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June 28, 2012

 

 

·       Standards sought for greenhouse tomatoes

·       GM corn seed propels Monsanto profits

·       Nufarm plans to expand US operations

·       Unexpected result yields a biopesticide

·       Fall launch for global weather alert system

 

 

Standards sought for greenhouse tomatoes

 

(Supermarket News) – Greenhouse-grown produce has found a permanent spot in supermarkets. The practice allows retailers to sell many commodity products year-round. Of them all, tomatoes reign supreme. According to the A.C. Nielsen data cited by the Perishables Group, more than 50% of tomato sales in the typical supermarket are marketed as greenhouse grown.

 

The problem is that not all of them are, and the Certified Greenhouse Farmers, a trade organization representing the largest greenhouse operators, wants to implement a standard definition of “greenhouse” to deter anyone trying to sneak in produce grown in other environments.

 

Why the brou-ha? The debate is being cast in terms of dollars and safety. For example, the trade groups says that in 2011, the average price paid by consumers for greenhouse round tomatoes was $2.70 per pound, compared to $2.31 per pound for field tomatoes.

 

That’s enough of a price difference for some unscrupulous stakeholders to try and sell as many tomatoes as possible marked as greenhouse-grown, even if they’re not.

 

“Consumers and retailers that purchase greenhouse-grown produce should be assured that produce labels as greenhouse is, in fact, produced in a defined greenhouse,” says Ed Beckman, president of CGF. “Without such protection, consumers are paying a premium for what is essentially a field-grown product masquerading as greenhouse.”

 

There’s also a food safety component to this that the CGF is hoping will be bolstered by the establishment of a standard. The controlled conditions of greenhouses allows farmers to cultivate produce hydroponically, “without the use of soil, eliminating the possibility for soil-born contamination and the need for herbicides and fumigants,” the CGG states in its official release.

 

These aspects of the greenhouse technique are sure to please shoppers who care about the environment, eat organic or want to avoid chemicals. Establishing and promoting a standard would help get the message out to them.

 

If the growers’ group had its way, the standard would describe a greenhouse as such:

 

A fully enclosed permanent aluminum or steel structure clad in either glass or impermeable plastic for the controlled environment growing of certified greenhouse/hothouse vegetables using together: computerized irrigation and climate control systems, including heating and ventilation capability; a soilless medium that substitutes for soil (under the greenhouse/hothouse); hydroponic methods; and Integrated Pest Management, without the use of herbicides.

 

This thorough list of requirements would definitely help identify items grown in qualified controlled environments. But the question is: Could this backfire to some extent? We’re shopping in a lively era of terroir, farm stands and organic produce. How does desire for greenhouse-grown items stack up against these attributes? The answer is important to retailers because, whether we’re talking tomatoes or tomato-red Volkswagens, profit margins apply only if the product is actually sold.

 

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GM corn seed propel Monsanto profits

 

(Bloomberg) – Monsanto Co. (MON), the world’s largest seed company, posted third-quarter earnings that exceeded analysts’ estimates as U.S. farmers bought more of the company’s genetically modified corn.

 

Net income climbed 35 percent to $937 million, or $1.74 cents a share, in the three months through May 31, from $692 million, or $1.28, a year earlier, St. Louis-based Monsanto said today in a statement. Profit excluding a legacy tax matter was $1.63 cents a share, topping the $1.60 average estimate of 13 analysts in a Bloomberg survey. The company forecast profit of $1.57 to $1.62 on May 30.

 

Sales of corn seed and genetic licenses rose 35 percent as U.S. farmers planted the biggest crop in 75 years. Soybean sales gained 15 percent, driven by demand for the newest seed engineered to tolerate Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant also is expanding in Latin America and Eastern Europe.

 

“Corn is clearly the driver now,” Chris L. Shaw, a New York-based analyst at Monness Crespi Hardt & Co. who recommends holding the shares, said today in a phone interview. “It was strong across the board, and they maintained their guidance for next year.”

 

Monsanto rose 1 percent to $78.65 at 9:18 a.m. in New York before the start of regular trading.

 

Price Gains

 

Sales climbed 17 percent in the quarter to $4.22 billion from $3.61 billion. Monsanto reiterated its earnings forecast for the year through August of $3.65 to $3.70 a share, excluding the tax issue, settlement of pollution claims and discontinued operations. The average estimate of 16 analysts in the survey was $3.70 a share.

 

Profit in fiscal 2013, which begins in September, will increase by a percentage in the “mid-teens,” Monsanto said, repeating its long-term earnings target. Growth drivers include corn and soybeans in the U.S. and Brazil, Argentine corn, vegetables, and price gains associated with seed improvements, Monsanto said in a presentation on its website.

 

U.S. farmers have doubled planting of Monsanto’s insecticide-producing corn in 2012, exceeding the top end of the company’s 25-million-acre forecast by more than 1 million acres, Monsanto said in the presentation. More acres will be planted in 2013, the company said.

 

Roundup Ready 2 soybeans were planted on about 30 million acres, an increase of more than 10 million acres, and plantings will rise again next year, Monsanto said.

 

Sales of insect-fighting corn will increase next year in Brazil and Argentina, according to the presentation. Sales of similar technology engineered into Intacta soybeans will begin next year in Brazil, with farmer trials planned for Argentina the following year.

 

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Nufarm plans to expand US operations

 

(Queensland Country Life) – CROP protection company Nufarm is boosting its manufacturing activities in the US, building a new headquarters plant in Chicago to supply its expanding seed treatment, fungicide and insecticide business.

 

As part of a move to focus on more high value product activities, the new $9 million facility will also be the global head office for the group's promising seed technologies business, Nuseed.

 

Late last year Nuseed purchased the Minnesota-based Seeds 2000 hybrid genetics business which followed the acquisition of Texas sorghum company Richardson Seeds and an aligned sorghum germplasm research company MMR Genetics in 2009.

 

Corporate affairs manager Robert Reis said the new factory would complement a large existing Nufarm herbicide plant in Chicago Heights, taking over production of chemical lines currently outsourced to another manufacturer.

 

He said business in North America had generally mirrored a good year for chemical sales back home in Australia, with an early start to the spring cropping season triggering solid turnover before drier conditions set in more recently.

 

South American sales activity had also been performing well.

 

"At a corporate level we have also strengthened our management team with the appointment of a global risk manager and and information technology and supply chain specialists which has helped improve the effectiveness of our operations," Mr Reis said.

 

"It's encouraging that the sharemarket is showing its support for our activities, too."

 

Nufarm's share price has risen by more than 5 per cent this month, reflecting cautious market optimism about its recently announced business plans.

 

Mr Reis said the new US facilities would enable Nufarm to more closely collaborate with customers to create innovative products and customise supply requirements.

 

The new plant will open early next year and eventually produce most of Nufarm's fungicide, insecticide, growth regulators and seed treatments.

 

The extra in-house capacity would also provide greater flexibility to meet changing market needs and demand for new product, and cut inventory costs.

 

With two plants in Chicago the company would have the benefit of combined purchasing power for packaging materials and other supplies and one day's transit time to most of its key US customers.

 

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Unexpected result yields a biopesticide

 

(Phys.org) -- A team of scientists has made a novel discovery that could provide a new strategy for controlling armyworms and other insect crop pests around the globe.

 

Crop pests such as the African armyworm are a major threat to global food security, especially in Africa and other parts of the developing world where chemical pesticides are too expensive for most resource-poor farmers. The African Armyworm is a voracious caterpillar pest which feeds on cereal crops, including staples such as maize, wheat, millet and rice, at densities of up to 50,000 caterpillars per hectare – sometimes resulting in total crop failure.

 

Researchers from Lancaster University, University of Greenwich and Tanzania (EcoAgriConsult Ltd.) have been investigating safe, affordable alternative control measures to tackle the caterpillars, such as microbial biopesticides, that do not rely on expensive imported chemicals.

 

But an unexpected finding – inspired by recent research into mosquitoes - has opened the door to a new strategy which could multiply the effectiveness of these biopesticides.

 

In common with nearly three-quarters of all insect species, some African armyworms carry with them a small passenger, called Wolbachia. This intra-cellular bacterium has taken centre-stage recently because researchers discovered that when some insects, including mosquitoes, carry Wolbachia it protects them from viruses including the virus which causes the devastating human disease called dengue. Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes have been released in northern Australia in an attempt to get the bacterium to spread through the local mosquito population so as to reduce dengue transmission in the area.

 

The discovery led the Lancaster-led research team to wonder if Wolbachia would have a similarly protective effect on African armyworms, potentially hampering the effectiveness of the biopesticides such as SpexNPV currently under development in Tanzania.

 

What the team discovered surprised them.

 

"Not only did Wolbachia fail to protect the armyworms against SpexNPV", said project leader Professor Ken Wilson from the Lancaster Environment Centre, "but populations carrying lots of Wolbachia also had much higher viral loads and more of these caterpillars died naturally of viral disease."

 

To confirm that the increased susceptibility to virus of Wolbachia-carrying armyworms was caused by the presence of the bacterium, Wilson and colleagues took the insects back to the laboratory in the UK. There, they used antibiotics to 'cure' some of the armyworms of Wolbachia and then infected them with virus. Remarkably, they found that Wolbachia-carrying armyworms were between 6 and 14 times more susceptible to SpexNPV than armyworms that had had their bacterial passengers removed.

 

SpexNPV - a baculovirus that naturally infects and kills the African armyworm - is ideal for use as a biopesticide in Africa because not only can it be produced cheaply and locally, but it only infects armyworm caterpillars, leaving beneficial insects, livestock and humans completely unharmed.

 

Dr. Rob Graham, lead author of the Ecology Letters paper reporting these findings said: "This means that SpexNPV is likely to be particularly effective as a biopesticide when Wolbachia is at naturally high levels in the armyworm population."

 

According to another co-author of the study, David Grzywacz of the University of Greenwich, this discovery also opens up the possibility of manipulating the prevalence of the bacterium in the field via the mass-release of Wolbachia-carrying armyworms, though he also sounds a note of caution. He said: "Adult armyworm moths are highly migratory and disperse over vast areas of sub-Saharan Africa, so it will be a challenge to learn how best to exploit these novel findings for better control of African armyworm.”

 

However, not all major crop pests are as mobile as armyworm moths, and the team are optimistic that if similar results are replicated in other -crop pests, then the mass-release of Wolbachia-infected insects might turn out to be an important new tool in the fight to control pests that contribute to global food insecurity.

 

The 3 year research project was funded by the Sustainable Agriculture Research for International Development programme - a joint initiative by the UK’s Department for International Development and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

 

Provided by Lancaster University

 

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Fall launch for global weather alert system

 

(SciDev.net) – A global climate services system is due to be launched in October, in the hope of providing advance warning of weather changes that influence water, food security, natural disasters and health.

 

Around 70 countries lack adequate infrastructure for coping with challenging weather conditions, and six of these countries — all in climatically vulnerable places —  "have nothing at all", according to Jan Egeland, co-chair of the High-level Taskforce for the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS), a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) initiative.

 

The decision to create GFCS was made in 2009, and there are currently pilot projects in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger. "Climate services don't get to the last mile, to those that need it the most," Egeland told an event held by the WMO in Brazil on 15 June, in the lead up to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

 

Weather and climate variability are key factors in food production processes, most common natural disasters, myriad health epidemics, and the facilitation of water and energy access.

 

Reliable long-term data can feed into climate services, which can help assess, monitor and predict difficult weather conditions.

 

Examples of local initiatives successfully using weather data include Cuba's cyclone early warning system, which is based on radar technology and effective communication networks. In 2008, when three hurricanes within 20 days hit the country, economic losses amounted to US$9 billion, but only seven people died.

 

Better climate information could also help predict and manage health epidemics, including malaria, dengue fever and cholera.

 

Mannava Sivakumar, acting director of the WMO's Climate and Water Department, said: "There is an increasing gap in climate services between developing and developed countries. Currently most developing countries don't have good climate services."

 

This is due to a lack of infrastructure, meteorological networks and skilled personnel.

 

Egeland said that science has "made enormous progress" in the areas of water, weather services, climate variability and change — helping to reduce forecasting uncertainties.

 

"We now have, in embryo [form], a global integrated approach to providing information to those who need it the most," Egeland said.

 

"Products need to be easy to understand, user-friendly and developed in dialogue with users and scientists."

 

Elina Palm, liaison officer at the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in New York, United States, said that climate information is "very important", but that related challenges include a lack of information access, understanding, knowledge and the resources necessary to take action following climate forecasts.

 

Nelson Castano, disaster risk management coordinator for the Americas at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said that decision making procedures for acting on information also have to be in place.

 

Until mid-July, there is an open review of planning and governance mechanism implementation, and the framework should be approved at a WMO extraordinary congress later this year.

 

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