Monday, November 24, 2014
Cross Pollination

Flowering Plants Prevent Inbreeding

“Humans have mechanisms to prevent inbreeding that are in part cultural. But a plant can’t just get up and move to the next town to find a suitable, unrelated mate. Some other system must be at work,” says Teh-hui Kao, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State and lead researcher of a team that has discovered a large suite of genes in the petunia plant that acts to prevent it from breeding with itself or its close relatives and promotes breeding with unrelated individuals.

Kao began to unravel the mystery of what he calls a “non-self recognition system” in the mid-1980s by studying the genetic sequence of petunias. Petunias and many common garden plants are hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female reproductive organs, and these reproductive organs are located in close proximity within the flower. This floral anatomy makes it easy for a plant’s pollen to land on itself, resulting in self-fertilization and genetically inferior, inbred offspring. To prevent self-fertilization, many flowering plants, including the petunia, have evolved a strategy called self-incompatibility, or the ability to recognize self and non-self components within the male and female reproductive organs.


The Importance of Bees

“We are losing more than a third of our colonies each winter, but beekeepers are a stubborn, industrious bunch. We split hives, rebound as much as we can each summer, and then just eat our losses. So even these big loss numbers understate the problem,” says beekeeper for 50 years, David Hackenberg, who owns the Buffy Bee honey farm outside Tampa, Fla. “What folks need to understand is that the beekeeping industry, which is responsible for a third of the food we eat, is at a critical threshold.”


Increasing Fruit and Veggie Consumption: Now is the Time

“Now that the president has signed First Lady Michelle Obama’s child nutrition bill into law, and with debate beginning in early 2011 on the next farm bill, now is the time for strong, vocal support in favor of aligning education and agricultural policy with food and nutrition policy … The need to create a nexus between education, agricultural and nutrition policy has never been greater. Farm and food policy should be linked more strongly with national health and nutrition goals. Data released by the Produce for Better Health Foundation warns that in order to close the fruit and vegetable consumption gap, the United States Department of Agriculture needs to close its spending gap. Fruits and vegetables should account for 40 percent of a recommended daily diet, yet only 20 percent of what USDA spends on food initiatives is on fruits and vegetables. To put the USDA’s spending priorities in perspective, current subsidy allocations are:
Meat: 54.7 percent
Dairy (non-butter): 11.4 percent
Fruits and vegetables: 9.8 percent

As Congress moves towards considering the reauthorization of the 2012 farm bill, questions about the cost of the bill amidst growing calls for fiscal constraint will likely dominate the debate. What is important to remember is the status quo: Without realigning our spending priorities, America will continue to pay $56 billion a year for diet-related chronic diseases specifically due to low fruit and vegetable consumption. Both in human terms and in financial terms, poor nutrition is costing us dearly.”—from an article by Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, in the Sun Senital


Corn Growers Push Ethanol

Last year, South Dakota passed an Ethanol Blender Pump Incentive Grant Program—a program that reimburses fueling stations up to $10,000 per pump to install alternative fueling infrastructure—and it’s been a huge success according to state officials. Which prompted Gale Lush from the American Corn Growers Foundation to ask, “If they can do it in South Dakota, why not here in Nebraska and across the country? And, why not use more than $15 billion in Foreign Tax Credit to do it? If you could take some of these subsidies from the oil companies that are producing oil overseas—that $15 billion, for instance—and channel them back here domestically we could start building our infrastructure here,” Lush says. And he said the best way to do that is by financing blender pumps. Nebraska may be the second largest producer of ethanol in the country, but there are only about five pumps in the state. “South Dakota is a good model. They’ve had these blender pumps for years. They’re using the recovery act that was passed last year to help finance them. Our state could do the same thing if they want to,” says Lush, adding that the first step in building an ethanol infrastructure is extending the ethanol tax credit for several more years.

Chinese Seed Industry Booming

 China has now become the second largest seed market in the world after the United States, according to information shared at the Third International Conference on Seed Health and Agricultural Development. With improved varieties covering 95 percent of agricultural production and a 40 percent rate of contribution to increasing agricultural output, the farming industry has become a fundamental and strategic industry that promotes agricultural development, ensures stable security in the national cereal supply and efficient delivery of key agricultural products. Chief economist from the Ministry of Agriculture and press spokesman of the ministry, Chen Mengshan, said China will endeavor to:
  • highlight the overall development of the industry by forming a complete industrial chain
  • form a new seed industry by connecting all industry links
  • insist on maintaining a combination of market competition and policy to fully deploy the initiative of enterprises, and strengthen policy guidance and project inputs
  • improve industrial capacity and ensure the capacity of seed production and supply, and security in the stock of seeds for agricultural production

 


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