Last update08:00:00 PM GMT

Farming How To...
27 Aug 2018

The head of Italy-based VOG Consortium says he is expecting a lively start to the European apple campaign, which has now begun following what he described as “an absolutely unheard-of situation” in the industry.

He said that after a three-year cycle of difficult “post-[Russian] embargo” seasons, the 2017/18 season ended prematurely as frosts last year had severely impacted production.

“This is an absolutely unheard-of situation – I can’t remember it ever happening in the past,” director Gerhard Dichgans said.

“During these last few months there has been a shortage of European apples, and it appears that even the volumes of product imported from the Southern Hemisphere – in the specific case of Royal Gala – will only be able to cover demand up until the third week in August.”

“Even if the new European apple harvest looks like being abundant, it will find plenty of potential demand and an empty market, ready and waiting to consume the first fresh apples, which are now coming through.”

This year production has returned to normal, with 12 million metric tons (MT) estimated to be harvested across the continent.

However, VOG said there are some doubts as to the real size of the crop in Poland, which alone accounts for over one-third of the European crop but where less than 50% is for the fresh market.

There is also uncertainty regarding quality and sizes, as a direct consequence of the prolonged drought in the northern and eastern European growing areas in the spring and summer months, according to VOG.

In spite of this large question-mark over the coming market equilibrium, Director Gerhard Dichgans is still optimistic.

“Last season taught us an important lesson, which we must not forget: even though retail prices were sky-high in all European markets, volume consumption held up well throughout the central months of the season,” he said.

“This gives me confidence for the new season, too: if prices drop back to ‘normal’ levels, consumption may really take off, provided it is supported by impeccable product quality.”

More balanced season

The Italian consortium dispatched the first trucks immediately after the mid-August holiday, and Dichgans said he is expecting “a very lively start to the campaign, since we are facing an empty market, with no carry-over of apples from the old crop and very few overseas apples.”

“The initial price quotations reflect those of the summer market for oversea apples, but it is premature to forecast how prices will develop in the coming weeks,” he said.

“We will have to wait for the harvests to really get underway in the main growing areas: for sure, we have to forget last season’s prices, though I am not expecting prices to collapse to the levels of three or four years ago.”

He pointed out that crops in some key growing countries like France, Italy an Germany will be 5-6% below the average for 2014-16, which makes him optimistic of seeing a “much more balanced market” this season.

“The real question mark is the export potential of those markets in the Mediterranean area which absorbed the surplus product after the Russian embargo,” he said.

“The most important thing is to recover the markets we were forced to neglect last season, and guarantee our customers continuity of supply to enable them to plan a full season again.” FP

27 Aug 2018

For stink bugs to attract a mate or to communicate that they have found food, they use their own chemical language: pheromones.

Virginia Tech researchers have discovered insights into this chemical language, which can be used to develop alternative pest controls.

We have gained a deeper understanding of how stink bugs synthesize pheromones, and this knowledge may allow us to produce pheromones in expendable food crops – also called ‘trap crops’ – to lure the bugs away from cash crops,” said Dorothea Tholl, a professor of biological sciences in the College of Science and a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate.


These new environmentally friendly and sustainable alternatives to insecticides could save farmers millions of dollars.


In Virginia, crops such as grapes, sweet corn, and apples, have been under attack by the invasive brown marmorated stink bug since 2004;  cabbage has also been affected, but by the harlequin stink bug. A relative, the southern green stinkbug is also a severe pest worldwide and attacks many different crops including beans and soybeans.


Tholl is interested in the chemical communication of organisms and studies how this chemical language has evolved in insects. With support by a grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, her lab investigates the enzymes that produce stinkbug pheromones in an interdisciplinary collaboration with colleagues at Virginia Tech and national and international institutions.


Her team’s research has recently been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, or PNAS.


“Our recent paper provides valuable insight into our understanding of how insects synthesize complex sesquiterpene compounds that are typically used as pheromones. The work could pave the way in the future for plants to manufacture insect pheromones, which could be utilized in pest surveillance and pest management strategies, such as attract and kill,” said Thomas Kuhar, a professor of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist.


Very little was known about the biosynthetic evolution of these insect pheromones, and the research of Tholl’s team has shown that stink bugs have their own enzymatic machinery to make pheromones without receiving them from symbiotic microbes or the host plant, as was previously thought.


Jason Lancaster of Knoxville, Tennessee, a recent biological sciences Ph.D. graduate from Tholl’s lab, used next-generation sequencing to identify and functionally characterize the first enzyme in the biosynthetic pathway of the harlequin bug pheromone compound.


“Pheromones for thousands of insects are known, but very little is known about the synthesis of the pheromones. This paper focuses on terpene derived pheromones from the harlequin stink bug Murgantia histrionica and encompasses many years of research. Besides the development of dead-end trap crops, this research may allow establishing “RNAi interference” type gene silencing mechanisms to disrupt the pheromone production of the insect,” said Lancaster.


Lancaster also found that other stink bugs such as the brown marmorated stink bug use enzymes in pheromone biosynthesis similar to that identified in the harlequin bug. Beyond the team’s current study on stink bug pheromones, the research may allow for exciting future discoveries in the biosynthesis of pheromones of other insects and their application in pest management.


There is commercial interest in using the genetic tools developed by Tholl’s team to produce the pheromones via synthetic biology for application in the field to promote pest mating disruption.


“Overall, we are excited about the prospect that our research has the potential to develop new pest management techniques,” says Tholl.


27 Aug 2018
"On April 2nd, China increased customs tariffs on the import on some US agricultural products as part of the ongoing Sino-US trade war. This directly increased the cost price for importers, and of course the market price of the products also increased. This development is most obvious for oranges in the Chinese market.
US summer oranges

US lemons
"The import volume of US oranges has sharply reduced and the production volume of Australian oranges fell. As a result, the US summer oranges already on the market have become more popular and their price reached a record high. As for South African oranges, their market price recently dropped because supply volumes increased. The price of South African oranges was still quite good at the start of the production season, but when US summer oranges arrived, the price of South African oranges suddenly dropped. At the same time, Australian oranges also face difficulties. The price was quite good last year, and many farmers therefore decided to join in and claim their market share. Many inferior brands are suffering losses." This is according to Mao Guangju, president of Shanghai Ouke International Trade Co., Ltd.
Australian oranges

Egyptian oranges
"It is our opinion that the price of imported fruits is influenced by the increased cost price of international trade, but that the main influence on the market price is still the size and quality of supply. If the product quality is excellent and the supply volume is small, then the price will increase. It is our estimation that traders will be more careful this year during the grape and orange seasons."
Mao Guangju - President

22 Aug 2018

A topic that frequently runs the Australian political narrative in Australia is the cost of power and its impact on family budgets, but it is now becoming a significant expense for business. The grain industry, from storage facilities to processing plants, is not immune from these significant price increases, causing management to take a closer look at operations.

In October 2017, Bloomberg reported Australia’s energy costs were the highest in the world despite its ample resources of coal, gas, wind and solar. The high cost of energy is placing Australian business, particularly energy intensive industries, under increasing pressure to remain profitable.

The national data collection agency, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), charts this pressure with figures taken from 2003 to 2013 highlighting business has paid increases of 60% and 29% for electricity and gas, respectively, over the 10-year period.

Albeit serendipitously, Australia’s largest family-owned brewer, Coopers, was able to stabilize price fluctuations through a gas-fired co-generation power plant operated by energy provider AGL and technology that captures waste energy. Tim Cooper, CEO of Coopers, spoke with World Grain about the company’s co-gen powerplant and the technology used in its brewing and malting operations in South Australia.

Coopers moved to its current site at Regency Park in 2002 and effectively built the brewery from the ground up. One of the problems it faced at its old Leabrook facility was that it periodically lost power, which interfered with the brewery’s operations and product quality. The new brewery was planned to incorporate a gas-fired co-generation powerplant to prevent blackouts.

“If the grid fails, as it did in 2016 when South Australia suffered a state-wide blackout, the co-gen plant goes into island mode, cutting itself off from the grid so our operations aren’t disrupted,” Cooper said.

In the context of a rising energy market, the co-gen plant and energy capture technology have proven to be a blessing in disguise.

Jointly owned with energy provider AGL, the co-gen site was built in 2002. At the time, Coopers signed a 20-year agreement locking in a price subject to CPI but no other market fluctuations. At the time, the price Coopers agreed to pay was above the market rate, but as power plants around the state closed and market prices rose, Coopers has enjoyed the benefit.

Aside from electricity, the co-gen plant also produces waste heat that is captured to make steam that is used throughout the brewery and malthouse, reducing gas usage.

“By generating electricity and using waste heat to produce steam, we have been able to achieve a 70% efficiency rate for the co-gen plant,” Cooper said. “By being able to build the brewery from scratch, we were also able to take a long-term view and invest in technology that has enabled us to save 20% on energy consumption when compared to our old site.”

Technology used in both the brewery and the malthouse captures energy that would otherwise be wasted. Cooper explained the pre-heating of the kiln in the maltings is one example of how this works. Buehler Engineering was asked to develop a kiln that could use the excess steam produced during energy generation to pre-heat the air pumped into the furnace.

Cooper said that by using excess steam to heat the air entering the kiln rather than burning gas, total gas usage has been cut by approximately 30% to 40%. Having two operations (a brewery and a malthouse) has further boosted efficiency as the excess steam not used by one operation is easily transferred to the other.

Cooper estimates the energy savings translate to 13 cents per carton of beer, or a 1.5% cut in overall operational costs.

“As we are a family-owned company, we could take a longer-term view on this investment, which we expect will take 10 years to pay back,” he added.

Using off-peak power

Another family business, Lauke Flour Mills, which has operations in South Australia and Victoria, has had to adopt different strategies to manage power prices.

Peter Cobb, general manager of Lauke Flour Mills, said the business has experienced a doubling of energy costs year on year since 2016-17.

“The business came off a really competitive energy contract in mid-2017, but since had to find an additional $800,000 savings elsewhere in the business to cover the cost of power over the year,” Cobb said.

Cobb explained the business has installed LED lighting, power factor correction devices and automation that shuts down power and lighting when machinery is not required. He said this has had an impact but by far the greatest savings have been found in re-thinking operations to make use of off-peak power.

Lauke Flour Mills is even conducting a feasibility study with energy provider AGL into switching the Bridgewater site’s water turbines back on. The site is located by a river that would supply the water needed to turn the turbine and generate power for the site.

“When the site was built in the 1800s, its infrastructure included water turbines that are still on the site and functional today,” Cobb said. “It would be nice to get the turbines working again because of the historical connection with the site.”

The business is also looking closely at solar arrays in the next 12 to 18 months when Cobb expects the economics of the investment will work. “Investing in a solar array that could supply the amount of power needed for it to be meaningful would be several million dollars,” Cobb said. “Over the last three years, the payback on this level of investment has fallen from five to three and a half years, and we think it will fall further.”

In addition, he said the business had made use of brokers to secure lower energy pricing by using them to put the Lauke’s power needs over a cycle onto a reverse auction that retailers place ever decreasing bids on. “This has been useful, but we are currently using a more traditional bill negotiation by contacting potential retailers and outlining our energy needs over a cycle to negotiate a price over the phone with our broker,” Cobb said.

The benefit of this strategy is it makes the business more responsive to power price movements, he said. Cobb describes the impact of managing network (demand) based charges as equally as important as the energy charges, and after talking to other energy-intensive businesses he’s surprised their focus is largely on the variable power price.

“We’ve had to deeply understand the variable and the fixed rates and focused our investment and operations on ensuring our demand rates are stable,” Cobb said. “We’ve pretty much achieved that, so the issue just comes back to energy price.”

Solar power

In March 2018, CBH announced its company-wide target to install one megawatt of renewable energy generation in the business by 2019. John Cairns, special projects manager at CBH, said the main driver for the commitment was to reduce the business’ carbon footprint.

“Since 2015, we have installed solar panel generators at CBH facilities in Avon, Merredin and Geraldton,” he said. “The results of this initiative have been really encouraging. The solar power generators produce around 300,000 kilowatts of energy annually and have an anticipated lifespan of 25 years. We estimate that with CBH’s other energy saving initiatives, we’ve created around $3 million in savings across the business.”

But the objective is also about reducing greenhouse emissions. CBH measures its carbon intensity levels by dividing its total carbon emissions in CO2 equivalent tonnes by the harvest size (also in tonnes).

“I’m pleased to say CBH was able to generate a 16% reduction (from the previous year) in its carbon intensity measure for the 2016-17 financial year,” Cairns said.

He added CBH was pleased with its progress toward a sustainable energy future, but business still has a long way to go.

On the East coast, GrainCorp has raised the prospect of looking at energy costs in its operations. The company’s CEO, Mark Palmquist, was asked at the annual general meeting last February if there was a strategy to manage rising costs. Palmquist said the business faced an additional A$9 million in energy costs across both its malting and oilseed processing operations.

Offshore solutions

Unlike CBH’s investment in renewable energy, GrainCorp could also manage these price increases by looking offshore to countries that had low energy costs and reliable water supplies, although he pointed out this was not the sole reason an offshore opportunity would turn the company’s head.

There is complexity in landing the government policy required to address these rising energy costs. In Australia, the energy costs are largely state-based. However, the federal government also plays a role. In October 2017, Federal Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg put forward a proposed National Energy Guarantee (NEG) to the state energy ministers.

If the proposal succeeds, the federal government says NEG will ensure affordable and reliable energy allowing Australia to meet its Paris Agreement commitments.

The issues around policy uncertainty are echoed by Cobb, who said he and others in energy intensive industries agree it has made a significant contribution to the problem. “The market (energy retailers) have priced in risk created by uncertainty in energy infrastructure and pricing on a state and federal level,” Cobb said. “This has had a snowball effect among retailers who panic leading into summer and peaked in March 2017.”

Cobb said old power stations being taken off the grid without new power generation entering the market is creating an imbalance between capacity and demand that leads to the doubling of price.

“We’re not seeing a proper market response as government policy fails to frame energy generation over the years to come,” he added.

Policy development and discussion is ongoing, and the COAG Energy Council (made up of federal and state governments) was scheduled to release in mid-June papers for public discussion. Still, the politics is fraught with disagreement even within the federal government on how to balance affordable energy with bringing on new, cleaner power generation technologies.

Meanwhile, business is getting creative in managing high energy prices by investing in technology that is more efficient, generates power independent of the grid or uses energy smarter. If power prices remain high, energy savings will become increasingly important for the Australian grain industry that must compete with grain sellers in the world market, particularly those producing a similar grain quality at lower cost. ATR

07 Aug 2018

China issued an African swine fever outbreak alert after the nation’s first case was reported near the northeastern city of Shenyang, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said on Friday.

China is suspending transportation of hogs from Shenyang to outside the city following the outbreak, the ministry said in a statement published on its website.
Suspected African swine fever outbreak was discovered on Wednesday in a pig farm with 383 pig herds in Shenbei New district in Shenyang city, capital of Liaoning province. The case was confirmed on Friday.

The outbreak affected and killed 47 pigs on the farm. Local government culled near 1,000 hogs following the outbreak.

The ministry banned pig farmers from transporting hogs from the outbreak area and feeding the animals with untreated food waste.


28 Jul 2018

From August 2017 to May 2018, Californian raisin packed shipments declined by 14% to 246 292 tons, compared with the same period in the previous season, deepening the supply shortage.

According to the Californian Raisin Administrative Committee, the natural seedless shipment fell 13% to 219 562 tons, accounting for 89.1% of total shipments.


The EU market for natural seedless imports dropped to 3 918 tons, a 33% decrease. There were also slower purchases from Asian markets. Thailand’s imports plummeted by 44% to 1,964 tons; China by 25% to 5,921 tons; and South Korea by 10% to 3,134 tons.

Conversely, Japan has strengthened its role as the main importer of US raisins, with shipments increasing by 17% to 27 915 tons, while the organic packed shipments increased by 7% to 13 325 tons. Due to crop and supply shortage, this figure shows a growth moderation, of which Canada and the US made up 93.2% of the total. Fruit

07 Jul 2018
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its annual Acreage report on June 29 estimated all wheat planted for harvest in 2018 at 47.821 million acres, up 1% from the March Prospective Plantings forecast and up 4% from 2017, but still the second lowest in records that began in 1919, after only last year’s record low. Harvested area was forecast at 39.571 million acres, down 5% from a year ago.


Winter wheat planted area was estimated at 32.732 million acres, up slightly from last year but the third lowest area on record (including hard red winter at 23.2 million and soft red winter at 5.89 million), durum at 1.887 million acres, down 18%, and other spring wheat at 13.202 million acres, up 20% (including hard red spring at 12.7 million).

Harvested area for winter wheat was forecast at 24.831 million acres, down 2% from 2017 and the lowest area on record, with durum at 1.841 million acres, down 14%, and spring wheat other than durum at 12.899 million acres, up 27%.

The USDA estimated 2018 area planted to corn at 89.128 million acres, down 1% from 2017. Harvested area was forecast at 81.77 million acres, also down 1%.


U.S. soybean planted area is down 1% from 2017.
Soybean planted area was estimated at 89.557 million acres, down 1% from 2017, with harvested area forecast at 88.862 million acres, down 0.7%.


The USDA estimates for corn and all wheat were above the average of trade expectations, but soybean and durum estimates were below the trade averages.

The USDA, in its Grain Stocks report, estimated June 1 old-crop all wheat stocks at 1.1 billion bushels, down 7% from June 1, 2017, including 130 million bushels on farms, down 32%, and 970 million bushels off farms, down 2%. Durum stocks were 35.9 million bushels, down 1%.

Corn stocks in all positions on June 1 were estimated at 5.306 billion bushels, up 1% from a year earlier, including 2.75 billion bushels on farms, down 3%, and 2.556 billion bushels off farms, up 7%.

Soybean stocks on June 1 were estimated at 1.222 billion bushels, up 26% from last year, with on-farm stocks at 377 million bushels, up 13%, and off-farm stocks at 845 million bushels, up 33%.


U.S. corn area is down 1% from 2017.
USDA corn, soybean and wheat stocks estimates all were slightly above the average of trade expectations.


Wheat, corn and soy complex futures all traded higher after the reports, with winter wheat contracts up about 20¢ a bushel, soybeans up about 10¢, and corn and spring wheat up about 5¢.

07 Jul 2018

In a stunning instance of the animal kingdom taking karma into its own hands – or rather, paws – at least three poachers were mauled to death and then eaten by lions earlier this week after they illegally entered the Sibuya Game Reserve in South Africa to hunt rhinos.

In the case of the poachers caught by lions, it appears the circle of life played its part. But there are not always lions around to play protector as the rhino continues its struggle for survival.

He added, however, that the clothing strewn around the scene points to there being at least three. Authorities believe the men entered the game reserve in the early hours of Monday; they were found dismembered the following day, the news agency reports. Read the full article on CBS NEWS

04 Jul 2018
After a very good growing season, the expectations of organic stone fruit quality are high in Washington state. “Thanks to Mother Nature, the quality is excellent, and we will be able to produce a much better fruit size compared to the past couple of years,” says Dan Davis who heads up Oneonta’s organic category.
Harvest of organic apricots has just started and will continue through the middle of July. When organic apricot harvest wraps up, organic peaches and organic nectarines will come into production until August. Harvest of organic white nectarines and organic pluots will run from August through September.
Demand drives organic production
In recent years, Oneonta significantly expanded its organic stone fruit program and the company continues to do so. “Our overall stone fruit production is similar to last year, but the organic share will nearly double this season,” said Davis. “Organic makes up about 40 percent of our overall stone fruit program and it increases each year.” The increase in production is driven by rising demand. To differentiate organic stone fruit from conventional stone fruit in the store and at the checkout register, Oneonta has introduced oversized Purple Starr Ranch Organics PLU stickers. “In addition to apples, we have made the move to oversized PLU stickers for all our stone fruit varieties,” Davis said. “We aim to make the organic category as transparent as possible and support our retail partners with identification at store level.”
Oversized PLU stickers
Transitioning to best varieties
To continue servicing the organic market with high quality product, Oneonta is transitioning its best varieties from conventional to organic. “We have focused on moving away from older varieties.” As a result, Roboda and Patterson are the two organic apricot varieties that will see the biggest increase in production this year. The timing couldn’t be better as organic apricots seem to be hitting the sweet spot this year. “California’s apricot season gaps for a few weeks and we will be able to fulfil the demand. Also, organic pluots are gaining popularity in the United States,” shared Davis.
For more information:
Dan Davis
Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers
Tel: (+1) 509-961-1919

Publication date: 6/25/2018
Author: Marieke Hemmes