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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Sprouted grain flour – a potential market for Irish wheat?
Sprouted grain flour can have many advantages over conventional flour, but is there an opportunity for Irish growers to supply the market?

During an open day held in Teagasc Oak Park a number of weeks ago, students spoke with Lisa Larkin of Durrow Mills. Cofounded with her husband in 2015, Durrow Mills is a food ingredient company specialising in producing organic sprouted grain flour to the baking industry.

Having searched for bread which would be easier on the body’s digestive system, and with trends showing consumers moving to baked goods alternatives and organic food, they found that there was a real opportunity to produce organic sprouted grain flower.

Grain is first steeped in water and left to germinate. The germinated grain is then left to dry over a prolonged period of time. The dried grain is then processed through a stone mill to produce coarse or fine milled flour. The product is then sold at wholesale and retail level.

Lisa Larkin of Durrow Mills speaking at the recent Teagasc Oak Park open day.

Lisa explains that sprouted grains have been shown to be easier to digest. This is due to germination process in the grain breaking down many of the agents which are naturally present to prevent germination, and which can be sore on the digestive system. They also claim increased vitamin content, as well as higher levels of protein and fibre content versus conventional flour.

The sprouted grain flour market is predicted to grow eight fold in the US in the next number of years Lisa remarked. A similar trend can be seen in Europe, and the company is well placed to capitalise on that growth. The plan is to increase product range to include oats, quinoa and a number of others in the next year.

The company currently import their grain from organic sources, citing Ireland’s climate as the main reason why they can’t secure a viable supply of high-protein Irish grown wheat.

However, as members of Real Bread Ireland, the group is actively exploring the potential of using Irish grain for the baking industry, citing ongoing wheat trials in Kilkenny. This may yet prove to be a viable market for growers in the near future.

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Listen: sugar beet co-op plan draws in tillage growers
Almost 150 growers turned up in Co Tipperary to hear Beet Ireland's proposal to revive the sugar beet industry in Ireland.

Construction of a new sugar beet processing plant will begin by 2022 if Beet Ireland can persuade at least 1,000 farmers to pay €1,000 each to kickstart a new co-op.

Beet Ireland wants growers to fund a new tillage co-op which would in turn invest in a beet company, along with Beet Ireland.

With €300m required to construct the new factory, funding would also be needed from other sources like bank debt and external investors.

Farmers who invest in the co-op would be purchasing shares in the new beet company.

Farmers who want to supply beet to the new company will be required to make a further investment of around €1,000/ac.

Almost 150 tillage farmers gathered in Cahir, Co Tipperary, last Thursday to hear Beet Ireland’s proposal to revive the country’s sugar beet industry. Many of the farmers were former sugar beet growers and contractors who had previously profitable beet enterprises.

Beet Ireland director Chris Harmon described the €1,000 co-op investment as a “small level of exposure” for farmers to restart Ireland’s sugar industry and potentially reap the benefits of the value-added side of sugar beet processing.

Listen to "Tipperary farmer at Beet Ireland meeting" on Spreaker.

Harmon added that “every cent” would be refunded to farmers who contribute if the target is not reached. The €1,000 per farmer will be held by the Irish Grain Growers, ITLUS (Irish Tillage Land Use Society) and the IFA until needed.

Beet Ireland chair Michael Hoey said he saw sugar as an enabler for other products such as polymers (plastics), bioenergy (ethanol) and as an organic chemical.

“Tillage farmers have always been the underdogs and it has got worse in recent years – we are price takers,” said Hoey.

“Now is the chance to put a proper Irish farmer brand on the shelves and there is a huge pharmaceutical industry in this country which is a big user of glucose products,” he said.

Many of the speakers called on tillage farmers present to emulate their dairy counterparts by embracing the co-op model.

Beet Ireland director and former IFA beet chair Jim O’Regan told farmers: “There is no future for tillage unless we get an anchor crop in the rotation to carry that industry.”

“Dairy farmers are quite prepared to pay for expansion, why not the same for tillage farmers?” he asked.

The scale

Beet Ireland expects the new plant at Ballyburn, Co Kildare, to process 1.4m tonnes of beet per year. This would produce 210,000t of sugar and 19m litres of bioethanol. It equates to 1,000 growers growing 1,400t of beet each. Based on a 70t/ha (28t/ac) crop, this amounts to 20,000ha (50,000ac) of sugar beet.

Where?

While Beet Ireland would aim to take in most of its beet from within a 60km radius of the Ballyburn factory, Michael Hoey described this as “more of a wishlist” to the Irish Farmers Journal and Jim O’Regan stressed that all interested growers would be considered. All haulage to the factory will be by contracted haulage, with no tractor and trailer deliveries allowed.

Price

Farmers who questioned what price sugar beet would be were told Beet Ireland “does not have the answer”. Elaborating, Chris Harmon said: “We don’t know what the price of barley will be next year or in five years’ time either. The price of sugar beet will be determined by factors like the global price of sugar, the business profitability and equity dividends.”

Farmer reaction

“It’s not often you get the opportunity to get back into an industry that we should never have lost. Tonight is a chance for farmers to see the business model, and to see the good, the bad and ugly of what is being proposed.”

– Tom Short, IFA South Leinster regional chair

“I’m a dairy farmer and I always used a lot of pressed pulp. I always saw the loss of sugar beet as a natural resource being thrown away. I’m here to support the industry, we’re all part of a cog in the wheel.

“My wife and I will consider paying the €1,000 even though we won’t grow sugar beet.”

- John Lukeman, dairy farmer, Donohill, Co Tipperary

“Some answers were too vague and not specific enough for us [contractors] as an industry to move into this new Beet Ireland regime.

“Contractors would be at the forefront of harvesting sugar beet because there is no economics in this scale for farmers to get involved [in harvesting].

“At 1,000 growers with 50ac each, that’s only two days’ harvesting.”

- John Hughes, agricultural contractor, Co Kilkenny

“My customers will want to know a price per tonne and how it’s going to be harvested and delivered from 50, 60 miles from the factory, whether it will be subsidised or not. At the moment it wouldn’t be profitable from Co Wexford without a price closer to €50/t.”

- Trevor James, contractor, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford

Listen to "Tipperary farmer at Beet Ireland meeting" on Spreaker.

“I’m a grower and contractor. We used to grow 70ac of beet. I would hope it would make a season out of our operation. I need to analyse it over the next while but I probably will give [the €1,000].”

- Tommy Prendergast, Dangan, Co Tipperary

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Venue change for Beet Ireland meeting

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Venue change for Beet Ireland meeting
The meeting was originally planned for Enniscorthy but will now be held in the Horse and Hound in Ballinaboola.

There has been a venue change for the Beet Ireland/IFA meeting that is scheduled for Wednesday 12 December.

The meeting was originally planned for Enniscorthy but will now be held in the Horse and Hound in Ballinaboola, Wexford. It will also take place at the later time of 8pm.

BEET Ireland has already held one meeting in Cahir, Co Tipperary last week where 150 tillage farmers gathered to hear proposals on reviving Ireland's sugar beet industry.

In order for the project to progress to the next stage, some 1,000 farmers will be needed to contribute €1,000 each to set up a new co-operative in partnership with Beet Ireland.