AIC Notes    Top Issue 2011-25       July 14, 2011 
In This Issue
AIC Journals - New Issues Online
Ontario Dissents on Plans for Growing Forward Sequel
Agriculture Ministers and Farm and Industry Leaders Agree, Canada Needs a National Food Strategy
Funding Awarded to Study Animal Diseases
Government of Canada Boosting Blueberry Opportunities
The 'Snicker Factor' Aside, Hemp is Serious Business
Honeybees' Alarming Mortality Rate Leaves Beekeepers Looking for Answers
Switch From Corn to Grass Would Raise Ethanol Output, Cut Emissions
Scientists Sequence Potato Genome
World Population Day: Worldwatch Institute Promotes Agricultural Solutions
CUSO-VSO Seeking Volunteers
Coming Events

AIC Journals - New Issues Online


The Canadian Journal of Soil Science, Volume 91, Number 3, is a special issue on the theme Mitigation of Phosphorus Losses from Agriculture.  The table of contents can be viewed at


The Canadian Journal of Plant Science, Volume 91, Number 4, is available online at


And the Canadian Journal of Animal Science, Volume 91, Issue 3 (September 2011) is now loading "efirst" articles (articles published online ahead of print) at



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Ontario Dissents on Plans for Growing Forward Sequel


An agreement has been signed between federal and provincial ag ministers on the goals of the follow-up to the Growing Forward ag policy funding framework -- but with one major holdout.


Ontario's ag minister Carol Mitchell did not sign onto the ministers' joint statement Friday on what's been dubbed "Growing Forward 2," citing a lack of federal support for the province's new risk management program (RMP).


In her own statement Friday, Mitchell also warned of a federal proposal to dial back funding for the AgriStability farm income stabilization program.


"Ontario farmers want the federal government to support Ontario's risk management program and the federal government said no," she said in a statement following the ministers' meetings held Wednesday to Friday at St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, N.B.


"I did not sign on to this flawed agreement on future programs because Ontario farmers told me it would take us in the wrong direction and not provide our family farms what they need to continue to bring quality, locally-grown food to Ontario tables."


Furthermore, she said, "in a time when many farms and farm businesses are just starting to recover from losses, we cannot cut support to programs like AgriStability, as is being proposed by the federal government."


Ontario, which recently released details on the levels of support available under its RMP, has said the RMP is meant as a companion to production insurance and AgriStability, with the province funding RMP at the full amount of its usual 40 per cent share.


The province treats RMP payments an advance on the province's 40 per cent share of a producer's AgriStability payment, in which an eligible producer would keep the greater of the two payments. 


The ministers' statement Friday did not mention any proposed decrease in funding for AgriStability, but did note their agreement was reached "with the exception of Ontario."


"Broad outcomes"


What the ministers called the "St. Andrews Statement" or SAS [Editor's note: the full statement can be read on the AAFC website.] is meant to provide instructions to federal and provincial ag bureaucrats in negotiating and developing Growing Forward 2 (GF2), which is expected to be put in place for April 1, 2013.


The SAS laid out "two broad outcomes" for GF2 for the ag industry, including farmers, processors and supporting businesses: "competitiveness in domestic and international markets" and "adaptability and sustainability for the sector."


The statement also notes "innovation" and "institutional and physical infrastructure" as the two "key drivers" needed to achieve those outcomes.


There's a need, the SAS said, to "continuously adapt policies and practices and to attract new capital and new participants to the sector to meet the challenge of aging population and the need for renewal this creates."


Looking specifically at GF2 programming, the SAS calls for programs to be "streamlined to achieve efficient delivery with the minimum administrative burden possible for participants" and to "incorporate performance and evaluation measures" into the programs.


Participating governments, the SAS said, "would establish mechanisms for managing costs to sustain program affordability for all governments over the duration of the framework while respecting the 60:40 federal/provincial cost-share ratio."


While not mentioning Ontario's RMP, the SAS said the participants would consider "developing innovative FPT (federal/provincial/territorial) funding and program arrangements to allow for provincial flexibility (and) address priority needs while at the same time ensuring FPT coherence."


Meat trade pilots


The ministers on Friday said they also reviewed the results of pilot projects launched in February to expand interprovincial trade in meat and "agreed to move quickly and to strengthen efforts to advance these pilots."


Among other issues at the St. Andrews meeting, the ministers said they also reviewed the "evolving flooding situation which farmers are facing across Canada, and pledged to continue working together to assess what further assistance is required."


They also "acknowledged the progress being made on a national livestock traceability system due to the shared efforts of industry and governments to move it forward."


On the same day that the ag ministers from Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia issued a statement of support for "marketing choice for wheat, durum and barley" on the Prairies, the various ag ministers at St. Andrews "reiterated their positions on marketing mechanisms such as the Canadian Wheat Board and reaffirmed their support for supply management."


The agriculture ministers' next annual meeting is scheduled for Sept. 12-14, 2012 at Whitehorse.


Country Guide, July 10, 2011


Agriculture Ministers and Farm and Industry Leaders Agree, Canada Needs a National  Food Strategy


Canadian farm and industry leaders met with federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers today to discuss the National Food Strategy (NFS) developed by key actors along the value chain. With participants representing all commodities and provinces, as well as input suppliers, processors and farm financial and accounting services, the 12th annual Tripartite Roundtable hosted by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture served as a constructive forum to gain input on a common plan for Canadian agriculture and food.

"The CFA was very pleased to have a candid exchange with the ministers. We appreciate how receptive the ministers were of the National Food Strategy and look forward to following-up on the discussions and fleshing out the details collaboratively. The hope is that the NFS will help guide the development of Growing Forward 2, the next suite of agricultural policy and programs," said CFA President, Ron Bonnett.

In their discussions with the ministers, farm and industry leaders emphasized that agriculture and food policy can no longer be addressed through short-term solutions for lasting and evolving challenges. The National Food Strategy was developed by the agriculture and agri-food industry to ensure a more holistic and strategic approach to food and agriculture to meet the needs of the food system and future generations in Canada, as well as the global community.

"The National Food Strategy is important in bringing together the entire value chain for the benefit of all Canadians," commented Carla Ventin of Food and Consumer Products of Canada during her presentation at the meeting. Judy Shaw of Syngenta echoed this view, noting, "We see this as a strategy to continue building the business of agriculture, to create long-term value for Canada but also one that makes a significant contribution to society."

"The industry has taken the first step in moving towards finding broader solutions for the value chain, taking into account everything from promoting the Canadian brand and healthy lifestyles to sustaining economic growth and ecosystems. For this to work, we need it to translate into policy. That's were government comes in, and we are ready and willing to work with them," commented Bonnett.

The CFA thanked the ministers for participating in the dialogue with leaders along the value chain and was pleased to hear the ministers unanimously support the work done to date on the NFS. Farm and industry leaders will be following-up with their respective ministers and other industry groups as Phase 2 of the NFS begins and action plans are developed.


Canadian Federation of Agriculture Press Release in AgriLink, July 11, 2011


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Funding Awarded to Study Animal Diseases


A vaccine to help stop the spread of diseases in animals, immunotherapy to treat ALS and research into illnesses that can migrate from animals to humans are just three of several Canadian projects that received $2.9 million in funding on Wednesday.


Fifty-five researchers from nine universities were awarded with funding from PrioNet Canada to continue their work on 11 projects that study prion diseases in humans and animals, PrioNet Canada's scientific director, Dr. Neil Cashman, said.


The research network develops strategies to help solve the food, health safety, and socioeconomic problems associated with prion diseases, which are fatal illnesses that can spread from animals to humans.


In animals, the most common prion diseases are bovine spongiform encephalopathy - or mad cow disease, scrapie in sheep and goats and chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and elk. The diseases are continuing to spread throughout the Prairies' wild deer and elk populations. In 2003, Canada's beef industry lost more than $6 billion following a mad cow outbreak that infected the animals, according to PrioNet.


With the funding, 10 University of Alberta scientists will continue their research into identifying the risk factors linked to CWD, so the animals can be managed and recommendations can be made to keep them healthy. They also plan to study the risk that hunters and those who eat infected animals may face.


Experts in Saskatoon and British Columbia are developing an oral vaccine that can withstand extreme temperatures so elk and deer in the wild can be cured of any prion-like diseases they're exposed to, Cashman said. Similar oral vaccines already exist to control rabies in Eastern Canada, where food packets containing the vaccine are consumed by fox and raccoon populations.


Scientists from the universities of British Columbia, Alberta and Toronto are designing immunotherapies to help patients with ALS - amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The group is looking at identifying parts of a protein called SOD-1; by determining which parts are exposed in the protein, the researchers say they can target infected areas and interrupt the progression of the paralysis that patients with ALS face.


Carmen Chai, Postmedia News, July 13, 2011  


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Government of Canada Boosting Blueberry Opportunities


Blueberry growers in New Brunswick and across Canada will be able to capitalize on more marketing opportunities thanks to the latest investment in research by the Government of Canada. Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield, on behalf of Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, announced today that BioAtlantech will receive more than $1 million to study the health benefits of wild blueberries and develop innovative ways of including wild blueberries in processed food to increase demand.


"We already know blueberries are a super food - both for our health and as a profitable crop," said Minister Ashfield. "This investment will help discover new health benefits and new economic opportunities for the blueberry industry by bringing together leaders in agricultural and medical research." 


This project will study the health benefits of blueberries and provide the tools to expand wild blueberry biomedical research in the international scientific community. This project will increase global demand for wild blueberries by developing new and improved products and processing technology leading to a range of commercial opportunities for wild blueberries in the health sector.


"This is good news for blueberry growers, producers and consumers," says John Argall, Executive Director, BioAtlantech. "This research will go a long way in defining how many blueberries we actually need to eat in order to get the maximum benefits and will also help us develop blueberry products that are truly healthful."


This project is funded under the Developing Innovative Agri-Products (DIAP) initiative, which is delivered by the Growing Forward framework under the Agri-Innovations program, a $158 million five-year program announced to support industry-led science and technology projects.


AAFC Press Release, July 13, 2011


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The 'Snicker Factor' Aside, Hemp is Serious Business


Hemp is fast becoming a staple of daytime TV as Oprah, Dr. Oz and others extol the health virtues of hemp oil, protein powders and pasta. At the same time, industrial interests tout it as a potential base for products ranging from textiles to car parts. As a result, demand is surging in the United States, Germany and Japan.


But American farmers are prohibited from growing hemp. That leaves farmers in Canada - where it's been a legal crop since 1998 - free to tap the growing U.S. interest in hemp-based products.


First, though, they must navigate the shifting sands of public opinion - or, as one Alberta report called it, "the snicker factor."


According to an Alberta Agriculture Department report on industrial hemp production in Canada, the plant's cultivation evokes chuckles "largely because of its hippy-dippy image and close association with marijuana, its consciousness-altering cousin."


Nevertheless, this is serious stuff. The North American market for industrial hemp - which has only a minuscule amount of the chemical that gives marijuana its punch - is booming.


For centuries, hemp had been ubiquitous in global commerce - from paper making to the rope used on sailing vessels - until synthetic fibres usurped its naval role and global anti-drug sentiment put paid to the rest.


Now the market, while still small, is growing by about 10 per cent a year, with annual sales estimated between $350-million and $400-million, according to some estimates.


Mike Fata, co-founder and chief executive officer of Winnipeg-based Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods & Oils, believes Canada's hemp industry has a golden opportunity to turn lingering taboos on their heads - especially south of the border. Hemp-based foods, he notes, are rich sources of protein and essential fatty acids like Omega-3 and Omega-6.


"The great thing about marketing hemp is that hemp is in everyone's psyche - whether they think that hemp is marijuana or they think that hemp is clothing or rope or they already know that hemp is a food product ..." Mr. Fata said. "It is easy when you have their attention to educate them about what hemp really is and all the great things that it can offer."


Canadian hemp exports have increased by 500 per cent over the past four years. Even so, total exports were worth just $10.38-million in 2010.


The industry's goal is to generate more than $100-million for the Canadian economy by 2015, partly by boosting production from 10,855 hectares to 40,000 hectares over that time.


Eager to capitalize on that burgeoning potential, the federal government recently boosted its investment in the industry. In December, 2010, Agriculture Canada announced an investment of more than $728,000 to help the industry boost production capacity and to increase exports to the United States. That amount was split among three funding streams - including some repayable contributions.


Ottawa is also handing out more licences to grow the value-added crop and has increased the number of approved varieties for the 2011 growing season.


Canada's hemp industry, though, is also grappling with some serious growing pains after years of boom-and-bust production. The high Canadian dollar is eroding the value of exports, and celebrity endorsements notwithstanding, hemp has yet to fully shake its "ditch weed" image with U.S. consumers and regulators.


Toward that end, Canadian hemp food products have yet to overcome a key regulatory hurdle with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by achieving "GRAS" status, an acronym for Generally Recognized As Safe.


Without that certification, Canadian companies are prevented from selling hemp to big multinationals like General Mills and Kellogg's, and another three years' worth of costly study is required before the Canadian industry can even apply, says the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance.


Mr. Fata of Manitoba Harvest says he recognizes those obstacles but is optimistic about the industry's long-term potential.


Manitoba Harvest is now one of the world's largest hemp food manufacturers. Its sales growth has averaged about 50 per cent every year since 1998. It currently makes 68 per cent of its sales in the United States, 30 per cent in Canada and 2 per cent in Europe and Asia.


In addition to health food stores, it is penetrating mainstream grocery chains in the United States and collaborating with Maple Leaf Foods Inc. on hemp-based research and development in Canada.


Manitoba Harvest has provided product and technical support to Maple Leaf's majority-owned subsidiary Canada Bread as it experiments with hemp bakery products, Mr. Fata said.


While hemp foods continue to represent the bulk of the Canadian industry's exports, there is also a growing appetite for hemp fibre for industrial uses. German auto maker Mercedes-Benz, for instance, has been using natural fibre such as hemp, flax, sisal and abaca for many years in various components. One example is the Mercedes-Benz CLS, where hemp is used in the door panels.


"A typical example is the application as a base for car interior lining parts. In these parts, the natural fibres replace mineral fibres such as fibreglass," said Matthias Brock, spokesman for parent company Daimler AG. "As reinforcing material, natural fibres have the same characteristics like mineral fibres but they are much lighter."


With the price of cotton still high, albeit down from its peak, garment makers are also eyeing hemp as a substitute textile as manufacturers increasingly experiment with new blended fabrics to contain costs.


Vancouver-based Naturally Advanced Technologies Inc., established in 1998 as Hemptown Clothing Inc., is developing alternative fibres made out of flax and hemp. Its Crailar technology uses an enzyme process to remove lignin, which is the natural glue that binds fibres like flax and hemp. Doing so gives those fibres a smoother texture and allows them to be processed in new blended fabrics that can result in savings for clothing makers because they require less cotton and are less prone to shrinkage.


Earlier this year, Naturally Advanced signed purchasing and development agreements for its Crailar flax fibre product with apparel giants Hanes and Levi Strauss & Co., along with pulp-and-paper manufacturer Georgia-Pacific LLC and specialized-products manufacturer Cintas Corp.


Flax is currently much cheaper for Naturally Advanced to process than hemp partly because it contains less lignin and also because it can be grown in the United States, where both its pilot facility and major partners are based.


"We're not giving up on hemp. Hemp is just going to follow in or feed in after we lead off with flax," chief executive officer Ken Barker said. "None of our agreements preclude us from having hemp being part of them."


Moreover, the company is also fielding enquires about its hemp fibre product from a range of other industries, including mattress makers and the medical sector.


Still, Mr. Barker recognizes that there remains a marketing challenge for hemp: "That's just the reality of the U.S. consumer."


Rita Trichur, The Globe and Mail, July 10, 2011 


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Honeybees' Alarming Mortality Rate Leaves Beekeepers Looking for Answers


Mike Paradis' family has staked its livelihood on bees for eight generations.


The tradition began in France and spread to Canada in the 1800s, when one of Mr. Paradis' ancestors arrived in Quebec by ship, bees in tow. The family still has a beekeeping presence in the province, as well as in Alberta, where six members look after about 15,000 hives.


Yet, for the first time, one of Canada's oldest beekeeping families faces an uncertain future. Like many honey producers across the country and in other parts of the world, its bees are dying at an alarming rate. One winter about four years ago, Mr. Paradis witnessed 70 per cent of his colonies die. He estimates he's lost $200,000 in annual revenue for several years now.


"This wintering-loss thing is something that, even with advice from my elders, we haven't been able to overcome," said Mr. Paradis, 45, who raises bees in northern Alberta's Peace Country. "In the next four years, if things don't turn around, there's going to be some pretty harsh decisions to be made."


The plight of beekeepers like Mr. Paradis is sparking a fresh push for answers. A new national bee diagnostic centre is being planned for northern Alberta in response to the insect's ongoing health crisis. The centre will be Canada's first laboratory dedicated to probing the cause of honeybee deaths.


Scientists from around the globe have uncovered about a dozen likely factors, including increased pesticide use, air pollution and migrating parasites, but much remains unknown. Mr. Paradis and others in his industry argue local answers and solutions are needed because, for one, Canadian winters are longer, colder and snowier than most other beekeeping regions.


Once the diagnostic centre is operational, researchers are expected to examine, swab and dissect thousands of bees a year with the aim of finding out what killed them. The data will be analyzed to determine the distribution of pests, pathogens and parasites and to identify emerging dangers. Their findings could hold the key for the prevention of future colony collapses and could help herald a turnaround in an industry that's vital to food production.


The United Nations food agency estimates nearly three-quarters of 100 crop species that provide most of the world's food are pollinated by bees. In a report released earlier this year, the agency warned a collapse of honeybee colonies would be devastating for fruit and vegetable production.


High colony losses have been a serious problem in Europe and the United States for decades. The problem is now surfacing in China, Japan and pockets of Africa.


Winters always bring bee deaths, but they've climbed dramatically in Canada in recent years. Beekeepers have experienced above-average colony losses since 2006, ranging between 21 per cent and 35 per cent. A national mortality rate of 15 per cent had been the norm.


This past winter's colony deaths are still being tallied in some provinces, but if Ontario's results offer any indication, it has been another devastating year. Commercial beekeepers in the province reported a mortality rate of 43 per cent in 2010-11.


"These kind of ... results are unsustainable," said Ontario Beekeepers' Association president John Van Alten. "If any other livestock was suffering this sort of annual mortality, there would be a national outcry."


The industry organization is calling for a number of measures, including better mite control, financial assistance to rebuild colonies, and long-term research commitments from provincial and federal governments.


Indeed, Canada lags other countries in bee research. Steve Pernal of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is the only federal government scientist mandated to study honeybees.


Dr. Pernal is hopeful the national bee diagnostic centre proposed by Grande Prairie Regional College will serve as a catalyst for even further research. Such bee-dedicated labs exist in several European countries and in the United States. In Canada, however, a patchwork of services is available to honey producers and scientists. Bees are often sent to the U.S. for testing.


"This national ability to monitor honeybee health and emerging problems is something we can't do very well right now," said Dr. Pernal, who manages a government agriculture research centre in Beaverlodge, Alta. "We should have the capability of detecting whether ... pests that are a potential threat to our industry are in Canada yet or perhaps encroaching in some areas of the country."


Grande Prairie Regional College had initially planned to have the diagnostic centre running this fall, but that timeline will likely be delayed because it is waiting for federal dollars from Western Economic Diversification Canada. The Alberta government has contributed nearly $1-million to the project.


Bruce Rutley, executive director of the college's Centre for Research and Innovation, said the school is also working to restart a beekeeper technician training program. One hasn't existed in Canada since the late 1990s.


Canada is home to about 7,000 beekeepers who operate nearly 600,000 colonies. The prairie provinces are the country's major honey makers, responsible for about 80 per cent of production.


No one has yet taken stock of the economic or agricultural toll of escalating bee deaths to the country. According to the Canadian Honey Council, the estimated value of honey bees to crop pollination is more than $2-billion.


Renata D'Aliesio, Globe and Mail, July 8, 2011


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Switch From Corn to Grass Would Raise Ethanol Output, Cut Emissions


Growing perennial grasses on the least productive farmland now used for corn ethanol production in the U.S. would result in higher overall corn yields, more ethanol output per acre and better groundwater quality, researchers report in a new study. The switch would also slash emissions of two potent greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.


The study used a computer model of plant growth and soil chemistry to compare the ecological effects of growing corn (Zea mays L.); miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus), a sterile hybrid grass used in bioenergy production in Western Europe; and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), which is native to the U.S.


The analysis found that switching 30 percent of the least productive corn acres to miscanthus offered the most ecological advantages.


"If cellulosic feedstocks (such as miscanthus) were planted on cropland that is currently used for ethanol production in the U.S., we could achieve more ethanol (plus 82 percent) and grain for food (plus 4 percent), while reducing nitrogen leaching (minus 15 to 22 percent) and greenhouse gas emissions (minus 29 percent to 473 percent)," the researchers wrote in their report, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.


"Globally, agriculture contributes about 14 percent of the greenhouse gases that are causing global warming to the atmosphere," said University of Illinois plant biology and Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) professor Evan DeLucia, who led the study with EBI feedstock analyst Sarah Davis. "The whole Midwest has been, since the advent of modern agriculture, a source of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere."


"According to our model, just by making this replacement you convert that whole area from a source of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere to a sink for greenhouse gases from the atmosphere," DeLucia said.


Miscanthus grows in thick stands up to 13 feet tall in test plots in Illinois. It does well on marginal land without being fertilized, so using it as a biofuel feedstock instead of corn would eliminate a major source of air and water pollution, Davis said. Nitrous oxide, a byproduct of the fertilizers used on cornfields, "is actually a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide," she said.


"Both switchgrass and miscanthus are perennial grasses, which means that you don't have to till every year, you don't have to plant every year, so there's much less soil disturbance happening than with corn," Davis said. "And because the root system remains in place year after year, there's more carbon going into the soil."


Several hurdles remain before the transition from corn to cellulosic ethanol production can occur on a commercial scale, the researchers said. Converting the sugars in corn to ethanol is easier than releasing the energy locked in plant stems and leaves.


Currently, one commercial-scale lignocellulose biorefinery is under construction in the U.S. -- in Florida, the researchers said, and other facilities are in the planning stages. More research must be done to increase the efficiency of the process, the researchers said.


"We know that these grasses are enormously productive; we know the agronomy works; we know the ecology works," DeLucia said. "So the next step is to break down the economic barriers by making an efficient conversion chain from lignocellulosics to ethanol."


DeLucia said most scientists in the field expect this to be achieved within a decade.


DeLucia is an affiliate of the Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois. The BP-funded Energy Biosciences Institute funded this study.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2011, July 12). Switch from corn to grass would raise ethanol output, cut emissions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 13, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/07/110712102326.htm


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Scientists Sequence Potato Genome


An international consortium that has successfully sequenced and analyzed the potato genome. The consortium's work, which is described in the current issue of Nature, turned up more than 39,000 genes and is expected to speed potato research and breeding projects around the globe.


At University of Wisconsin-Madison, the scientific team's contribution involved uncovering important information about the structure of potato's 12 chromosomes.


"The most important part of this project was actually finding the genes. That was the main goal," says UW-Madison plant geneticist Jiming Jiang, one of 20 principal investigators from 14 countries who worked on the project. "But the group still needed our expertise to help solve some of the puzzles."


Jiang is an expert in cytogenetics, the study of the structure and function of chromosomes. He and fellow UW scientists Marina Iovene and Giovana Torres used microscopic tools to reveal unique physical characteristics of each of the potato plant's 12 chromosomes, such as the location of gene-rich and gene-poor regions and -- particularly important -- where each chromosome begins and ends within the genome sequence.


"Through sequencing alone, it is difficult to reveal this kind of information. But cytogenetic analysis can help connect the sequence information to individual chromosomes. Cytogenetic mapping provides a bird's-eye view of the potato chromosomes," explains Jiang, who made similar contributions to international efforts to sequence the rice, corn (maize) and papaya genomes.


Potato is the world's most important non-grain food crop. Each year, more than 200 million tons are eaten worldwide. In Wisconsin potatoes are grown on more than 63,000 acres, making the state the third-largest producer in America.


Historically, potato has been notoriously difficult to work with. It is a tetraploid, meaning its cells contain four copies of each chromosome, which makes it difficult to breed. Despite decades of improvement work, the crop remains susceptible to pests, pathogens and inbreeding depression (where new potato lines are weaker than their parents). Sequencing of the potato genome should speed efforts to address these issues.


"It will take researchers awhile to use the genome information to improve its agronomic traits, such as improved quality, yield, drought tolerance and disease resistance. But our most recent research will accelerate efforts to improve potato varieties and help close the gap in bringing a better potato to the farmer," says Robin Buell, a plant biologist at Michigan State University, one of three co-leaders of the potato genome project.


Jiang says the availability of potato's genetic code will get him back in the game of hunting -- or cloning -- genes of value to the potato industry. He had sworn off such work in the early 2000s after an agonizingly slow quest to find the gene responsible for a wild potato's resistance to late blight, the pathogen that caused the Irish Potato Famine. The effort was ultimately successful, but it took three postdoctoral researchers more than five years to accomplish.


"Back then I said I would never clone a potato gene again until the genome is sequenced, because without the sequence it was so difficult and time-consuming. We just lacked the resources to work with -- the markers, the maps," says Jiang. "Now that there's a reference genome, it's going to be so much easier for all future work -- identifying, cloning and characterizing potato genes."


Jiang plans to search for more disease-resistance genes, as well as genes that affect potato quality. Based on what happened after other crops were sequenced, he expects this will feel a bit like a gold rush among potato gene prospectors.


"Before the rice genome was sequenced, it was also very difficult to clone a gene in rice," he says. "After the publication of rice's genome sequence in 2005, you started to see paper after paper by people cloning all sorts of genes -- genes responsible for yield, abiotic stress -- and it was all because of the sequence."


The Potato Genome Sequencing Consortium, an international team of 39 scientists, began work on the potato genome project in 2006. The complete sequence is estimated to be 840 million base pairs, about one-quarter the size of the human genome. The draft sequence, which covers 95 percent of potato genes, is available at


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison. The original article was written by Nicole Miller.

University of Wisconsin-Madison (2011, July 10). Scientists sequence potato genome. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 13, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/07/110710132819.htm


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World Population Day:  Worldwatch Institute Promotes Agricultural Solutions



July 11 is World Population Day, and the Worldwatch Institute is promoting agricultural strategies, not only to feed a growing population, but to provide jobs, economic stability and environmental health.


"Agriculture is emerging as a solution to mitigating climate change, reducing public health problems and costs, making cities more livable, and creating jobs in a stagnant global economy," said Danielle Nierenberg, Director of Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet project, a two-year evaluation of environmentally sustainable agricultural innovations to alleviate hunger.


This year, the world's population will hit 7 billion, according to the United Nations. Reaching this unprecedented level of population density has prompted the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) to launch a "7 Billion Actions" campaign to promote individuals and organizations that are using successful new techniques for tackling global development challenges. By sharing these innovations in an open forum, the campaign aims to foster communication and collaboration as our world becomes more populated and increasingly interdependent. 


Not even demographers can actually forecast how many people will be added to world population over the coming century, noted Robert Engelman, a population expert and Worldwatch Executive Director. As more women and their partners gain access to reproductive health services and manage their own childbearing, average family size has fallen significantly in recent decades and could continue to do so, assuming expanded support for reproductive health and improvements in women's autonomy and status. The likelihood of continued population growth for some time, however, remains high. And that will add to the need to harness the ingenuity of human beings to sustain both people and the planet. 


"We'll have to learn how to moderate our consumption of materials and energy and to jumpstart new technologies that conserve them," Engelman said. Innovations in farming will be among the most important: with planning, agriculture can operate not only as a less-consumptive industry, but also one that works in harmony with the environment.


Researchers with Nourishing the Planet ( traveled to 25 countries across sub-Saharan Africa to meet with more than 350 farmers groups, NGOs, government agencies, and scientists, highlighting small-scale agricultural efforts that are helping to improve peoples' livelihoods by providing them with food and income. The findings are documented in the recently released report,

State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. 


Nourishing the Planet's research in Africa has unveiled innovative and cost-effective approaches to agriculture where farmers are treating land as a resource rather than solely as a means for food production. Many of these solutions are scalable and can be adapted to farming systems around the world. "The global connections go beyond Africa. Everyone is in this together in more ways than one," said Nierenberg.


Nourishing the Planet recommends four ways that agriculture is helping to address the challenges that a growing global population will bring. 


Urban agriculture for nutritious food and a cooler climate. The U.N. predicts that 65 percent of the global population will live in cities by 2050. Urban agriculture provides an increasing number of city residents with fruits and vegetables, leading to improved nutrition and food security. Urban farms are already gaining popularity around the world, from the Victory Programs' ReVision Urban Farm in Boston, to Lufa Farms in Montreal, to the slums of Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya.


Farming for employment and education. Opportunities in agriculture can reduce poverty and empower a growing population. In Los Angeles county, the organization Farmscape Gardens has helped tackle a 16 percent unemployment rate by hiring workers to establish and maintain edible gardens. To teach the local community about food and agriculture, L.A.'s Fremont High School established a school garden of 1.5 acres that is open to students and the greater community. And in Uganda, project DISC (Developing Innovations in School Cultivation) partnered with Slow Food International to develop 17 school gardens that are used to educate students about growing, harvesting, and preparing nutritious local foods. 


Agroecology for a healthier environment. Agroecology, which offers numerous benefits to the environment while also feeding people, includes organic agriculture, agroforestry, conservation agriculture, and evergreen agriculture. In Niger, farmers promote the re-greening of dried farmland by allowing spontaneous regeneration of woody species. The restored growth has provided farmers with wind breaks, decreased evaporation, sequestered carbon, and provided non-timber forest products. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has partnered with representatives from metropolitan Washington, D.C. to create the Chesapeake Bay Program watershed partnership. Through collaboration, the group has developed policies, laws, incentives and best practices for farmers whose production zone lies within the local watershed. These agroecological practices, including cover crops, planting riparian forest buffers, and practicing conservation tillage, have helped preserve the Bay.  


Innovations in food waste to make the most of what we have. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, industrialized countries waste 222 million tons of food annually, or almost as much as sub-Saharan Africa's 230 million tons of net food production per year. Decreasing food waste makes it possible to feed people across the planet without increasing agricultural production. In Washington, D.C., the D.C. Central Kitchen Project partners with area restaurants and food suppliers to pick up food that would otherwise go to waste. Volunteers prepare the food and redistribute it as meals to the city's poor. In central and eastern Africa, a partnership between Bayer Crop Science and the International Potato Center hopes to develop a sweet potato that is resistant to pests and diseases, which are responsible for 50 to 100 percent of crop losses among poor farmers in the region. 


State of the World 2011 is accompanied by informational materials including briefing documents, summaries, an innovations database, videos, and podcasts, all available at The project's findings are being disseminated to a wide range of agricultural stakeholders, including government ministries, agricultural policymakers, and farmer and community networks, as well as the increasingly influential nongovernmental environmental and development communities. 


Source: Worldwatch Institute, AgProfessional, July 11, 2011


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CUSO-VSO Seeking Volunteers


CUSO-VSO is seeking volunteers for agriculture related projects in Tanzania. CUSO-VSO is a non-profit development agency that works through volunteers. Each year, they send hundreds of global citizens to work on collaborative development projects in more than 20 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. They cover airfare, vaccinations and modest accommodation plus local level salary in field and a stipend of $10.40 per day to cover any costs in Canada while volunteers are overseas.


Four positions are highlighted below. For more information on these and other placements go to the CUSO/VSO website


Purchase for Progress Field Officer


Purpose: to improve the livelihoods of rural small holder farmers through enhanced marketing and management of their produce.



Increase the capacity of local farmers groups on management systems and provide assistance in their transition from subsistence farming to agro-business.

Assist the World Food Program and Tanzanian partners in the delivery of training modules to farmers groups.

Assist in the development of a Training the Trainers program for use in the field.

Identify business linkages and market opportunities beyond the WFP, to enable smallholder farmers to get a fair price for their produce, especially beans and maize.

Assist farmers groups with WFP procurement contracts, working with farmers to better understand production costs, margins, and contract specifications in terms of quality, delivery period, obligations, etc.


Organization Advisor


Focus: empowering ZSTHS with organizational management skills for developing strategies that focus on environment and cultural, advocacy, proposal writing projects.



Analyze the development needs of ZSTHS and devise a strategic plan focusing on environment and cultural areas, identify advocacy components in close collaboration with ZSTHS board of trustee, committees and the secretariat.

Support ZSTHS to develop a variety of projects, Income Generating Activity and delivery models

Assist in development of fundraising strategy to support strategic goals and annual plan

Foster collaboration arrangements with other development agencies & NGOs to support ZSTHS beneficiaries.

Explore opportunities and areas of beneficial to ZSTHS by working together with other VSO volunteers and partner organization within your operational area for collaboration


Market Cluster Development Advisor


Purpose: to develop value chains for suitable commodities in Dodoma region in order to "make markets work for the poor".



Develop training programs that put emphasis on the use of technical extension facilitation to support and improve production, by ensuring farmers have access to extension workers or facilitators from TCCIA, on farm management, crop management, post harvest etc.  


Analyze the development needs of TCCIA and develop a five years strategic plan for oilseed cluster organization as well as support in coordinating daily operations of the cluster.


Assist local producers in looking for opportunities to secure credit scheme facilities/ services to expand their farms and increase production. Provide support on developing memorandum of understanding for Input supply, agriculture equipment, as well as storage facilities.


Propose market strategies for local products by reviewing market research, and where necessary re-design and conduct further market value chain research.  


Livestock and Business Development Advisor


Purpose: to improve income security for smallholder farmers and rural entrepreneurs through access to improved agriculture, livestock and small business whilst also addressing the needs of vulnerable members of local communities.



Facilitate improved project development and implementation

- Organizational development and capacity building of staff

-Improve networking with other stakeholders

- Participation in the wider VSO Secure Livelihoods Programme  


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Coming Events


Plant Canada Conference, Plant Adaptation to Environmental Change, hosted by the Canadian Society of Agronomy and the Canadian Society of Horticultural Science, Halifax, Nova Scotia, July 17-21, 2011

Canadian Society of Soil Science and Soil Science Society of America joint conference, Fundamental for Life: Soil, Crop, & Environmental Sciences, San Antonio, Texas, October 16-20, 2011


Feeding a Hungry World: A Summit for Animal Agriculture, Ottawa, Ontario, October 17-18, 2011 


Catalyst Canada Honours Celebrating Champions of Women in Business, Toronto, Ontario, October 18, 2011


Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance, National Hemp Convention, Winnipeg, Manitoba, November 22-23, 2011 


Canadian Organic Science Conference, February 21-23, 2012, Winnipeg, Manitoba 




AIC LogoAIC Notes is a weekly update provided as a service for AIC members.  Please do not circulate or post.  The content of AIC Notes does not represent official positions, opinions or support of AIC or its members. 

Frances Rodenburg, Editor