tubers need to be tested to identify Dickeya. “If it is present the most noticeable symptom is plant wilting,” Charkowski explains. “There will be rotten potatoes at harvest and there could be rotting at plant emergence.” She says determining an accurate laboratory test may be part of the planned research, but a field assay would be more helpful. Knowing the strain may help determine the most effective control as well.

“A lot of co-operation is required with all agencies working together to make progress on identification and control,” Secor admits. “Certification agencies need to determine if it requires certification at the seed stage.”

According to Tracy Shinners-Carnelley of Peak of the Market in Winnipeg, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s seed potato inspection program has strict tolerance for blackleg infection. “This is likely a factor in how the incidence of blackleg in Canada is quite low,” she says. In the United States, she adds, blackleg is not part of the industry’s seed certification process, which puts Canadian growers at a bit of an advantage when seed changes hands because it is screened. However, accurate tests for particular strains of Dickeya may be necessary if the more virulent versions enter North America.

“Canadian growers need to be aware of the risks and be proactive in order to prevent the introduction or establishment of any new disease,” Shinners-Carnelley continues. “My main message to growers is to follow best management practices and this, combined with the use of certified seed, will help to reduce the risk and spread of Dickeya.”

Published in Diseases

May 25, 2016, Prince Edward Island – A new study linking potatoes and increased risk of high blood pressure is being viewed with caution by the P.E.I. potato board and a local nutritional scientist. | READ MORE

Published in Consumer Issues

Bernie Zebarth is leading a four-year project that will study large-scale compost application on potato fields in New Brunswick, and the resulting effects on yield and soil health. Photo courtesy of Bernie Zebarth. 

In 2013, eastern Canadian potato growers were concerned: they were not seeing the yield increases experienced by growers throughout the rest of North America. Manitoba has seen an average yield increase of 4.4 hundredweight per acre (cwt/acre) each year. By contrast, New Brunswick sits at an average yield increase of 1.4 cwt/acre, and P.E.I. at 1.1 cwt/acre.

One possible culprit for stagnating yields is declining soil health in the eastern provinces. “With sloping land and intensive tillage, you have a lot of issues with soil erosion,” says Bernie Zebarth, a researcher with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) based in Fredericton. “We also have a short rotation for potato, so we’re not getting much organic matter back to the soil. Our concern is that the declining soil health is limiting yield.”

New Brunswick’s processing potato industry is crucial; the province exports most of its product for french fries, and without increasing productivity it loses competitive advantage.

Industry asked for help, and in 2014, Zebarth took the science lead on a four-year industry-led project that will study large-scale application of compost on fields across New Brunswick, and the resulting effects on potato yield and soil health. Potatoes New Brunswick is leading the project, with McCain Foods Canada heading up the on-farm trials. The project will also study a variety of compost products in experimental plots at the AAFC Fredericton Research and Development Centre.

“We want to see the implications of adding compost to the soil, in terms of yield and tuber quality,” Zebarth says. “How much of a yield     difference is there? Will it be cost-effective? How will it fit into growers’ practices? What soil quality parameters does it improve? We want to be able to know which index is the best to use to assess soil health. Can we suppress soil-borne diseases? Will compost fit into New Brunswick potato production?”

The study is part of a larger three-year study that aims to identify areas in New Brunswick, Manitoba and P.E.I. potato fields that have a yield limitation, identify the source of the limitation, and identify mitigation practices to overcome that limitation.

Zebarth says his team is hoping to assess whether adding compost to the soil will help accomplish in a short time what improved rotations might accomplish over a much longer period.

“Because we don’t irrigate, I’m thinking that when it comes to soil health and soil quality, what we’re really after is improvement of the soil’s physical properties, such as water holding capacity and tilth. Any field with a problem with physical properties could benefit from compost.”

The field-scale trials led by McCain in commercial fields for the project involve paired treatment strips in growers’ fields – one treated with compost, one untreated. They are evaluating yield and tuber quality, as well as soil water content and other physical properties of the soil.

Meanwhile, with help from Dalhousie masters student Carolyn Wilson, Zebarth is analyzing five different compost products, assessing their impact on tuber yield and quality, soil quality and on soil-borne diseases like common scab.

The compost being used in the field trials is a wood shaving litter with poultry droppings, which reuses wastes from agriculture and forestry to build soil organic matter. The other composts being analyzed at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre include a forestry residue compost, a source-separated organics compost, a poultry manure-bark compost and a marine-based compost.

The third component of the study is based in the lab, where, along with AAFC researcher Claudia Goyer, Zebarth is using next-generation sequencing to characterize the microbial life in soil samples.

It’s too soon to talk about results. Zebarth is optimistic that compost can help improve soils over time, but he cautions that compost is a “probabilistic” solution. “We’re thinking about compost almost like you look at a capital investment,” he says. “It’s not like a nutrient application, but an infrastructure improvement, where you get payback over the next five to 10 years.”

In some fields, growers may only need to apply compost to certain parts of the field that have soil physical problems. As cost has traditionally been a prohibiting factor for growers hoping to use compost, Zebarth’s team is hoping the study might help them identify a particular compost product that can be scaled up to reduce the costs.

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to soil health, but compost is what Zebarth calls “one tool in the tool box” for improving the soil – and ramping up productivity – over time.

Published in Soil

April 29, 2016, Ontario – The Ontario Potato Board and Dr. Eugenia Banks are collaborating on a two-year project to evaluate late blight management technologies new to Ontario.

The goal of the project is to help growers take late blight management to the next level by using state-of-the-art spore traps placed in potato fields and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology to identify late blight spores before visual symptoms develop in plants. Also, drone technology will be used to validate the performance and effectiveness of spore traps. 

Ontario potato production can be seriously affected by late blight, a devastating disease that can destroy potato fields in a few days if effective fungicides are not applied in a timely fashion. In the past, late blight was sporadic in Canada, but it is now an annual, serious concern for potato and tomato growers in Ontario and other provinces as well. 

The late blight pathogen, Phytophthora infestans, has the ability to produce about 700,000 spores on a single leaf lesion. The spores are disseminated by the wind both within a field and also from farm to farm. Each spore has the potential of initiating infections on potato plants or other hosts such as tomatoes and nightshade weeds. This extremely high spore production is the most important factor involved in the destructive nature of late blight. 

The innovative technologies for spore trapping in potato fields and for spore identification should allow potato producers to manage late blight more effectively and avoid epidemics that could pose a serious threat to provincial potato production. 

Information obtained during the growing season will be shared not only with provincial potato growers but with provincial tomato growers as well. 

This project is funded in part through Growing Forward 2. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of Growing Forward 2 in Ontario. 

 

Published in Diseases

April 28, 2016, Charlottetown – Christine Noronha, an entomologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Charlottetown Research and Development Centre, has designed an environmentally green trap that could be a major breakthrough in the control of wireworms, an increasingly destructive agricultural pest on Prince Edward Island and across Canada.

In this exslusive webinar hosted by Potatoes in Canada magazine, Christine will share details about the Noronha Elaterid Light Trap (NELT). Don't miss the opportunity to ask questions and learn more from Christine Noronha. 

Date: May 12, 2016

Time: 2 p.m. ADT (1 p.m. EDT)

Cost: $20

Register today!

Published in Crop Protection

 

New hope is on the horizon for potato growers engaged in the ongoing battle against Colorado potato beetle (CPB). Researchers are currently field-testing one of the most effective controls ever developed for the potato’s chief insect villain, and it is entirely chemical-free.

RNA interference (RNAi) is a biological process whereby RNA (ribonucleic acid) molecules activate a protective response against parasite nucleotide sequences by inhibiting their gene expression. In other words, it is the method by which organisms – including pests such as CPB – defend themselves against threats and regulate their own genes. But the same process that is used by a beetle to protect itself can be used to destroy it when it consumes the long double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) in genetically modified plants.

Since 2009, researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Potsdam and Jena, Germany, have been developing genetically modified potato plants to enable their chloroplasts to accumulate dsRNA targeted against essential CPB genes. After feeding on a potato’s leaves – and ingesting the dsRNA – the beetles in the study showed 100 per cent mortality within five days.

Why chloroplasts, rather than plant cell nuclei? In past breeding projects, expression of dsRNA in potato plants’ nuclei has proven inefficient because natural RNAi pathways in nuclei prevented the plant from producing enough long dsRNA. But long dsRNA are free to accumulate in chloroplasts – which have no RNAi mechanism – and the plants are fully protected against CPB.

According to Jiang Zhang, a professor with the College of Life Science at Hubei University in China, and the lead on the project, the technology shows great promise for the future of pest management, but there are no immediate plans for commercialization until all regulatory hurdles have been overcome.

“We encourage more scientists and industry involvement in this field for a better future,” Zhang says. “There is still a long way to go to make it really useful in daily life and be accepted by customers.”

RNAi-based biocontrol
RNAi for control of CPB has also gained significant momentum in private research and development. Monsanto and Syngenta have both devoted major investments toward the technology.

In early 2015, Monsanto’s BioDirect technology platform targeted at CPB advanced to Phase 2 – early product development – of the company’s research and development pipeline. The product will have to complete advanced product development and pre-launch before broad commercialization early in the next decade.

While the principle is the same, Monsanto’s product works differently than Max Planck’s modified potato plant: it is sprayed onto the plant’s foliage. Rather than expressing dsRNA in its leaves, dsRNA is applied exogenously to the plant.

“The Colorado potato beetle consumes the leaves of the potato plant where we can focus the BioDirect application, versus needing a plant to produce the dsRNA targeting the pest below-ground where sprays cannot reach,” explains Greg Heck, weed control team lead for Monsanto’s chemistry technology area.

Heck says there are thousands of dsRNA naturally present in host plants that serve a variety of functions, and beetles consume and incorporate dsRNA all the time. “When targeting them for pest control, we seek to supply one additional dsRNA that will turn down a specific gene critical to their ability to feed and grow on the plant.

“Field research conducted on our BioDirect treatment for Colorado potato beetles has already demonstrated some early positive results. This includes reduced Colorado potato beetle larva infestation and plant defoliation in multiple geographies.”

Syngenta’s most advanced RNA-based biocontrol targets CPB in potato – and is also applied via a spray. The company has tested the product in multiple geographies over several years with positive results, says Luc Maertens, Syngenta’s RNAi platform lead based in Belgium. The company hopes to commercialize the product early in the next decade pending continued development and regulatory reviews.

Maertens says the company’s biocontrol is highly selective and starts to work before CPB can cause too much damage.

“The biocontrol is not systemic [in the plant], nor does it work through contact,” he says. “It does not change or have any effect on the DNA of the pest, nor does it involve genetic modification of the plant.”

No technology can work forever, however. Insect resistance to RNAi is a potential risk – one companies and researchers alike are keen to avoid so the technology has maximum benefit and longevity.

Maertens says that as resistance emerges to existing technologies, and the pest spectrum shifts along with climate change and other factors, growers’ needs will change. “Those challenges cannot be answered by only one technology,” he says. “It is imperative to gain insights into probable resistance mechanisms to RNAi triggers in insects, to monitor possible resistance in the field, and to support the use of the technology with appropriate stewardship requirements.”

Of the two methods of RNAi application (genetic modification and spray-on), Zhang believes the former might be better for growers. “Applying dsRNA exogenously is much less cost-effective than expressing dsRNA in the plant itself,” he says. “Spraying may also cause other potential problems in the environment.”

RNAi is not meant to be a silver bullet and should be used as part of a multifaceted pest control strategy. Regardless of the method of application, RNAi may soon be working in a field near you.

 

 

 

Published in Pest Control
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