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Farming

Gates funds ‘supercow’ research

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Prime Moo-ver: Bill Gates opens windows for research opportunities

RESEARCH that could lead to cows producing more milk, chickens laying better-quality eggs and crops being able to withstand droughts or disease received a funding injection of about $174 million from Britain’s Department for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Microsoft founder wants to create a bovine that will produce more milk than a European cow while still being able to withstand hot temperatures.

He said: ‘The impact per dollar we spend is super-high in this area. You can have a cow that is four times as productive with the same survivability.’

The research is part of a £28 million ($40 million) investment by the entrepreneur in the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed), which is a non-profit organisation based in Edinburgh.

The money will also be used to develop stronger crops and research diseases which can cause huge economic losses for African farmers.

While it is currently unclear how the cow will be created, Business Insider suggests it maybe via artificial insemination.

Climate scientists have warned that cows could be bad for the environment because of the methane they produce.

However, Gates says they can help mitigate global poverty and starvation.

The funding was announced during a visit by Gates to Edinburgh University.

He said ‘It’s great to have the chance to visit the University of Edinburgh with Secretary of State Penny Mordaunt (pictured below)and to see how the UK’s leadership in research and innovation doesn’t just benefit Britain, but also saves and improves lives in the poorest parts of the world.’

‘Cutting-edge’ agriculture research in Edinburgh has been backed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates (left). He is pictured here with International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt at Edinburgh University

Millions of farmers in Africa, who depend on agriculture to support their families, struggle to grow enough crops to put food on the table because of natural disasters.

Now UK scientists are using their expertise to identify specific genes that help them become more nutritious, grow faster and more resilient to disease and extreme weather.

It is estimated the work will help up to 100 million African farmers lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, who is announcing the research, said: ‘Unpredictable flooding, plant diseases and drought are threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of farmers in Africa who struggle to grow enough crops to put food on the table – the urgency of the task is clear.

‘That’s why UK aid is supporting British scientists to develop new crops that are more productive, more nutritious and more resistant to droughts and flooding, as well as creating new medicines to protect cattle and poultry from devastating disease.

‘New ideas, cutting-edge science and innovative partnerships with organisations like the Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation will help Britain create a healthier, more secure and prosperous world for us all.’

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Farming

2018 Rural Crime Survey opens

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IT’S THREE years since the last National Rural Crime Survey revealed the huge cost of crime to rural communities – both financial, at £800 million per year, and ​psychologically​ with chronic under-reporting, anger and frustration at the police and government – says the National Rural Crime Network (NRCN)
NRCN produced a series of recommendations and, in many areas, the police took steps to improve matters. So, now, it wants to know what’s changed.

Do you think crime has gone up or down? Do you feel safer? What’s your view of the police in your community?

In short, ​they want to know the true picture of crime and anti-social behaviour in rural communities across England and Wales – and the impact it has where you live or work.

Questions cover a range of issues – from whether you report crimes that you or your business suffer, to the impact crime and anti-social behaviour has on you and your area, and whether you believe enough is done to catch those who carry out the offences.

According to NRCN, it’s all about making sure the voice of rural communities is heard by those who can make a difference to where we live and work – from the Police to Government.

The survey is now available online here https://bit.ly/2HtJlCV and is open for submissions until June 10.

The survey last took place in 2015. Then, 13,000 responded to give their impressions of crime and anti-social behaviour and revealed the financial cost of rural crime was significant – around £800 million every year.

One of this year’s focuses as ​they rerun the research is whether rural crime continues to be underreported. Three years ago, one in four said they didn’t report the last crime they’d been a victim of because they didn’t see the point.

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Farming

Global plant pest standards agreed

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Global pest: The Oriental Fruit Fly is rapidly spreading

THE BODY charged with keeping global trade in plants and plant products safe has adopted several new phytosanitary standards aimed at preventing destructive agricultural and environmental pests from jumping borders and spreading internationally.

The standardized norms developed by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) cover a range of strategies and techniques used to prevent the introduction and spread of plant diseases and pests to new environments, thereby avoiding their often-devastating impacts on biodiversity, food security and trade.

“This is challenging work with high stakes: each year an estimated 10-16 percent of our global harvest is lost to plant pests. A loss estimated at $220 billion​,​” FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo said at the opening of this year’s IPPC annual meeting in Rome.

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year, with food accounting for over 80 percent of that total, according to FAO data.

New measures adopted this week by the IPPC’s governing body, the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures(CPM), include:

Standard on the use of various temperature treatments against agricultural pests. The standard aims at ensuring that such treatments are consistently and effectively used in different operational contexts.

The norm covers cold treatment techniques that freeze and kill pests as well as those that raise temperatures past their survival threshold. This can be achieved by submerging them in extremely hot water or exposing them to super-heated steam (for commodities vulnerable to drying out, such as fruits, vegetables or flower bulbs) or dry heat (ideal for low moisture-content items such as seeds or grain).

Revised standard for sanitation of wood packing materials. An existing standard, known as ISPM-15, was updated to include the use of sulphuryl fluoride — a gas insecticide — and new-generation heating technologies that employ microwave and radio frequency waves to generate pest-killing temperatures deep inside wood products.

An expanded standard on the use of heat vapour to kill Oriental Fruit Flies. The highly destructive, fruit-attacking Bactrocera dorsalis originated in Asia but has now spread to at least 65 countries. Its presence in Africa, where it first appeared in 2003, costs the continent an estimated $2 billion in annual losses due to fruit export bans. The control technique outlined under the new measure kills 99.98​%​ of the bug’s eggs and larvae when used correctly.

The IPPC Commission also approved revisions that streamline existing standards targeting fruit flies to make it easier for countries to comply with them and improve their effectiveness, as well as revisions to a standard that establishes best-practice benchmarks for the operation of national pest surveillance programs.

And it endorsed new diagnostic protocols for sudden oak death, a fungi-like organism of unknown origin that attacks a wide range of trees and shrubs in nurseries, introduced into western North America and western Europe through the ornamental plants trade. And it approved new diagnostic protocol for tospoviruses, which affect 1,000 plant species and are causing devastating losses, especially to tomato, potato and squash and cucumber yields.

BENEFITS AND RISKS OF GLOBAL TRADE

The dangerous hitchhikers carried by global trade — plant pests and diseases — once introduced into new environments can quickly take root and spread, impacting food production and causing billions in economic damages and control cost. One recent study in East Africa, for instance, found that just five invasive alien species could be causing as much as $1.1 billion in economic losses annually to smallholder farmers in the region.

Not only can fruits, crops and seeds become infected, but the containers and boxes they travel in, as well. Packaging for overseas shipments is commonly constructed from wood, which is relatively inexpensive, and easily manufactured — but also easily infested with a variety of bark and wood pests, and so act as a vector. Timber and wood-made products like furniture can harbour stowaways, also.

This means that not only are food crops at risk, but forests and trees as well. Recent studies shared during this week’s meeting have shown that the loss of tree cover due to invasive pests may result in an increase in stress related-diseases and possibly elevated human mortality rates.

In another example, the Republic of Korea was recently forced to cut down some 3.5 million trees as a result of the pinewood nematode, and over the past three decades has spent nearly a half a billion dollars on control programs to fight this deadly pest. Additional sums have been spent in Canada and the United States in attempts to stop the thus far unstoppable Emerald Ash Borer.

The need to contain threats such as these are why the IPPC was established in 1952. Since then, it has promulgated some 100 standards covering a broad range of phytosanitary issues. It also runs a number of programs that work to share information on best-practices and build the capacity of developing countries to manage plant diseases and pests, both at home and in trade flows.

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Farming

Tenant farming must not be ‘Cinderella Sector’

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Seeking assurances: George Dunn, TFA

THE TENANT F​ARMERS ASSOCIATION (TFA) is seeking assurances from Government that the farmers represented by the TFA will not be left behind as the Government develops new farming and environmental policies for the post Brexit era.

TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn​,​ said​:​ “BREXIT has provided a long agenda of things to do. However there is a danger that we will see Government focus on a small number of priorities in order to manage its workload over the coming months. This could lead to many sensible ideas for the development of farm tenancies falling by the wayside.

“The Government has challenged the farming industry to achieve greater levels of productivity to ensure long-term resilience. It is widely recognised that, in comparison to their owner occupier counterparts, tenant farmers are routinely some of the most efficient farmers within the UK. However they are hampered by restrictive agreements and short lengths of term leading to under investment. Also, the combination of these factors leave many tenant farmers unable to participate in existing agri environment schemes. The TFA has been in the vanguard of encouraging Government to address these issues both by amending the legislative and taxation environments within which agricultural tenancies operate,” said Mr Dunn.

The TFA was pleased when, last year, DEFRA reconvened the Tenancy Reform Industry Group (TRIG) with a remit to advise on legislative and other changes that would be necessary to ensure the success of the tenanted sector of agriculture in meeting the Government’s productivity and resilience agendas.

“TRIG produced a comprehensive report for DEFRA’s consideration towards the end of last year. Whilst I am pleased that the Government’s ‘Health and Harmony’ consultation has identified the importance of the tenanted farm sector, it was disappointing that the opportunity was not taken to respond to the recommendations from TRIG and to identify which priorities the Government was minded to pursue. We are encouraging DEFRA not to sideline the valuable work that TRIG has already done in this space,” said Mr Dunn.

“Whilst it is important to address the future of the Basic Payment Scheme, trade, access to labour and look for new agri environment measures, these must not be prioritised at the expense of ensuring that tenant farmers have a flexible, long-term environment within which to develop their businesses and participate in future schemes to reward farmers for producing public goods​.”

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