Lincoln leading food safety and security discussion

Key issues around future food security challenges will be discussed at a workshop at Lincoln University next month.

It is part of a series of short courses set up to help industry professionals deal with increasingly complex and rapidly changing patterns in global food consumption, manufacturing and retailing.

Lincoln University Senior Lecturer in Food Microbiology Dr Malik Hussain says it will be the first workshop to address the issue in New Zealand.

“Food safety and security play a critical role in the sustainable growth of global economy and continually positive development of the food market,” Dr Hussain says.

“Microbial and chemical contaminants of food derived from raw materials or evolved during processing or storage have been becoming increasingly alerted throughout the world.

“A fundamental requirement has arisen to develop new approaches to food safety and security identification, monitoring and remediation systems.”

He says the workshop will address this requirement from a technical view point and deliver science-based information on food safety, quality and security to provide industry and institutional personnel with cutting edge information on food inspection and quarantine, and international standards for food hygiene.

It will create a platform for meaningful debate into topical issues affecting the global food market, and provide relevant updates on foodborne diseases and outbreaks, food poisoning and information on the best practice of new techniques within a changing world, Dr Hussain says.

The courses are run through the Department of Wine, Food and Molecular Biosciences, and involve participation from industry experts such as AgResearch and The Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR).

Dr Hussain and two colleagues, Associate Professor Ravi Gooneratne and Professor Charles Brennan, have been awarded a $96,000 MBIE grant to conduct workshops in China which address food safety issues related to microbial contaminants, chemical contaminants and their residues.

They will also initiate setting up a joint food safety laboratory at Jinan University, in Guangzhou China, and an exchange of scientists and postgraduates between Jinan and Guangdong Ocean Universities and Lincoln University.

All three will speak at the workshop along with Stephen On, ESR Chief Scientist, and Jinan University Professor William Riley.

More information on the courses can found at www.lincoln.ac.nz/dwfmb

International potato expert praises NZ research

International potato industry expert Professor Gary Secor has praised New Zealand’s world-leading research, during a visit to speak at the Potatoes New Zealand Inc annual conference.

Professor Secor, of the Plant Pathology Department at North Dakota State University, was a keynote speaker at the two day event in Ashburton.

“New Zealand has world recognised research, including on powdery scab and psyllids and zebra chip, and a good potato breeding programme that serves the industry well,” said Professor Secor.

“I have read several research publications that have established New Zealand as a leader in potato research.”

Powdery scab is a disease of potato tubers. The psyllid, a North American insect was first found in New Zealand in 2006. It eats plant leaves such as those of the tomato and potato, reducing yield, and releases a bacteria which can result in a zebra stripe type discoloration in potato tubers.

Dr Secor’s presentation to the conference included an ‘all of industry’ session on disease management and a workshop with seed growers on seed development and handling.

Fellow speakers included Ron Greentree, from New South Wales, Australia’s single biggest wheat farmer.

Submissions sought on fungicide for onion mildew

The Environmental Protection Authority is calling for submissions on an application for release of DuPont Zorvec Enicade Fungicide. This fungicide contains the active ingredient oxathiapiprolin and is intended to be used for the control of downy mildew in onions. This active ingredient has not previously been approved under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act and is not a component in any approved formulation.

DuPont Zorvec Enicade Fungicide is an oil dispersion formulation to be applied to onion foliage by boom spray methods. It is intended to be applied up to two times per crop cycle, with a minimum of 10 days between applications. The intended maximum application rate is equivalent to 35 g of oxathiapiprolin per hectare.

Application details and decision documents can be viewed here.

The public are invited to make submissions on the application to the EPA. The submissions period for this application opened on 23 July and closes at 5pm on 3 September.

Submissions are an opportunity to provide further information and raise issues about an application. They will inform a decision-making committee that will decide whether to approve or decline the application.

A public hearing may be held before a decision is made. The EPA will provide at least 10 working days’ notice of the hearing date, time and place. We’ll provide this information to all submitters and the applicant.

Find more information on submissions and the hearing process here.

Veterinarians set antibiotic goal for animals

New Zealand Inc will not need antibiotics for the maintenance of animal health and wellness by 2030, says New Zealand Veterinary Association President Dr Steve Merchant.

Around 70 per cent of human infectious diseases, including meningitis, anthrax and salmonellosis (food poisoning) have come from animals.

Because levels of resistance to antibiotics are sharply increasing worldwide, Dr Merchant said, “we want animals and, by extension, humans to enter the ‘post-antibiotic’ era as safely as possible.”

This was a significant undertaking, requiring considerable teamwork and commitment from the veterinary profession, working with the medical, scientific, government and relevant primary industry sectors.

“Given the wide acceptance that the future for antibiotics is limited, and the close links between animals, humans and the environment we share, achieving this goal is essential,” Dr Merchant said.

“New Zealand is well suited to this challenge; given our size, proximity of the various specialities and relevant industry sectors, and already low use of antibiotics.”

Examples include:

* Zero use of antibiotics in aquaculture

* New Zealand is the world’s third lowest user of antibiotics on animals

* Increasing focus on animal ‘wellness’

* New Zealand’s grass-based farm management systems.

“These represent a sound platform, and veterinarians’ role at the intersection of animal life, human life and the environment makes ours a logical profession to be taking a lead,” Dr Merchant said.

“Achieving this goal will require a concerted international collaborative effort involving attitudinal and behavioural change across government, research, human health professionals, pharmaceutical companies, and a range of associated industries – as well as the public.”

Veterinarians will use and advocate for careful antibacterial management and monitoring based on responsible use of existing antibiotics, as they work with their industry partners to test and develop the necessary alternatives.

Landcare reports mite-y development in potential wasp biocontrol

A tiny mite found on wasps continues to look a promising biocontrol agent against the winged pest.

New Zealand’s wasp problem is considered the worst in the world. The pest is estimated to sting the country’s primary industries around $130 million a year. But wasps also pose a hazard to people and harm native bird populations by competing with them for food resources including honeydew and insects.

Landcare Research scientist Dr Bob Brown, who discovered the unnamed mite in 2011, has been researching if they could be a suitable solution. His latest findings suggest they could be.

He has found wasp nests where the mites are present are “significantly smaller”.

“Wasp nests infested with the mites are 50 to 70 percent smaller than uninfested nests,” Brown said.

Another encouraging discovery has been immature mites in wasp nests.

“It’s a good indication that the wasps could be a host for the mites – that the mites presence in the nests is not coincidental,” Brown said.

“Before we started surveying systematically, we only knew that adult mites were found in wasp nests, and we couldn’t say if mites were spending their entire life-cycle in association with wasps or not. Now that we found immature mites in wasp nests we are more confident that the mites are spending a significant part of their life in the nest.

“The relationship between the wasps and the mite is slowly beginning to reveal itself,” he said.

Brown’s earlier research found the mites on sick wasps and those wasps infested with mites did not display normal aggressiveness. Mites were also found on wasp queens hibernating over winter strongly suggesting there was a link between the two organisms from year-to-year.

Landcare Research biocontrol scientist Dr Ronny Groenteman said the new findings were a “great step forward”.

“There is still some way to go though. We still don’t know for certain that the mites adversely affect wasps, that they are safe to other organisms, or that they can be effective – this could take years,” she said.

Brown is currently collecting more information about the mites’ presence on queens over winter and is seeking help from the public. He is after wasp queens from around the country to see how many are infested with the mite.

“At this time of year, the queen leaves the colony to hibernate for the winter. They go in search of somewhere dry and dark. They can often come into people’s garages, sheds or wood piles.

“The queens are distinguishable as they are much larger than workers and, when they are hibernating, can be found sitting quietly with their wings tucked underneath their abdomen.”

Brown said wasp queens were “very docile” when hibernating, but still advised people take care when approaching one. Once captured, he recommended placing the wasp in the freezer overnight to kill it before posting.

Anyone who finds a wasp queen and wants to send it to Brown is asked to post it to PO Box 69040, Lincoln 7640. He recommends putting the dead wasp with tissue paper inside a pill jar. Senders are also asked to include a brief description of where they found the wasp (for example: wood pile), the geographic location and contact details.

Landcare Research has been contracted by the Vespula Biocontrol Action Group to investigate the mite’s potential as a biocontrol agent against wasps.

“We’re delighted with the progress being made by Landcare Research in assessing the impact of the mite on wasp colonies. This could provide enormous benefits to the primary producers and to natural ecosystems. Biocontrol agents are the best long-term solution to dealing with pests on a landscape scale,” Vespula Biocontrol Action Group chairman Bryce Buckland said.

The research is funded by the Ministry of Primary Industries’ Sustainable Farming Fund.

Soil maps lead way to better farming

Producing detailed soil maps of New Zealand farms could help improve food production across the country as well as reduce nitrate leaching, a Lincoln University report suggests.

A group of Lincoln students recently spent four days conducting a soil survey of Glengael Farm, near Cheviot, to see if soil-mapping was a worthwhile strategy for increasing farming productivity and minimising the environmental damage caused by agricultural practices.

The soil survey, a component of the students’ final year Soil Resources paper, was supervised by Lincoln University Soil and Physical Sciences Associate Professor Peter Almond, and Dr Sam Carrick.

The student exercise was part of a larger research effort, known as the Forages for Reduced Nitrate Leaching Programme (FRNL), led by DairyNZ in partnership with several Crown Research Institutes.

The programme encompasses a range of projects aimed at reducing nitrate leaching losses from pasture and forage crops.

Glengael Farm is one of nine monitor farms in the FRNL programme.

Associate Professor Almond says soil-mapping could allow farmers to carry out practices that are specific to their property and relevant to local soil characteristics.

“This may increase plant biomass production and animal health and provide long-term financial and environmental sustainability.”

He says farmers could be encouraged to follow Glengael Farm’s example of obtaining a detailed soil map.

“The more this happens nationwide, the more reliable and accurate the information base will be, which will further encourage efficient farming practices and pro-environmental actions in the wider agricultural community.”

Glengael Farm is a 484.4ha property that produces sheep and beef, running 2000 breeding ewes and carrying 1000 hoggets every year, as well as 60 beef cattle and 160 dairy grazers.

During their survey of the farm, the Lincoln University students carried out a detailed spatial analysis of the soils at the property in order to produce a comprehensive map.

For each soil type, pits were dug to 1.5m deep and the key soil features were identified under New Zealand Soil Classification.

The students then worked with Landcare Research’s S-map national soil survey team to produce fact sheets for each soil and assess them in terms of nitrate-leaching vulnerability, drainage ability and water-holding capacity.

“The farm was then subdivided into a patchwork according to combinations of soil and landscape characteristics,” says Associate Professor Almond.

“This allows the farmer to use separate management strategies for each landform, according to the nature of the soil.”

After carrying out their survey, students came up with a number of recommendations for the Glengael farmer and the FRNL monitor farm research team.

“They suggested that creating management zones which aligned with the soil-landscape units would be beneficial to encourage sustainable, efficient irrigation and nutrient application,” says Associate Professor Almond.

“They also said plants should be chosen for their particular traits and applied to the different soils accordingly to improve production and reduce environmental impact.”

Other recommendations included using precision nutrient management, or farming software, to increase crop productivity.

“This could be a particularly useful technology on Glengael Farm, because of the variable and strongly contrasting soil pattern,” says Associate Professor Almond.

“Different soils are able to produce highly productive crops, according to their particular properties, which precision technology can help to pinpoint.”

The students also identified variable irrigation as beneficial for farmers wanting to increase crop production while minimising costs.

“This is a management tool that applies varying amounts of water to match specific zones,” says Associate Professor Almond.

Forages for Reduced Nitrate Leaching is a DairyNZ-led programme in partnership with AgResearch, Foundation for Arable Research, Landcare Research, Lincoln University and Plant & Food Research. The principal funder is the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. All partners co-fund the programme.

Residue is described as the salvation of the soil

Feilding soil scientist and inventor John Baker says he is appalled every time a farmer burns the stubble or crop residues on top of the ground in preparation for sowing another crop.

From a soil health point of view, he says, burning is “the stupidest thing that can be done and it happens too frequently in New Zealand and Australia.”

A recent Staff report, said Dr Baker is on on a mission to save the world’s soils and has created a special machine that has been described as the “Rolls Royce” of direct drill seed machines.

The Stuff report said:

With a turnover of between $3-4 million a year, Baker’s cross-slot no-tillage drills are sold in 18 countries and used extensively in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

As the earth’s soil quality diminishes, Baker’s drill has been touted by its designer and enthusiastic supporters as a potential saviour.

In a press statement last week, Dr Baker acknowledged there are arguments in support of burning to control weed and pests but he says there are alternatives “and the benefits from accumulating soil organic matter trump weed and pest control every time.”

He argued that crop residues are the salvation of the soil. Whether standing stubble, lying straw or chaff, residue increases the soil’s water holding capacity and are the food stuff of soil microbes, which, in turn, build soil structure, increase the supply of nutrients and form beneficial symbiotic relationships with plant roots to increase the uptake of nutrients.

Dr Baker’s message to farmers is “don’t put a match to it, use it to enrich the soil without disturbing it. Don’t even plough it in, instead leave it to decompose on the surface of the ground.”

Over the last 50 years, Dr Baker said, crop yields have plateaued or even declined in arable countries such as Australia and New Zealand despite advances in other agri-technologies because soil is losing essential organic matter due to conventional tillage (ploughing) and even minimum tillage where residue is burnt, baled or buried.

“This soil organic matter is the most influential factor in storing water,” he says. “For example 1 kg of humus stores as much water as 9 kgs of clay.”

Dr Baker explained that soil water is gained from either irrigation or rainfall and storing it is greatly enhanced by enriching the soil’s organic matter through retaining the crop residues from the previous crop on top of the ground and using low disturbance no-tillage to drill seed and fertiliser directly through this mulch into the soil.

“This system is strongly carbon positive. It is capable of reversing the carbon-stripping process because it mimics nature’s method of removing CO2 from the atmosphere and putting it back into the soil (called sequestration). No other method of drilling does this as effectively and certainly not conventional tillage or ploughing,” he says.

“Low disturbance no tillage specialises in sequestering carbon and rebuilding the carbon levels of soil.”

Dr Baker points to a ticking clock where, through a decline in the quality of soil, crop yields will fall to lower levels than they are now and the agricultural economy of Australia, in particular, and the quality of life of its people will suffer.

“Countries that depend on Australia to supply them with grain such as wheat will see a noticeable reduction in supply which will have a dramatic effect on the availability of food in a world where the demand for food is expected to double by the year 2050.”

“And this when the per-capita supply of arable land globally is diminishing. It has decreased by more than 25 percent in the past 22 years according to Dr Rattan Lal at Ohio State University.“

Dr Baker, who has a MAgrSc in soil science and Ph.D in agricultural engineering from Massey University, says the mindset of farmers must change from treating straw and stubble as a liability to be disposed of one way or the other to using it as an asset that can enrich the soil.

“After all crop residues comprise up to 50 percent of the investment that farmers make in growing each crop in the first place so why waste 50 percent of that investment?”

The press statement said Dr Baker’s Cross-Slot no tillage drills are sold in 18 countries and used extensively in the US and Canadian plains, in Australia, the UK and Europe where they regularly drill through 10+ plus tonne of wheat residues with ease.

The process penetrates through the crop residue on top of the soil and sows seed and fertilise in separate bands beneath it, causing minimal disturbance to the soil, trapping the humidity, preserving the organisms and soil life, largely preventing carbon from escaping and increasing yields.

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