Research shows that GM potatoes have reduced impact on the environment
A trial carried out in Ireland and The Netherlands by Teagasc and Wageningen University has found a number of positives to planting GM potato varieties.

Teagasc have concluded their field study which investigated both the environmental and agronomic impact of a GM potato variety genetically engineered to resist late blight disease, caused by phytophthora infestans.

Teagasc research indicates that combining a cisgenic blight resistant potato with advanced integrated management systems can reduce the environmental impact of potato production by over 95%.

As part of the EU funded ‘AMIGA’ project, and in collaboration with Wageningen University, Teagasc looked at issues such as the efficacy of disease control and the resulting environmental impact during cultivation of a susceptible potato variety and two different resistant potato varieties.

The research, conducted in both The Netherlands and Ireland, has concluded that integrated production strategies that include varieties with enhanced genetic resistance against late blight disease can reduce the average fungicide input by 80-90%, without compromising control efficacy or yield.

This can provide more durable control options for farmers while significantly reducing the crop’s environmental footprint.

Field evaluations

After undergoing independent peer-review, the findings from three years of field evaluations have been published in the scientific journals European Journal of Agronomy and BMC Ecology.

The international team developed an IPM2.0 approach, which includes late blight resistant varieties and builds on the preventive principles of integrated pest management. IPM2.0 could permit growers to strongly reduce the necessary input of chemical control agents.

It also ensures a yield equivalent to current levels, protects the limited natural germplasm used to create the resistant varieties and significantly reduces the environmental impact of potato cultivation as a whole.

The IPM2.0 approach adds three extra components to the current control strategy for potato late blight: the use of resistant varieties, active monitoring of the late blight pathogen and a ‘do not spray unless’ strategy, which dictates that a grower only needs to apply fungicides when a resistant variety is at risk of infection due to pathogen adaptation. This strategy ensures potato crops are protected at all times while minimising the risk that resistance genes lose their efficacy.

Additional environmental investigations examined populations of soil nematodes, which play a key role in soil processes with alterations in the nematode community structure having the potential to considerably influence ecosystem functioning. In effect, fluctuations in nematode diversity and/or community structure can be gauged as a barometer of a soil’s functional biodiversity.

In parallel to the active research programme, project staff completed over 95 Knowledge Transfer events across the country in support of the public discussion on the challenges facing future potato production and the costs/benefits of potential solutions.

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Climate change to hammer barley yields – study
Ireland would be one of the barley producers most affected by changing weather patterns during this century, with malting barley and the brewing industry most affected, academics have found.

More frequent droughts forming part of climate change will hit barley-producing countries, especially Ireland, according to a study published in the journal Nature Plants.

Scientists from China, the UK and the US applied climate change models developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the conditions required to grow the crop. More specifically, they examined the frequency of extreme heat and drought years under four possible scenarios.

20% yield drop

They found that the business-as-usual scenario leading to around 4°C global warming during the 21st century would result in an average worldwide fall in barley yields of 17% in increasingly frequent drought years. Ireland would be the third-worst affected producer, with the midpoint of yield estimates, depending on the severity of drought, showing a drop of over 20% during those hot years.

The scenario where global warming is kept under 2°C above pre-industrial levels, in accordance with the Paris climate agreement, would still cut barley yields by an average of 3% around the world in more frequent drought years. Ireland would again be severely affected, with the range of yield estimates ranging between stagnation and over 20% falls in those cases.

Beer price hikes

The findings were part of a study on the impact of climate change on the beer market. Competition between feed and malting uses would affect the brewing industry. Using economic modelling, the authors found that limited barley availability would push consumption down or prices up depending on the affluence and traditions in different countries.

While Argentinians would reduce their beer consumption by 32% during drought years under the most severe climate change scenario, Ireland is singled out as one of the countries where price hikes would be sharpest, with the cost of a pint most likely tripling.

'Add insult to injury'

“It may be argued that consuming less beer isn’t itself disastrous, and may even have health benefits," said Dabo Guan, professor of climate change economics at the University of East Anglia in the UK and co-ordinator of the research. "Nevertheless, there is little doubt that for millions of people around the world, the climate impacts on beer availability and price will add insult to injury.”

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Main potato harvest under way
Around 20% of the main crop potato harvest is complete, but many growers are yet to make a start to their harvesting campaign.

Potato growers around the country have begun lifting their main potato crops over the past week.

Progress is staggered, with just a small number of growers reporting that they have finished their harvest, while many have yet to commence.

Estimates suggest around 20% of the 18,000ac of potatoes planted this year is now harvested. Yield data is limited so far.

Initial grower reports suggest significant variations in crop performance, largely depending on soil type, variety and whether or not the crop was irrigated.

Many earlier-sown crops which were planted into heavier ground and which received irrigation are performing well, yielding between 15 and 18 tonnes per acre (variety dependant), with little scab reported.

However, of the early crops harvested, those which have received no irrigation and are on particularly dry ground appear to be suffering substantial yield drops of 30-40% in some cases.

Reports suggest crops have been slow to mature this year and achieving suitable dry matters is also proving to be an issue.

Growers also fear that ground conditions may deteriorate as the season progresses.

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Update: top tillage TAMS investments
Recently released figures from the Department of Agriculture reveal the 10 most popular investment items applied for in the last three tranches.

Launched in 2017, the TAMS II Tillage Capital Investment Scheme (TCIS) offers grant aid towards the cost of a number of investment items with the intention to help modernise tillage farms.

The fourth tranche of the scheme opened on 8 September and offers 40% grant aid to the €80,000 investment ceiling, excluding VAT for general applications, or 60% grant aid to €80,000 for eligible young farmers. For farmers in a registered farm partnership, the investment ceiling doubles to €160,000.

There has so far been three tranches of the scheme, ranging from tranche eight to tranche 11.

Applications

According to Department of Agriculture figures, 295 applications were received in the first tranche (tranche nine) at 295, making it the most popular tranche so far. Some 279 approvals were issued. This was followed by the third tranche at 183 applications, followed by the second tranche at 173.

  • Tranche nine – 295 applications received and 279 approvals issued.
  • Tranche 10 – 173 applications received and 161 approvals issued.
  • Tranche 11 – Closed on 7 September with 183 applications received. These are currently going through the administrative checks.
  • Top tillage TAMS investments

    Under recently released figures, minimum disturbance tillage equipment proved to be the most popular choice among applicants, having received 261 applications over the past three tranches.

    Sprayers proved to be the second most popular item in terms of applications on the list, at 134. Surprisingly, pesticide reduction equipment (heavy Cambridge roller, furrow press, etc) featured fifth on the list.

    Wheel-changing equipment tanks are sixth on the list, while grain stores rank eighth having received 11 applications. Potato harvesting equipment has received just four applications.

    A shift in popularity

    Collated figures from the first two tranches show that sprayer sand fertiliser spreaders ranked fourth and fifth, respectively. However, when application figures from the third tranche are included, these items jump to second and third, respectively.

    Pesticide reduction equipment (heavy Cambridge roller, furrow press, etc) once ranked second on the list but has now dropped to fifth place.

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