The tempting value of Andean roots and tubers

by Luigi Guarino on December 12, 2014

Following a NY Times expose, here’s been much ado in the twittersphere about maca. But that’s not the only Andean tuber with a smuggling problem. Including to Italy, though?

{ 1 comment }

European on farm diversification

by Robert Hijmans on December 11, 2014

In my previous post on the new EU Common Agricultural Policy, I missed that it promotes in situ conservation of crops. At least that is my reading of Annex IX, which provides a list of practices equivalent to crop diversification. The text is a bit confusing (why are legal documents never clear?); here’s an excerpt (my bolding):

  1. Crop Diversification
    Requirement: at least three crops, the main crop covering a maximum of 75%, and any one or more of the following applying:
    — there is a more appropriate selection of crops, such as, for example, leguminous, protein crops, crops not requiring irrigation or pesticide treatments, as appropriate,
    — regional varieties of old, traditional or endangered crop types are included on at least 5% of the rotated area.

The ‘and‘ does not make sense, and should surely be ‘or‘? Otherwise there would be no ‘equivalency.’

Perhaps it is a European thing to emphasize the old & traditional over the novel & rare? Either way, there are busy times to come for European on farm conservation buffs! But where should interested farmers get seed? Many of these varieties may not be registered, and I thought that exchanging such seed was not legal in Europe?



The three crops rule

by Robert Hijmans on December 9, 2014

The European Union’s revised Common Agricultural Policy, effective from January 2015, has introduced a measure to promote agricultural diversification. The “Greening Payment” rewards farmers for practices perceived to be ‘beneficial for the climate and the environment’. It is big pot of money: 30% of the national level agricultural subsidies. Compliant farmers get a (per hectare) payment, offenders get a fine.

These are the Greening measures that farmers can take:

  • ‘crop diversification': cultivate at least 2 crops when a farm’s arable land exceeds 10 hectares and at least 3 crops when it exceeds 30 hectares. The main crop may cover at most 75% of the arable land, and the two main crops at most 95% of the arable land;
  • maintaining an ‘ecological focus area’ of at least 5% of the arable area of the holding for farms with an area larger than 15 hectares (excluding permanent grassland) – i.e. field margins, hedges, trees, fallow land, landscape features, biotopes, buffer strips, afforested area;
  • maintaining permanent grassland, including traditional orchards where fruit trees are grown in low density on grassland.

This is pretty complicated.

Farms that already have ‘Greening Equivalency’, such as organic producers, do not have to meet these requirements, because, says the EU, ‘their practices provide a clear ecological benefit’. There are more exceptions. For example for:

farms that already fulfill the objectives of crop diversification as a result of being covered to a significant extent by grassland or fallowland, for specialised farms rotating their parcels each year or for farms that because of their geographical localisation would have excessive difficulties in introducing a third crop.

I suppose it is on the basis of such ‘excessive difficulties’ that rice farms (at least in Andalucía) are exempt. Who else is going to be exempt? Why not include the  thousand Scottish farmers that grow only one crop — spring barley for whisky? But that still leaves them muttering into their warm ales in the arable east of England, where opponents of the measure suggest that increasing crop diversity is less efficient and leads to more greenhouse gas emissions.

If these rules are here to stay, they will likely lead to creative book-keeping and a new agricultural land market to join, for example, a wheat farm with an olive grove, perhaps in different countries.

But what about the science behind all this? Research on “ecological focus areas” suggests that these may not deliver the goods. And there is no thought given to taxonomy: it is as green to grow wheat and barley as it is to grow beans and barley, or wheat and spelt.

Some of the most intensive (and, on a per ha basis, often the most environmentally problematic production systems) have more than three crops (not to mention horticulture). In the Netherlands, for example, most arable farms grow three crops or more: potato and wheat and perhaps sugarbeet, barley, onions, or another vegetable. This is part due to legal requirements on growing potatoes in a four year rotation in most regions, to reduce nematode (and nematicide) problems.  These Dutch farms will get the subsidy, but a low input wheat farm in central Spain could get a fine.

What is the current baseline, and where does the EU think it will get with these rules? I could not find any analysis this is based on, can anyone point to that (if it exists)?

Here are  some  estimates of the areas affected in the UK. It is hard to get farm level crop diversity data; but we have statistics about crops by region, from which that can be estimated though. There’s something fun that I could do this week.



Brainfood: Garden pollinators, Herbarium Analytics, Rice & nutrients, High altitude barley, Sunflower hybrids, Coconut pollen cryo, Evolution & dormancy, Evolution of C4, Maize landraces, Viruses

8 December 2014

Culturally valuable minority crops provide a succession of floral resources for flower visitors in traditional orchard gardens. Proper gardens better for pollinators than unmanaged plots. Trends in access of plant biodiversity data revealed by Google Analytics. No impact of social media on the use of plant data, and the future is mobiles. Worldwide Genetic Diversity […]

Read the full article →

A natural experiment with Peruvian potatoes

7 December 2014

Potatoes are generally propagated vegetatively, by planting tubers. In English, these tubers used for planting are, unfortunately, referred to as seed, which they obviously aren’t, at least not in the botanical sense. Potato breeders use sexual reproduction and the resulting real seeds (extracted from the tomato-like potato fruits) to generate new varieties. The fabled potato […]

Read the full article →

Evaluating germplasm comes of age

3 December 2014

Germplasm evaluation: yeah, sure, you can do it old-school style. It was ascertained whether the collection of cucumber varieties of our Institute contained any non-bitter plants. At first no rapid chemical method was available for distinguishing the non-bitter plants from the bitter ones. Therefore tasting them was the only usable method. Although a large number […]

Read the full article →

Irish eyes smiling about apple conservation

2 December 2014

Our office complimentary copy of Michael Hennerty’s The Heritage Apples Of Ireland has arrived, and it’s a real beauty. We somehow missed the announcement of its publication back in the summer. The book is written by Dr. Michael Hennerty, who for many years was Head of the Department of Horticulture in University College Dublin, and […]

Read the full article →

Brainfood: Daniel Zohary, Blue dates, Crop diversification, Tunisian oases, Cranberry diversity, Drought breeding, Seed-use watermelon, Cattle history, Apple conservation

1 December 2014

Daniel Zohary: Geneticist and Explorer of Plant Domestication. Nice profile of iconic explorer of agricultural biodiversity. The date palm with blue dates Phoenix senegalensis André (Arecaceae): A horticultural enigma is solved. A variety of P. canariensis, as it turns out. Crop diversification as a smallholder livelihood strategy within semi-arid agricultural systems near Mount Kenya. It […]

Read the full article →

Jerry and the Giant Kalo

30 November 2014

Could not resist reposting (with his permission) this photo of Jerry Konanui that he shared on his Facebook page recently. That’s just the largest taro I’ve ever seen. You can read more about Jerry on the Kupuna Kalo website. Jerry Konanui is a Native Hawaiian Mahi‘ai (farmer) who gathers, grows, maintains and provides the many […]

Read the full article →