AIC Notes Issue 2012-07 February 16, 2012
|Big Food Producers Get the Spotlight in Global Trade |
We've been told China is a hungry country looking for partners to help feed it. Canada, a country heavily dependent on exports, is emerging as an important player in this quest.
China has the ways and means to pay its bills, and represents a superb opportunity for North American farmers. It's becoming increasingly aggressive in wanting to sign food-related deals with the western world. Although it claims to be about 95 per cent self-sufficient in grains, its agricultural trade deficit grew by almost 50 per cent last year, as its population grows interested in an increasingly varied and healthy menu.
Among its new interests are pulses - peas and lentils among them, which despite having been around forever are becoming renowned for their exceptional nutritional benefits. Canadian farmers grow the world's best pulses, and last year Pulse Canada, the progressively minded commodity group representing these crops, began collaborating with the Chinese Cereals and Oils Association to pursue new product development using pulses.
Pulse Canada says Canadian and Chinese researchers are now working together to introduce pulses into Chinese staple foods such as noodles, steamed breads and dumplings, as well as snack foods and meat products. Last week, Canada and China signed a new memorandum of agreement - in which education, agriculture, science and technology were specifically mentioned - to increase the connection between the two countries, opening even more doors for development as the two countries drive toward a potential free-trade agreement.
At the signing of the memorandum, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the rapidly increasing commercial, cultural and scholastic ties between our two countries are creating new jobs and economic growth. Indeed, this is a hot market and a growth area that Canada does not want to miss.
China is also investing in its own agricultural research and development initiatives. Last week, the China Daily newspaper reported that the country, in its first major policy announcement of the new year, revealed plans to boost spending on agricultural science and technology.
One way or another, China will meet its needs. Canada is wise to be there as a partner in helping it do so.
But what will it take beyond memorandums of agreement? First, Canadian farmers need to be able to operate in an environment that supports farming and food production. Researchers need funding to come up with new approaches to turn commodities into food products. And companies need to be able to pursue product development on a scale that they might not be familiar with. Pulse Canada's Peter Watts talks about a growing interest in health and nutrition among China's burgeoning middle class, and says pulses offer an ideal solution for food manufacturers looking to offer healthy foods.
However, Canada may not be up to the challenge when it comes to food manufacturing. At the same time Canada was signing the deal with China, Guelph's George Morris Centre and a group called the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity released a study saying Canada's food-processing industry must grow larger, rather than stay segmented in small operations and niches.
According to the report, "with greater scale of operations, (Canadian) food processors would be able to improve their cost performance and invest in areas like technology and (research and development) necessary for greater innovation." It says Canada's food-processing industry represents the single largest market for Canadian agricultural products, yet Canada has a "propensity" for smaller facilities and firms that limits growth, investment and innovation, particularly compared to our biggest competitor, the U.S.
Small food producers who serve local markets provide a lot of jobs and products, and need support as well. Their market is much different than China ... but this week, all eyes were certainly focused overseas.
Owen Roberts, Guelph Mercury, February 13, 2012
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|Biotech Agriculture Expanding Globally|
The total area planted with genetically modified crops grew by eight per cent in 2011, reaching 160 million hectares worldwide, according to new figures released by an inter-national agricultural technology group.
Canada now ranks fifth on the planet with 10.4 million hectares of biotech canola, corn, soybean and sugar beet under cultivation, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.
The United States continues to lead the world with 69 mil-lion hectares under biotech crops in 2011. China, India, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa combined for 71.4 mil-lion hectares under cultivation, about 40 per cent of the world's total.
Most genetically modified crops, also known as GM or biotech, are altered to make them resistant to attacks by pests, thus reducing pesticide use, or to make plants immune to certain widely used herbicides, so farmers can use chemicals on their fields to kill weeds without harming their crops. A few GM plants are modified for increased drought resistance or improved nutrition.
China is in the process of testing biotech corn and rice for commercial cultivation, which will likely drive a massive expansion of the total area under biotech crops in the next few years.
Another 10 countries are likely to begin growing GM crops in the next three years, said ISAAA chairman Clive James in a webcast news conference this week. About half of those are African nations, plus Bangladesh and Pacific Rim nations Indonesia, the Philip-pines and Vietnam.
About 40 countries will be growing biotech crops by 2015, he said.
Greenpeace International dismissed the ISAAA report as an exaggeration and noted that 80 per cent of biotech crops are grown in four countries in the Americas. But even if the total area they report is inflated, there is no disputing that bio-tech has a toehold on every continent.
The approval of genetically modified rice in China and on the Pacific Rim marks a fundamental shift in the battle over biotech foods from commodity crops that are mostly invisible to consumers to whole foods that are eaten directly.
Nearly all the biotech crops grown in the world are for industrial uses in packaged foods, fuel and animal feed, said biotech opponent Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Bio-technology Action Network.
"Most of the GM crops in the world are made for the convenience of farmers who are growing highly industrialized, corporatized crops like cot-ton, corn, canola and soy," she said.
The preservatives, sweeteners, stabilizers, oils and starches derived from GM corn, canola and soy can be found in the vast majority of pack-aged foods at the supermarket. Snack foods, margarine, cakes, cookies, soft drinks, crackers, recipe mixes, ketchup and almost any product with more than three ingredients is likely to contain GM foods.
You can't see them on your plate. And you have to be very clever at reading labels to detect them.
Recognize vegetable protein, HFCS, ascorbate, phytic acid or modified food starch? What about lactic acid, lysine, oleic acid, maltodextrin or xanthan gum? I didn't think so.
But just because we are all eating biotech foods doesn't mean we like it, Sharratt said.
Sharratt maintains that a new battle line is being drawn by consumers who, according to public opinion polling, are generally opposed to biotech foods. Most people simply will not buy genetically modified whole foods such as salmon, pork, sweet corn or tomatoes. And gardeners show no interest in GM seeds for home use.
India has already rejected eggplant engineered to produce its own insecticide and China is facing some civil opposition to biotech rice, she said. Genetically modified tomatoes made it to stores in the United States, but have since disappeared from the market.
"New people join this fight every day, people who are scandalized to learn that they have been eating GM foods with-out knowing it," Sharratt said. "There's no labelling of GM foods in Canada and that's a huge problem."
Randy Shore, Vancouver Sun, February 11, 2012
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|Makers of Genetically Modified Seeds Say More Farmers Evading EPA Rules |
Monsanto Co. and other seedmakers reported a threefold increase last year in U.S. farmers caught violating rules intended to stop insects from developing resistance to genetically modified corn.
The rules affect farmers planting seeds modified to produce a toxin derived from Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, a natural insecticide. The Environmental Protection Agency requires those growers to also plant an adjacent area - a so-called refuge - of non-Bt corn so that bugs feed on both types of corn and don't become immune to the toxin.
About 41 percent of 3,053 farmers inspected in 2011 failed to fully comply with the refuge requirement, according to data that Monsanto provided last week in an e-mail.
Seed companies are concerned that bugs' resistance to modified crops may be increasing. In July, Iowa State University found that some rootworms have evolved resistance to the Bt gene engineered into Monsanto corn. Entomologists in Illinois and other Midwestern states are studying possible resistance in fields where the insects devour roots of Monsanto's Bt corn.
Seed companies used sales data to identify farmers who may not have purchased enough seed for a refuge, said Nick Storer, global science policy leader for Dow Chemical Co., another maker of modified seeds.
"The whole purpose of doing that was to try to increase the frequency with which we identify non-compliant growers," Storer said in an interview.
Farmers who violate the requirements are now revisited at least twice over five years, Joanne Carden of Monsanto said in an interview. Farmers who fail the follow-up inspection lose access to the technology, she said.
Bloomberg News, February 13, 2012
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|CFIA Inspectors Seek Strict Rules on Food Imports |
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is wrong when it says food imports are screened as rigorously as exports - and is creating a "ticking biological time bomb" in Canada with the lack of oversight, the government's food inspectors charged Wednesday.
Bob Kingston, president of the union representing CFIA food inspectors, took on the agency's claim during parliamentary hearings on the future of Canada's agricultural policy framework.
"There may be one set of rules, but they are certainly not applied the same," Kingston testified Wednesday about import inspection and testing compared to domestically produced food bound for other countries.
"Export inspection always gets top priority in spite of what CFIA may say publicly. It's 100 per cent versus two per cent."
Kingston was responding to comments made at the hearings Monday by CFIA's Paul Mayers in response to a question from Tory MP Ben Lobb.
The Ontario MP told Mayers "one of the questions I hear from producers in my riding all the time" is that "CFIA is tougher on our own producers trying to export products into other markets than they are actually on incoming goods into our own country.
"In terms of our oversight - and this may be the basis for that perception - domestic manufacturers and producers see the CFIA in our actions," Mayers, CFIA's associate vice-president of programs, testified at the House of Commons agriculture committee. "Of course, when we deal with imports, we deal with them as they reach our borders. The foreign manufacturer doesn't see CFIA as directly. That might contribute to the perception."
Kingston shot back Wednesday.
"Predominantly, offshore imports are not even looked at for human health and safety reasons. They are looked at for animal and plant health reasons. As for dealing with stuff at the border, this responsibility was given to Canada Border Services Agency years ago. CBSA employees have made it very clear that it is not their priority," Kingston testified.
"At the two biggest ports in the country, where I worked for 25 years and supervised this program for 15 years, we received zero referrals. This presents a ticking biological time bomb. It also clearly represents an uneven playing field for Canadian producers," added Kingston.
Postmedia News, February 16, 2012
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|Cloud-Based Crop Protection Guide Drops Pay Wall |
An online service allowing Canada's farmers to quickly look up treatment data for any treatable crop pest problem has brought a substantial chunk of its offerings out from behind the pay wall.
Guelph-based The Savvy Farmer Inc. on Tuesday announced the launch of Savvy Farmer lite, a free version of its Savvy Farmer software.
The "lite" version will allow growers and ag pest control professionals access to data including:
- listings of all products that control any weed, insect or disease in any of over 750 Canadian-grown crops;
- access to those products' labels "within seconds;" and
- photos of "over 1,000" pests, including weeds, insects, crop-eating wildlife and -- in the forms of their symptoms -- crop diseases.
The new service "was created in response to farmers who want quick and easy access to pest control information but do not feel they need the added features within the full Savvy Farmer paid software," Savvy Farmer president Warren Libby said in a release.
"While Savvy Farmer lite contains fewer features than the advanced version, we believe many farmers will find it an extremely convenient tool that they will refer to often."
Since the free service operates as a cloud-based application, its data can be updated every day Savvy Farmer receives information on new products and label expansions, the company said.
"It's a rare day that there isn't new information to add to Savvy Farmer... and we work hard to be the most complete and current source of pest control information in Canada," said Libby, the former president (1996-2001) of Syngenta Crop Protection Canada.
Farmers and other users won't have to subscribe to Savvy Farmer lite, the company said, and will need only to go online to use the software "immediately and as often as you like."
The company will continue to offer more "in-depth" information through its subscription-based Savvy Farmer Advanced and Savvy Farmer Pro services.
The subscriber-only services offer deeper information on treatments, as well as filters to customize treatments, and electronic record-keeping capability.
Libby, now also president of research and development firm Wellington Agri-Business and consulting firm Evergreen Bio-Ceuticals, launched the Savvy Farmer service in late 2010 in partnership with Syngenta's former head of information systems, Sam Vurrabindi, now president of software development firm Enable InfoTech.
Country Guide, February 14, 2012
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|New Potato Targets Diabetics, Dieters |
Potato breeders in New Brunswick are creating a tuber to help diabetics and dieters.
The Fredericton branch of the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has developed 13 new potato selections and sent them for industry trials.
One of the potatoes has a lower glycemic index (GI) than ordinary potatoes. John Morrison, spokesman for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, said research has shown low-glycemic diets help to manage diabetes and weight loss.
Dr. Benoit Bizimungu, a breeder at the Potato Research Centre, said a low-glycemic potato could create a niche market for farmers.
"The benefit of lower GI, in potatoes and other foods, is that they don't cause spikes in blood glucose levels. Instead, you have a steady release into the bloodstream," he said.
Mary McKenna teaches nutrition at the University of New Brunswick. She said a diet with low-glycemic index food has benefits for everyone.
"If blood glucose levels go up too high, then the glucose starts participating in reactions that it shouldn't be participating in. Having that blood glucose level go up slowly, then insulin gets released, then it goes back down - nothing is jarring the system. That is better for all of us," she said.
Industry to test potatoes
The next step is for the potato industry to test the new spuds and see what they think.
Other new breeds include potatoes for the chip and french fry business, a red-flesh potato, and one high in starch for industrial starch use.
Bizimungu is using new technologies to speed the development of potato variety.
A near infrared spectrometer and a rheometer at the Potato Research Centre allow scientists to measure starch content and composition of potatoes with a simple test, cutting years of trial-and-error that was required to identify desirable characteristics.
CBC News, February 15, 2012
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Projects That Save Lives
Four University of Alberta researchers are among winners of this year's Grand Challenges Canada competition. Each will receive $100,000 to develop innovative projects in different parts of the developing world aimed at saving lives or improving the well-being of millions of people.
The winners are Aman Ullah (agricultural, food and nutritional sciences), Michael Serpe (chemistry), Karim Damji (ophthalmology) and Abdullah Saleh (medical resident).
Aman Ullah will use modified keratin - a protein in poultry feathers - to make filters that remove arsenic from contaminated drinking water. Arsenic affects about 140 million people throughout the world, particularly in developing countries, he says, adding the filters have to potential to save millions of lives.
"Arsenic is a serious threat for human health, particularly for poor people living in remote villages of resource-limited countries. The only source of drinking water for these people is arsenic-contaminated groundwater," Aman says.
Prolonged use of water containing arsenic can cause cancer in the lungs, bladder and elsewhere. Higher rates of cardiovascular disease, peripheral vascular disorders, respiratory problems and diabetes have also been linked to chronic high doses of ingested arsenic.
Michael Davies-Venn, University of Alberta News, February 9, 2012
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|Study Shows Cover Crops Boost Yields Up To 10% |
The most recent annual results from a four-year Iowa State University study on using cover crops between rows of corn reveals that higher yields - by as much as 10 percent - are possible using the soil-saving approach to farming.
The results are the best yet in the ongoing research, according to Ken Moore, Distinguished Professor of agronomy and primary investigator on the project, who plans to carry on the trials for at least one more growing season.
Planting living mulch - or ground cover - between rows of corn is intended to perform several functions - maintain soil moisture, slow soil erosion, and sequester carbon.
There were factors in last year's weather that made the higher yields possible, according to Moore.
"This is really promising," said Moore of the results. "Last summer was hot, and the cover crop systems performed better because living mulch held the water in the soil better. It was the first year those ground covers went completely dormant. They weren't transpiring any water at all and they were serving as a barrier to moisture moving out of the soil, and that's good."
The study began with the 2008 growing season through support from a Sun Grant designed to look at the effect on the soil of removing corn stalks, cobs and leaves - called stover - to use as biomass for producing cellulosic-based ethanol.
After the 2010 planting season, funding for the project was exhausted, but Moore was able to carry on the tests on a limited basis, focusing only on those systems that showed the most promise.
Moore is working with Kendall Lamkey, chair of the Department of Agronomy and Pioneer Distinguished Chair in Maize Breeding, and Jeremy Singer, collaborator and assistant professor at the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment on the study.
Removing the stover to make biofuel, it is feared, will reduce carbon in the soil and also speed erosion.
Moore says that the cover crop system helps solve both problems.
Moore and his group of researchers tested several different agronomic systems and cover crops to find which ones produce the best results.
In 2011, the three cropping systems tested included one that employed normal farming practices, a second system that used bluegrass as a cover crop and strip till practices, and a third that used red fescue as the cover crop and strip tilling.
When the results were tallied, Moore found the control plots averaged 220 bushels per acre, the bluegrass plots netted 230 bu./ac. and the fescue plots yielded 240 bu./ac.
In 2010 and 2009, the bluegrass and fescue plots averaged about the same yield as the control plot. The rainy spring of 2008 caused yields for the control to be much better, as the no-till plots were planted late in the year.
"This experiment wasn't designed to develop management practices for the farm, it was designed to test the feasibility of using these perennial ground covers for producing corn," said Moore.
"We would conclude these systems are feasible, but we recognize that it could be a somewhat brittle system. We've only tried it in one location, with one corn hybrid for four years. We don't know how it is going to perform in the entire state with different soils and different growing conditions."
Moore stresses that one goal of the study is to get corn breeders involved in a cover crop system so hybrids can be developed to work in concert with cover crops. The cover crops themselves can also be improved for better results.
Moore says that this cropping system might be appealing for farmers in the long term.
"Farmers make tough economic choices every year when they plant and harvest their crops," said Moore. "If changes need to be made to ensure future generations have the same great farm land and life that we do, we need to offer farmers choices that are not just to our benefit, but to their benefit as well.
"Growing corn with a perennial cover crop promises to address many of the environmental concerns being expressed about corn production and will enable farmers to harvest stover for bioenergy as that market develops. It appears to be a win-win opportunity. These cover crop systems may eventually offer the farmer a profitable alternative that can ensure long term success, at least that's my hope."
Iowa State University Extension, in AgProfessional, February 13, 2012
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Integrated Weed Management Best Response to Herbicide Resistance
Over-reliance on glyphosate-type herbicides for weed control on U.S. farms has created a dramatic increase in the number of genetically-resistant weeds, according to a team of agricultural researchers, who say the solution lies in an integrated weed management program.
"I'm deeply concerned when I see figures that herbicide use could double in the next decade," said David Mortensen, professor of weed ecology at Penn State.
Since the mid-1990s, agricultural seed companies developed and marketed seeds that were genetically modified to resist herbicides such as Roundup -- glyphosate -- as a more flexible way to manage weeds, Mortensen said. About 95 percent of the current soybean crop is modified by inserting herbicide-resistant genes into the plants.
"We do understand why farmers would use the glyphosate and glyphosate-resistant crop package," Mortensen said. "It is simple and relatively cheap, but we have to think about the longterm consequences."
The researchers said that increased use of herbicider is leading to more species of weeds that also are resistant to the chemicals.
They report their findings in the current issue of BioScience, noting that 21 different weed species have evolved resistance to several glyphosate herbicides, 75 percent of which have been documented since 2005, despite company-sponsored research that the resistance would not occur.
"Several species have developed amazing biochemical ways to resist the effects of the herbicide," said J. Franklin Egan, doctoral student in ecology, Penn State. "If weed problems are addressed just with herbicides, evolution will win."
One way the weeds develop resistance is to make an enzyme that is insensitive to the herbicide, but still maintains cellular function, Egan said. Weeds have also developed ways for the plant to move the herbicide away from targeted enzymes.
"For instance, glyphosate-resistant strains of Conyza canadensis -- horseweed -- sequester glyphosate in leaf tissues that are exposed to an herbicide spray so that the glyphosate can be slowly translocated throughout the plant at nontoxic concentrations," Egan said. "To the horseweed, this controlled translocation process means the difference between taking many shots of whiskey on an empty stomach versus sipping wine with a meal."
In response to the increasing number of weeds resistant to current applications, companies are developing new generations of seeds genetically modified to resist multiple herbicides. This continual insertion of more genes into crops is not a sustainable solution to herbicide resistance, according to the researchers. They add that companies are creating a genetic modification treadmill similar to the pesticide treadmill experienced in the mid-20th century, when companies produced increasingly more toxic substances to manage pests resistant to pesticides.
"Specifically, several companies are actively developing crops that can resist glyphosate, 2, 4-D and Dicamba herbicides," said Mortensen. "Such genetic manipulation makes it possible to use herbicides on these crops that previously would have killed or injured them. What is more troubling is that 2,4-D and Dicamba are older and less environmentally friendly."
Egan said there are several problems with the treadmill response. First, weeds will eventually evolve combined resistance to Dicamba, 2, 4-D and glyphosate herbicides. Globally, there are already many examples of weeds simultaneously resistant to two or more herbicides.
Increased use of 2, 4-D and Dicamba applied over the growing corn and soybean means much more of these herbicides will be applied at a time of year when many sensitive crops like tomato and grapes are most vulnerable to injury. Such injury results when these herbicides move from the targeted field during or following an application.
Overuse of chemical weed killers may increase chances that farmers will use the herbicide during inappropriate or nonrecommended weather conditions, leading to herbicides drifting from the targeted area and killing or harming other plants and crops.
Egan also said that if farms become too reliant on herbicides, farmers will find it more difficult to use integrated weed management approaches.
Integrated weed management includes planting cover crops, rotating crops and using mechanical weed control methods. Farmers can use herbicides in this management approach, but must use them in a targeted, judicious fashion.
The researchers, who also worked with Bruce D. Maxwell, professor of land resources and environmental sciences at Montana State University; Matthew R. Ryan a post-doctoral student at Penn State; and Richard G. Smith, assistant professor of agroecology at the University of New Hampshire; said that in previous studies, integrated weed management had lowered herbicide use by as much as 94 percent while maintaining profit margins for the operations.
"Integrated weed management is really the path forward," said Egan. "We believe these methods can be implemented, and we already have a lot of show that they're effective and straight forward to incorporate."
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Penn State.
Penn State (2012, February 9). Integrated weed management best response to herbicide resistance. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 16, 2012, from sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/02/120209135840.htm
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|Viterra Job Openings |
Viterra Inc. is seeking Senior Merchandisers, Grain and Merchandisers, Grain to work out their office in Regina. Click here for more information. Closing date is February 27, 2012.
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|Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food|
The Committee met on February 15 to hear witnesses on Growing Forward 2 (Meeting Consumer Demands) from the Agriculture Union, Food and Consumer Products of Canada and the Consumer and Market Demand Network.
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Canadian Organic Science Conference, Winnipeg, Manitoba, February 21-23, 2012
6th Annual Growing the Margins: Rural Green Energy Conference and Exhibition and 4th Annual Canadian Farm and Food Biogas Conference and Exhibition, London, Ontario, March 5-7, 2012
Canadian Society of Soil Science and Association Québécoise de Spécialistes en Sciences du Sol Joint Conference, Lac Beauport, Quebec, June 3-7, 2012
Joint Annual Meeting of ADSA - AMPA - ASAS - Canadian Society of Animal Science - WSASAS, Phoenix, Arizona, July 15-19, 2012
Joint Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society of Agronomy, Certified Crop Advisors and Canadian Society for Horticultural Science, Saskatoon, July 16-19, 2012
5th World Congress of Agronomists and Agrologists, Quebec City, September 17-21, 2012
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Frances Rodenburg, Editor