FAO – News Article: Maize, rice, wheat farming must become more sustainable

World experts agree improved crop varieties need to go hand-in-hand with eco-friendly farming systems

Photo: ©FAO/Paballo Thekiso

Farm workers in Mozambique carrying harvested maize back to their village for processing.

Rome, 19 December 2014 ­ – Cereal-based farming systems must join the transition to sustainable agriculture if they are to meet unprecedented demand for maize, rice and wheat. That was one of the key messages to emerge from a meeting held by FAO this week and attended by leading crop production specialists.

FAO estimates that over the next 35 years farmers will need to increase the annual production of maize, rice and wheat to 3 billion tonnes, or half a billion tonnes more than 2013’s record combined harvests.

They will need to do that with less water, fossil fuel and agrochemicals, on farmland that has been widely degraded by decades of intensive crop production, and in the face of droughts, new pest and disease threats, and extreme weather events provoked by climate change.

Experts at the meeting said that that challenge could only be met with eco-friendly agriculture that achieves higher productivity while conserving natural resources, adapting to climate change, and delivering economic benefits to the world’s 500 million small-scale family farms.

The meeting focused on maize, rice and wheat because those three crops are fundamental to world food security, providing 50 percent of humanity’s dietary energy supply. Cereals are also increasingly vulnerable: climate trends since 1980 have reduced the annual global maize harvest by an estimated 23 million tonnes and the wheat harvest by 33 million tonnes. Green Revolution cereal yield increases, once averaging a spectacular 3 percent a year, have fallen to around 1 percent since 2000.

In Asia, the degradation of soils and the buildup of toxins in intensive paddy systems have raised concerns that the slowdown in yield growth reflects a deteriorating crop-growing environment.

The FAO meeting agreed that agriculture can no longer rely on input-intensive agriculture to increase crop production. Improved varieties of maize, rice and wheat must go hand-in-hand with what FAO calls “Save and Grow” farming systems that keep soil healthy, integrate crop, tree and animal production, use water far more efficiently, and protect crops with integrated pest management.

Examples of ecosystem-based farming

Papers presented at the meeting provided an inventory of proven ecosystem-based farming technologies and practices, including:

  • In Viet Nam, more than a million small-scale farmers have adopted the System of Rice Intensification, which produces high yields using less fertilizer, water and seed than conventional irrigated rice
  • In China, planting genetically diverse rice varieties in the same field has cut fungal disease incidence so significantly, compared to monocropped rice, that many farmers were able to stop spraying fungicide
  • In southern India, site-specific nutrient management, which matches nitrogen inputs to plants’ real needs, has reduced fertilizer applications and costs, while increasing wheat yields by 40 percent
  • The elimination of soil tillage on wheat land in central Morocco cut water runoff volume by 30 percent and sediment loss by 70 percent, leading to increased water holding capacity that boosts crop productivity in drier seasons.
  • In Zimbabwe, conservation agriculture has helped smallholder farmers produce up to eight times more maize per hectare than the national average.
  • Farmers in Zambia grow an acacia tree, Faidherbia albida, near maize fields and use its nitrogen-rich leaves as natural fertilizer and a protective mulch during the rainy season, resulting in a threefold increase in yields.

The challenge facing policymakers is to accelerate the adoption of “Save and Grow” farming systems. One clear need flagged by the meeting was greater support to smallholder farmers in adapting ecosystem-based farming practices to local conditions, which will require the revision of national policies, considerable upgrading of extension services and approaches that reduce the transaction costs of knowledge sharing, such as farmers’ field schools.

The FAO forum was attended by 50 crop production specialists from AfricaRice, CIMMYT, FAO, ICARDA, IWMI, IRRI, and agricultural development institutions in Asia and Latin America. Their findings will be presented in a policymakers’guide, Save and Grow: Maize, rice and wheat to be published in 2015.

Malawi: Fertilizer trees

The adoption of fertilizer trees on farms is a simple and effective way to improve soil fertility, food productivity and therefore contribute to food security. Yet, there is still little empirical research that documents the impact of fertilizer trees on food security among smallholder farmer households. Researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre carried out a […]

via Smallholder farmers in Malawi are growing fertilizer trees on their farms to improve food production — The Plantwise Blog

Natural GM sweet potatoes

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Western Corn Rootworm adults Purdue Extension Entomology – Purdue University
The western corn rootworm was first classified as a corn pest in the 1860s. Shown here are adults.

Fighting world hunger: Researchers use nuclear methods to study pest resistance in corn plants

Expertise, resources found at the University of Missouri allow researchers to study pest-resistance in corn that could help sustain projected 9 billion global population.

Jeff Sossaman | Mar 10, 2017

Developing corn varieties that are resistant to pests is vital to sustain the estimated 9 billion global population by 2050.

Now, researchers at the University of Missouri, using advanced nuclear methods, have determined the mechanisms corn plants use to combat the western corn rootworm, a major pest threatening the growth of the vital food source.

Scientists believe that using the knowledge gained from these cutting-edge studies could help crop breeders in developing new resistant lines of corn and make significant strides toward solving global food shortages.

“The western corn rootworm is a voracious pest,” said Richard Ferrieri, a research professor in the MU Interdisciplinary Plant Group, and an investigator at the MU Research Reactor (MURR).

“Rootworm larvae hatch in the soil during late spring and immediately begin feeding on the crop’s root system. Mild damage to the root system can hinder water and nutrient uptake, threatening plant fitness, while more severe damage can result in the plant falling over.”

Breeding corn that can fight these pests is a promising alternative. Ferrieri, and his international team of researchers, including scientists from the University of Bern in Switzerland, Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, used radioisotopes to trace essential nutrients and hormones as they moved through live corn plants. In a series of tests, the team injected radioisotope tracers in healthy and rootworm-infested corn plants.


“For some time, we’ve known that auxin, a powerful plant hormone, is involved in stimulating new root growth,” Ferrieri said. “Our target was to follow auxin’s biosynthesis and movement in both healthy and stressed plants and determine how it contributes to this process.”

By tagging auxin with a radioactive tracer, the researchers were able to use a medical diagnostic imaging tool callED positron emission tomography, or PET imaging, to “watch” the movement of auxin in living plant roots in real time.

Similarly, they attached a radioactive tracer to an amino acid called glutamine that is important in controlling auxin chemistry, and observed the pathways the corn plants used to transport glutamine and how it influenced auxin biosynthesis.

The researchers found that auxin is tightly regulated at the root tissue level where rootworms are feeding. The study also revealed that auxin biosynthesis is vital to root regrowth and involves highly specific biochemical pathways that are influenced by the rootworm and triggered by glutamine metabolism.

“This work has revealed several new insights about root regrowth in crops that can fend off a rootworm attack,” Ferrieri said. “Our observations suggest that improving glutamine utilization could be a good place to start for crop breeding programs or for engineering rootworm-resistant corn for a growing global population.”


Ferrieri’s work highlights the capabilities of the MURR, a crucial component to research at the university for more than 40 years. Operating 6.5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, scientists from across the campus use the 10-megawatt facility to not only provide crucial radioisotopes for clinical settings globally, but also to carbon date artifacts, improve medical diagnostic tools and prevent illness.

MURR also is home to a PETrace cyclotron that is used to produced other radioisotopes for medical diagnostic imaging.

The study, “Dynamic Precision Phenotyping Reveals Mechanism of Crop Tolerance to Root Herbivory,” was published in Plant Physiology.

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Almond Bloom
The four main fungal diseases in almonds, which can do the most damage to the crop, are brown rot, anthracnose, shot hole, and jacket rot. All four are different and have different sensitivities to fungicides.

Cecilia Parsons | Mar 01, 2017

Warm and wet weather as the Central Valley’s almond orchards burst into bloom makes widespread fungal diseases almost a sure bet.

“If growers get behind on their control and can’t get the fungicide sprays on, they might get hammered this year,” warns Dani Lightle, University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) farm advisor in the Northern California counties of Glenn, Butte, and Tehama.

Lightle says, “If pathogens get a foothold and it rains through bloom and after, there may be a lot of crop damage. You can’t catch up with these diseases.”

David Doll, UCCE farm advisor at Merced County, says fungicide applications are a preventative measure, not a control. Wet conditions during this year’s bloom created a perfect environment for fungal growth.

The pathogens are always present in an orchard, Doll explains, but they need a host and the right environmental conditions. Continued warm and wet conditions during bloom can open the doors for fungal infections.

“With no fungicide applications and current conditions, significant yield losses can be expected,” Doll said. “Depending on the variety, it could be 20-30 percent.”

On Feb. 1, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation approved the aerial application of fungicides in six North State counties due to the number of almond orchards inaccessible with ground spray rigs.

The exemption allows for fungicide applications in orchards with standing water. No pumping of water is allowed after the applications and the sprays must cease if a rain event is imminent.

The four main fungal diseases in almonds, which can do the most damage to the crop, are brown rot, anthracnose, shot hole, and jacket rot. All four are different and have different sensitivities to fungicides, according to Doll.


Anthracnose symptoms include blossom blight and fruit infections often with spur and limb dieback. Infected flowers appear similar to brown rot strikes. Infected nuts show round, orange-colored sunken lesions on the hull with symptoms appearing about three weeks after petal fall. Nuts can be infected later in the season if conditions are favorable.

Diseased nuts become mummified but remain attached to the spur. Shoots or branches with infected nuts often die. UC Integrated Pest Management (IPM) guidelines report that all cultivars are susceptible.

Management calls for fungicide treatments beginning at 5-10 percent bloom and repeated every 10-14 days if wet weather persists. Specific materials and application rates can be found on the IPM web site.


Almond blossoms are most susceptible to brown rot when fully open. Stigma, anthers, and petals are all susceptible to brown rot infection. Gum may secrete from the base of infected flowers.

This fungus survives on twig cankers and on remaining diseased flower parts and spurs. Spores are airborne or water splashed, and infections spread rapidly in wet weather with temperatures in the mid-70s.

Timing for control should be determined by the bloom of the most seriously affected cultivar. If infections were widespread the previous year, multiple fungicide applications may be necessary.


Symptoms of shot hole include spots on leaves, hulls, twigs, and flowers. Leaf lesions begin as tiny reddish specks. Spots on young leaves will fall out leaving a shot hole appearance. Older leaves retain the lesions.

Heavy infections can cause nutlets to drop, become distorted, or gum up. Infected trees will weaken, defoliate, and lose production.

There is a high risk of shot hole development in the spring if shot hole lesions with fruiting structures are found on leaves in the fall. Fruiting structures appear in the center of leaf lesions as small black spots, viewable with a hand lens.

Fungicide applications depend on weather conditions and the level of infection found in the fall.


Jacket rot, or green fruit rot, begins later in the bloom period when the fungus infects petals and anthers. The infection can spread to floral tubes or flower jackets causing them to wither and stick to developing nutlets. Entire nut clusters can rot if covered with the infected flower parts.

Jacket rot is not as prevalent as the three other fungal diseases and is more likely to appear in cooler weather conditions. Fungicide should be applied at full bloom to prevent jacket rot.

Lightle says targeting fungicide choices to the fungal disease of concern is vital. She encouraged use of the fungicide efficacy tables available at http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/r3902111.html.

SE farm press

This approach to controlling citrus greening, by blocking bacterial transmission by the psyllid, runs contrary to existing ‘kill the insect’ strategies.

Logan Hawkes | Mar 04, 2017

Since the introduction of Huánglóngbìng (HLB–yellow dragon disease–or better known as citrus greening disease) reared its ugly head on U.S. soil in a Florida citrus grove in 2005, the disease has been a major threat to commercial citrus production across the country.

Before arriving in North America, HLB had already carved a path of destruction across the Far East, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula, and was discovered in July 2004 in Brazil. In its wake it left citrus growers around the world astounded at the inevitable and long-lasting risks the disease poses to global citrus industry.

During the first couple of years after reaching Florida, the disease had destroyed a huge section of the state’s successful citrus industry, and by 2009, just five years after its introduction in the region, almost every county within Florida had confirmed HLB cases among both commercial and private citrus groves. From there the disease spread

to adjoining states, eventually reaching citrus growing areas in Texas and finally as far west as California.The fight against HLB and the tiny psyllids that carry the bacteria from tree to tree is about as old as the disease itself. Recognizing the disease had the ability to threaten the global citrus industry, researchers from around the world began working on possible solutions to combat the spread of this dangerous citrus killer.

In spite of early efforts however, the tell-tale signs of the disease kept spreading.

 The early symptoms of HLB include leaves with yellowing veins appear along with asymmetrical chlorosis referred to as “blotchy mottle.” These are the most diagnostic symptoms of the disease, especially on sweet orange. Growers, ever fearful the disease would reach their trees, have been on constant lookout for leaves that are slow to develop and often with a variety of chlorotic patterns that often resemble mineral deficiencies such as those of zinc, iron, and manganese.

Regardless of treatment efforts, once established in a grove, the end result of the disease is proving to be inevitable, the complete decay and destruction of all infected trees.

Detection of the disease is one of the first hurdles facing citrus growers in modern times. When it comes to fighting HLB, growers face a number of unique challenges. For one, HLB-infected citrus trees do not show symptoms during the first year of infection, so there is a long period of time when a grower cannot visually detect an infected tree. But that hasn’t stemmed research efforts.

The spreading pandemic of the disease served to rally the global citrus industry and the many researchers who support it. Soon new and innovative treatments were being tested. In addition to antibacterial management and control and management of the psyllids that carry the disease, tree removal became a standard procedure to help curtail the rapid spread of the bacterium.

Soon, beneficial parasitoids were introduced and widely used to help control psyllid populations. Heat treatments in nurseries and on field trees covered by plastic wrap offered some slowing of the disease process in early research efforts. Hundreds of millions of dollars were being spent worldwide searching for a cure to the disease. A zinc-based bactericidal spray seemed to offer some hope.

Before long, breeders were offering new citrus varieties that were proving resistant to the bacterium that causes HLB. Bio-engineers have been devising methods to make citrus trees less attractive to the psyllids that carry the disease. But in recent months a new idea has surfaced, and while no one is ringing the bell of victory, researchers on the project are quietly voicing new hope in the war against the disease.


According to researchers, the reproductive and feeding habits of the psyllid make it the perfect carrier of the bacterium. An infected psyllid creates a localized infection when it feeds and transmits the bacterium into a citrus tree. It does not take long for the bacterium to spread throughout the plant, but the inoculum is first concentrated in the leaves and stems where the infected psyllid feeds. Female psyllids lay eggs in the same region where they feed. If these females are infected, their nymphs, which begin feeding in the infected area of the tree when they hatch, eventually acquire the bacterium, molt to the winged adult stage and disperse taking it along with them.

So researchers at the Boyce Thompson Institute, a premier life sciences research institution located in Ithaca, New York on the Cornell University campus, have concentrated their recent efforts on the psyllid itself as a possible link to the control of the disease.

Michelle Cilia, a Research Molecular Biologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Assistant Professor at the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI), and her team of researchers have been looking at a protein that makes the bellies of citrus psyllids blue and the possible connection it may have with the natural process of spreading the devastating bacterium in the first place. Researchers say Asian citrus psyllids with blue abdomens have high levels of an oxygen-transporting protein called hemocyanin.

According to Cilia, the hemocyanin protein is commonly found in the blood of crustaceans and mollusks. When harboring the bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus ( or CLas) the disease is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid. This bacterium force the psyllids to ramp up their production of this protein. Cilia lab scientists, along with colleagues at the University of Washington and the USDA ARS at Fort Pierce, Fla., identified important protein interactions that must occur to perpetuate the transmission of bacterium to new trees.

They examined interactions occurring between the psyllid and the bacterium, and between the psyllid and its beneficial microbial partners. They also compared protein expression levels in both nymphs and adults. Their research shows that adult psyllids appear to mount a better immune response to CLas as compared to nymphs, which may explain why psyllids must acquire CLas during the nymphal stage to efficiently transmit CLas once they become adults.

“For many decades, scientists lacked the ability to look inside insects that transmit plant pathogens and understand what is going on,” said Cilia. “This is no longer true today, thanks to the painstaking work of our collaborators in the Bruce and MacCoss labs at the University of Washington. The new molecular tools developed by our University of Washington colleagues enable us to dissect the vector-pathogen relationship piece by piece to determine which components are important for transmission.”

The group showed that hemocyanin interacts with a CLas protein involved in a vital microbial metabolic pathway called the acetyl-CoA pathway. Scientists have previously targeted this set of biochemical reactions in bacteria when developing antibiotics.

John Ramsey, a USDA ARS postdoctoral associate in the Cilia lab and first author of the study, suspects that the increase in hemocyanin, and the blue color it imparts to the abdomen, could be evidence of an immune response to CLas infection. The findings raise the possibility that this response could be harnessed to help control the bacterium’s spread.

“The study is allowing you to look at your population of insects and say something about the immune system of the insect based on its color,” said Ramsey. “There’s the possibility that this could be a useful part of grove surveillance.”

In future work, the Cilia group plans to test whether there are differences in each color morph’s ability to spread the CLas bacterium. Results from this study will help inform future strategies to control citrus greening disease. Depending on which proteins they decide to target, these new approaches could prevent the psyllid from transmitting CLas or trigger an immune response against the bacterium.

This approach to controlling citrus greening, by blocking bacterial transmission by the psyllid, runs contrary to existing ‘kill the insect’ strategies, said Ramsey. Such an approach may provide a longer lasting solution because the insect isn’t under pressure to evolve to survive the treatment, which commonly occurs with pesticide usage.

EPA Approves GE Potatoes


US EPA Approves Three Varieties of GE Potatoes

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the planting of three types of genetically engineered potatoes that resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine. According to EPA, the GE potatoes are safe for the environment and safe to eat.

The GE potatoes were developed by J.R. Simplot Co. According to Simplot, the GE potatoes only contain potato genes and that the resistance to late blight trait originated from an Argentine potato variety that naturally exhibited defense against the pathogen.

The decision by EPA is consistent with the safety clearance given by Food and Drug Administration in January 2017.

Read more from AP. View the notices (for Y9 and X17) from the EPA website.