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German seed producer KWS Saat SE increased its net sales in the first nine months of fiscal 2014/2015 by 6.9 per cent year on year to €777.8 million (previous year: €727.4 million). The corn and sugarbeet segments gained market share in a tough economic environment thanks to strong variety performance. In line with its long-term corporate strategy, the planned expansion of its research and development and distribution activities in the first nine months resulted in higher function costs. Operating income (EBIT) was therefore down from the previous year at €140.1 (145.8) million.

Arysta LifeScience Europe recently announced a new organisational structure to leverage its scale and accelerate the company’s growth in this key market. The new European management structure, which is effective immediately, is designed to further strengthen the company’s current performance while capitalising on long-term growth opportunities. The company says it now can offer all its customers a more complete portfolio of traditional crop protection products, seed treatments, biological products, biostimulants, innovative nutrition and adjuvants. The new leadership team that will manage the Europe Business Unit includes: Paul Thomson as head of Research & Development; Jozef Michrina as head of Marketing; Guy de Froberville as head of Commercial Distribution countries and third-party relations; Hildo Brilleman as head of Central and Eastern Europe; Gilles Cerutti as head of Operations and Supply Chain; Wim van de Wiele as chief financial officer; Guilhem de Gaillard as legal counsel Ag Division; Michel Bihry as head of Human Resources.

Vilmorin & Cie finalised the full acquisition of the company Tropdicorp. Tropdicorp is a Vietnamese family company founded in 2007, specialised in the cucurbit seeds. This site on the Vietnamese market will enable Vilmorin & Cie to strengthen its facilities in Southeast Asia by penetrating the most dynamic country in the region in terms of vegetables seeds development.

Industry News

A European program has shown that the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops is possible by applying buffer zones or different sowing dates. The segregation of GM and non-GM products in supply and processing chains depends on different factors that are analysed. Practical Implementation of Co-existence in Europe (PRICE) researchers have studied how implementable and costly these strategies are for farmers, agri-food supply chain operators and consumers. They found that the current measures implemented to ensure co-existence of GM and non-GM crops in the EU are practically feasible, both at farm level and along the supply chain. However, these measures come with additional costs, which are partly paid by consumers and other supply chain stakeholders. In summary, researchers said: “PRICE has found that coexistence of GM and non-GM products in Europe is possible under current EU legislation. The availability of non-GM soybean in [the developing world], the non-GM price premium, the segregation costs along the supply chain, and the willingness to pay by EU consumers for the non-GM attribute are crucial factors for the economic sustainability of non-GM voluntary standards in the long run. Lower thresholds, or other stricter measures, would cause difficulties for the supply of non-GM feedstock.”

Receptors carrying built-in decoys are the latest discovery in the evolutionary battle between plants and pathogens. Decoy domains within the receptor detect pathogens and raise the cell’s alarm when there is an infection. Plants display component parts of their immune system on receptors to trick pathogens into binding with them, which then triggers defence mechanisms. The discovery comes from Professor Jonathan Jones’ group at The Sainsbury Laboratory in the United Kingdom, published in the high-impact journal Cell with a companion paper on a similar discovery from the Deslandes group in Toulouse. Researchers hope the discovery could lead to bioengineering new receptors carrying decoys to perceive and trigger a defence to virtually any pathogen.

The International Bremia Evaluation Board has officially designated a new race of downy mildew in lettuce — Bl:32. This isolate was already known, but has now become much more widespread in Europe, according to research by the IBEB into the bremia isolates identified in 2014 and earlier. Most outbreaks of bremia caused by these new isolates have only local consequences. In recent years, however, Bl:32 has been identified in France, Germany, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium, and it has recently also spread to Portugal and northern Spain.

A veterinarian-turned-lawyer shared insights about communicating science and technological advancements with the general public during the Breeders Committee meeting at the International Seed Federation’s 2015 World Seed Congress in Kraków, Poland. Seed breeding provokes a conflict in values and faces romanticism, said Jan Staman, who serves as managing director for the Rathenau Instituut in The Netherlands. The Rathenau Instituut promotes the formation of political and public opinion on science and technology. As part of his presentation, he encouraged the seed industry to check how disconnected it is from society. Staman also noted that many new technologies have the ability to make more of a positive impact, which outweighs the possible risks posed. From his perspective, the industry has done a good job of talking about the benefits of new technologies; however, it has failed to talk about how these new technologies will totally change society.

While in Poland for the International Seed Federation’s 2015 World Seed Congress, Pablo Civetta, chair of the National Organising Committee for the Uruguayan Seed Association, announced that the 2016 Congress will be held in Punta del Este, Uruguay, from 15 to 18 May 2016. The theme of the 2016 World Seed Congress will be “The Natural Way Forward in Business & Life.” Civetta explained that the geography of Uruguay makes it well suited to agriculture. Known for its agribusiness, about 90 per cent of the land is used for the production of grains, beef, milk, wool, wood and citrus. As such, agriculture represents more than 8 per cent of Uruguay’s gross domestic product and 75 per cent of its total exports. In addition to the International Seed Federation, the 2016 congress will be co-hosted by the Uruguayan Seed Chamber and the Uruguayan Breeder’s Association.

European researchers and companies concerned with the potato disease phytophthora will work more closely with parties in other parts of the world. The first move was made during the biennial meeting of the European network EuroBlight, held in Romania in May. Colleagues from North America, South America and Asia were also invited. “They are very interested in our approach; the way we analyse the genetic variation in the field, for example,” says Huub Schepers, phytophthora specialist at Wageningen University in The Netherlands and one of the driving forces behind EuroBlight. “Conversely, we can learn a lot from them. The more we know about this pathogen, the more we can do to devise a comprehensive strategy.”

International Seed Federation secretary general Michael Keller called for change during his first speech to the delegates of the 2015 World Seed Congress in Kraków, Poland on May 25. “ISF is changing and we changed a lot this year,” Keller said. “Young and new people arrived, but we’ve also kept the expertise and that’s important.” He emphasised that it’s important to be proud of the work done by predecessors throughout the federation’s 90 years of work. Keller asked participants if they knew what that meant. “It’s 90 years of life together, 90 years of promoting your interests,” he said. “It’s about the movement of seed — growing, cleaning, conditioning and marketing.” Seed is moving around the world, which he illustrated by showing a map that one might initially think of as a global airline flight map. This is not an airline flight map; this is a map of seed movement today, he explained. “Welcome to the 21st century where we have more efficient breeding, an increased number of tools, increased political decisions, as well as trade and market issues,” Keller said. “We have a lot of challenges, but the role of ISF is to turn these challenges into opportunities.” Keller emphasised the need for a common vision — regardless of company size, geographic region or seed sector.

A team of scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the United States has identified a set of genes that control stem cell production in tomato. Mutations in these genes explain the origin of mammoth beefsteak tomatoes. More important, the research suggests how breeders can fine-tune fruit size in potentially any fruit-bearing crop. The research appears online in Nature Genetics. In its original wild form, the tomato plant produces tiny, berry-sized fruits, yet among the first tomatoes brought to Europe from Mexico by conquistador Hernan Cortez in the early 16th century were the huge beefsteaks. Producing fruits that often weigh in at over a pound, this variety has long been understood to be a freak of nature, but only now do we know how it came to be.

A new study from North Carolina State University and Clemson University finds that the toxin in a widely used genetically modified (GM) crop is having little impact on the crop pest called corn earworm (Helicoverpa zea) – which is consistent with predictions made almost 20 years ago. The study may be a signal to pay closer attention to warning signs about the development of resistance in agricultural pests to GM crops. At issue is genetically engineered corn that produces a Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) protein, which in turn produces a toxin called Cry1Ab. This GM corn was originally designed to address a pest called the European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis) and went on the market in 1996.

Ragweed is an invasive plant from North America with highly allergenic pollen that is spreading northwards from Central Europe. Currently, instances when ragweed pollen loads across the United Kingdom are high enough to result in hay fever symptoms are rare. But can we expect these events to become more frequent and severe in the future in response to climate change? Rothamsted Research scientists worked with a large team across Europe as part of project funded by the European Union, ATOPICA, to predict how the extent and magnitude of the ragweed pollen cloud may change by the middle of the century. Even without climate change, a small increased risk from higher pollen loads in Northern Europe was predicted as the plant continues to fill available habitats. The study is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Scientists from IBM Research in partnership with Australian researchers have moved a step closer to identifying the nanostructure of cellulose — the basic structural component of plant cell walls. Tapping into the IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer at the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative (VLSCI), researchers have been able to model the structure and dynamics of cellulose at the molecular level. The insights could pave the way for more disease-resistant varieties of crops and increase the sustainability of the pulp, paper and fibre industry — one of the main users of cellulose. The work, which was described in a recent scientific paper published in Plant Physiology, represents a significant step towards our understanding of cellulose biosynthesis and how plant cell walls assemble and function. The research is part of a longer-term program to develop a 3D computer-simulated model of the entire plant wall.

People News

Douwe Zijp, chief executive officer for Incotec Group, has been elected to the board of directors of the International Seed Federation (ISF) by the general assembly, which took place during the federation’s annual seed congress on 25 to 27 May in Kraków, Poland. The International Seed Federation represents the seed industry at a global level and participates in several intergovernmental organisations. Its aim is to facilitate the international movement of seed and defend the general interest of the seed industry. In his role as board member, Zijp will actively participate in the effort to achieve these goals. Zijp has been working in the agricultural industry for more than 25 years including his present positon as CEO of Incotec Group, market leader in seed enhancement technology, and his previous position as CEO of seed producer Nunhems.

Product News

Wageningen University Greenhouse Horticulture in The Netherlands has developed a new model to quickly measure the flavour level of galia melons. The model was developed in cooperation with a consortium of breeders Enza Zaden, Seminis, Sakata, Bayer CropScience and importer HillFresh. Based certain parameters, the model quickly predicts the flavour of galia melons as perceived by consumers.

The United Kingdom’s 2015/2016 Recommended Grass and Clover Lists (RGCL) have been updated with 10 new ryegrass varieties. Only grasses and clovers that have undergone at least four years of independent testing are included in the lists. They offer grassland farmers an invaluable resource, enabling them to select varieties that will perform well in a particular system. “For a variety to make the RGCL they have been rigorously tested for factors such as yield, feed quality, disease, and persistence,” said EBLEX livestock scientist Liz Genever. The full lists for merchants will be available to download at www.eblex.org.uk/returns and www.britishgrassland.com/rgcl.

Ceres, Inc., an agricultural biotechnology company, announces that the company has licensed its Persephone bioinformatics software to global seed potato developer HZPC Holland BV. The software license agreement provides a non-exclusive license to HZPC as well as professional support services. HZPC is the most recent multinational life sciences company to adopt Persephone as its primary genome browser. Originally developed for in-house use by Ceres, the Persephone software allows researchers to store, access and explore DNA databases in much the same way online mapping programs allow users to explore geographic regions and locations.

Web and App News

The Danish product catalogue for cut flowers, often known internationally as the Dutch flower catalogue, will soon be available in a digital version. Smartphone-equipped florists can download the catalogue as an app. The aim of the cut flower catalogue is to support and facilitate the international trade and sale of ornamental flower and plant products. The Flower Council of Holland stopped producing the product catalogues for cut flowers, pot plants and outdoor plants in 2013, as a result of a policy change following a re-organisation.

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