IPM Voice Newsletter January 2016
Decline in Public Research Funding Prompt's Senator's Call for Greater Investment
In a recent editorial
in Ag Professional,
Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) is quoted on the need to increase US federal science and research funding, which has been stagnant or shrinking in recent years. He cites multiple reports documenting that federal investment in Research and Development (R&D) is currently at an all-time low of 0.78% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), vs. nearly 2% in the 1960s.
Peters has decried America's apparent failure to recognize the long-term importance of research investment.
Authors participating in the Organic and IPM Working Group took a similar stance in their recent whitepaper, Organic Agriculture and Integrated Pest Management: Synergistic Partnership Needed to Improve the Sustainability of Agriculture and Food Systems. The group reported that public policy and private-sector decision makers often focus on fast, cheap and easy as priorities, and share an inaccurate perspective that traditional conventional systems are working effectively, without need for change. "Few research programs at public institutions focus first on understanding the problem so as to then develop sustainable solutions; most advance technology as the answer without addressing underlying fundamental problems," said the paper's authors. They call for increased public investment in long-term sustainable food production systems, to reduce impacts on health and natural resources, and to respond to increasing demands from consumers and food company shareholders to improve food safety, farm worker health and welfare, pollinator health, and air and water quality.
A key to improvement, the authors argue, is greater public investment in research on organic agriculture and IPM systems that better reflects the benefits of reducing the tremendous external costs attributable to current approaches. More big-picture systems-approach projects are needed, not simply research efforts which "focus on a narrow aspect of the whole, and fail to consider impacts of their research at the agroecosystem level."
Senator Peters called for an increase in investment of at least 1% to remain competitive internationally. "Investments in basic research are a down payment on America's future and the key to keeping our nation on the cutting edge of an increasingly competitive global economy," Peters said. "As the U.S. science and research community works to discover the next major scientific advancement, we in Congress must do our part by supporting and investing in their efforts to drive economic growth, unleash increased productivity, enhance our safety and security, and make the world a better place for future generations."
Microbial Seed Treatments on the Horizon
Novozymes and Monsanto have just finished the largest-ever field test of seeds treated with microbial solutions. The two companies have been working through their BioAg Alliance
to discover, develop and market microbial seed treatments for use in agriculture. The first crop planted with these seeds has been harvested from more than 500,000 plots in the US Midwest. Using over 2000 unique strains of microbes, the field trials are intended to test how specific probiotic seed treatments impact agricultural yields and aid in disease and pest control.
The development process includes obtaining soil samples from diverse locations, genetically testing the microbial strains found within, checking them against a database of known strains, and field-testing the remaining strains for use as inoculants or as bio-control products. Although early results suggest only a small portion of the strains tested proved useful, the companies are hoping to strike microbiological gold with the few that do. Novozymes' Met52, a fungus that controls vine weevils, is already in use on millions of acres.
The current market for agricultural biologicals is $2.9 billion a year, compared to traditional pesticides and fertilizers at $240 billion annually. The Alliance partners believe the market for microbials could grow very quickly, as biological agents have fewer regulatory hurdles than chemical formulations, faster development cycles, and could achieve broad public acceptance if they reduce use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Read more on the story in Scientific American
Bees Tapped as Beneficial Fungus Delivery Vehicles
Bee Vectoring Technology International
of Mississauga, Ontario has developed a technique by which bumblebees deliver a naturally occurring fungal inoculant to protect flowering crops from pathogens including Sclerotinia
species. The method is currently in use in canola and sunflower crops in Canada and is also being considered for strawberries, tomatoes, apples and almonds. Yield increases and a 27% increase in sunflower germination have been reported.
The company selected bumblebees due to the ease with which they can be raised commercially, the large amount of powdered inoculant they can carry, ability to fly in relatively low temperatures, and their tendency to be less aggressive than honeybees. Foraging bumblebees may visit up to 10 flowers per minute, suggesting the method could be used to pollinate a wide number of plants quickly and efficiently.
The system faces challenges including unfavorable weather conditions including potential for bumblebee-borne inoculants to be affected by rain and high-humidity conditions. Read more at The Western Producer
and FG Insight
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