Duxton’s Agri Bits and Pieces – Vol. 373
Posted on: March 28th, 2018

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

The quote for this week is taken from a report published by the University of California (cited in the Australian Financial Review), the research paper’s lead author Tapan Pathak said the following:

“The agricultural community recognises the changes we are experiencing and impacts we may face. […] It is important to engage agricultural stakeholders in climate adaptation discussions, understanding their needs, what they may already be doing to adapt, and any barriers to climate change adaptations.”

The paper focuses on California but the underlying thesis is that there is an ongoing need for scientists and agriculturalists to collaborate if meaningful solutions and progress is to be made for current and future challenges.

RAISIN SHORTAGE LEADS TO PRICE RISE

Britain – the world’s biggest importer of dried fruit – has seen the price of raisins and sultanas rise by 42% since September, leading suppliers have said. They blame falling numbers of raisins in California for pushing up prices.

Jara Zicha, a market analyst in the UK, said farmers in California, which produces most of the raisins destined for the UK, have moved away from producing dried fruit in favour of more profitable crops. Mr Zicha […] said: “It’s a gradual decline simply down to farmers moving to other crops because of rising labour and land costs.”

He said rising supply costs in the UK had been exacerbated by the fact Greece was also producing fewer currants. The US shortage has increased demand for Turkey’s sultanas and raisins, he added.
Fears were initially raised over the cost of Easter hot cross buns. However, several bakeries told the BBC the current shortage has come too late to affect hot cross bun costs this year.

Andrew Ciclitira, director of UK dried fruit supplier Demos, urged manufacturers to be “more creative” and look to Australia and South Africa as alternative suppliers of raisins and sultanas.”

Source: No author. BBC News. 24 February 2018.

LIVESTOCK DISEASES COULD BE OVERCOME THROUGH GENE EDITING

“Farming is poised for a gene editing revolution that could overcome some of the world’s most serious livestock diseases, the UK’s top animal scientist has said. Prof Eleanor Riley, director of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, said new techniques will soon allow breeders to genetically engineer disease resilience and, in some cases, immunity into pedigree animals, saving farmers millions of pounds a year.

“Genes can be modified to massively increase resistance and resilience to infection,” she said. “The health and welfare benefits of this could be enormous.”

Roslin, one of a handful of sites in the world with the capacity for both gene editing and running animal trials, recently announced it had made pigs that appear to be completely immune to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus (PRRSV), also known as blue ear disease, which costs the swine industry £120m a year in pig deaths and expensive biosecurity. In a separate trial, Roslin is testing pigs designed to be resistant to African swine fever, a highly infectious disease that has recently swept across the Baltic countries and into Poland, causing alarm among farmers.

The advance came after scientists identified the pig gene that encodes the receptor on the surface of cells that the virus binds to to gain entry. By removing a tiny section of this gene, this doorway for the virus to enter cells is removed, and initial trials suggest the pigs made at Roslin are entirely resistant to PRRSV.

The work has been done in partnership with a livestock breeding firm called Genus PIC (Pig Improvement Company), whose pedigree herd seeds about 30% of the world’s pigs. Prof Mark Stevens, director of research at Roslin, said Genus is now preparing – should the final results support the move – to introduce the edit into their elite herd. “That’s the great advantage of partnering with some of these big breeders,” he said. “If you get it right, they can implement the gain on a vast scale.”

The latest trial results are expected to be published shortly, but it would take several years and several generations of breeding to comprehensively introduce the edit into pedigree stock. “Being able to edit these pigs and make them resistant to infection holds a huge amount of promise,” said Prof Stevens. “But it’s not going to be any time soon that you eat one.”

Scientists at Roslin have also identified a target gene that could confer resistance to avian flu, which is normally fatal for chickens, but which crows and ducks are fairly resilient against. “In outbreaks it’s not uncommon for a farmer to close the door to an apparently healthy flock and open the door the next morning to find 99% of the birds dead,” said Stevens. “But that high mortality actually provides an opportunity to look at what’s genetically different about the one bird that’s still standing.”

Roslin is also investigating the genetic basis of resilience against E coli and campylobacter, which is estimated to cause about 500,000 cases of human food poisoning in the UK each year.

Riley said there are signs that public opinion has warmed towards the acceptability of genetically engineered animals since the possibility of GM food first emerged in the 1990s. “The feeling is, cautiously, it seems as though public opinion is slowly coming around to the idea,” she said.

There is also a powerful incentive to use the technology to improve animal welfare and lessen the environmental impact of livestock farming, which makes a major contribution to the world’s carbon emissions and deforestation.

Riley dismissed the idea that the current trend towards veganism and eating less meat in the west would make a major contribution to solving these issues in the near future. “It’s the very much the definition of a first world problem,” she said.”

Source: Devlin, Hannah. The Guardian. 17 March 2018.

CHART OF THE WEEK

The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) released data indicating the severe impact that natural disasters have on developing world agriculture. Between 2005 and 2015 it is estimated that agricultural losses totalled US$96 billion. The largest impact came from drought further emphasising the continued need to efficiently manage freshwater resources not only in the developing world, but globally.

JOKE OF THE WEEK