European Seed magazine coming soon!

 european seed

Europe’s seed life is more hectic this year than generally I’d say… After the unusual fate of the European Commission Proposal for a Regulation on marketing of plant reproductive material, now Issues Ink and the European Seed Association (ESA) announced that they are about the issue the European Seed magazine. The first issue will be available from 12-14 October, the time of the European Seed Association Annual Meeting and European Seed Trade Meeting in Lisbon, Portugal.

The news have been published online recently, but it’s spreading fast… No wonder, as this magazine is going to be a unique source of information about seeds in Europe.
Shawn Brook, the president of Issues Ink said- “The need for a communications channel, both digital and in print, that can offer critical sharing opportunities and unique content to the seed industry was made very clear as we talked to various stakeholders within Europe. “

On european-seed.com the introduction tells us about the topics to be expected. “With tailored, seed-focused content, European Seed will offer specialised media that will provide unparalleled value to the industry, our readers and our advertisers. Our content is comprised of far more than just articles: it’s a total package that fuses current issues with compelling analysis, in addition to an array of digital offerings that take our audience to the heart of the stories that matter.”

 

Just to make this clear: Issues Ink has several media brands, such as the Seed World, American Seed, Germination and so on. Thus, it is only fitting that it was them to team up with ESA and numerous European seed stakeholders to create the European Seed.

 

Honestly, I am super excited to see the first issue… But until then I keep wondering if the magazine manages to avoid the same problem as the Comission Proposal had… Namely, will they give enough space for the small ones to express themselves? Will they also write about the safeguarding of small producers, biodiversity, greening efforts and so on… ? As these topics are quite important and characteristic in Europe, I think they should be duly represented in order to keep the healthy balance and seed-peace in the continent, while providing stakeholders with trustworthy information and help the European seed industry rise.

L.

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Prescriptive planting… highway to where?

corn

Prescriptive planting is a revolutionary new technique in agricultural production. Developed by Monsanto and also DuPont Pioneer, this invention is claimed to boost maize yields from the current ~10 tons to ~12,5 tons per hectare- such a great increase last occurred with the introduction of GMO crops.

So what is the idea behind this cutting edge technology?

The introductory video of Monsanto’s FieldSripts explains it all: for the safest and most efficient production it is not enough to use the best genetics, it is also crucial to use the best machinery and identify the needs of the specific farm. For example, a certain variety might perform better in a certain field even though it is considered to be a less productive variety. Also, they need to take into consideration soil and climatic characteristics in order to find the best variety and plant population (number of plants per acre) for the most optimised performance.

These big companies use enormous amount of data (obtained e.g. through the purchase of data companies) in order to ‘prescribe’ the best solution for every farmer for every single part of the farm including plant population, correct plant spacing, hybrid choice and so on.
Also, farmers need to give their own input: they must provide data such as field boundaries, yield data and fertility test results. Thus, Monsanto calculates the best solutions from the data in their possession.

The technology was already tested for a few years by Monsanto, and from this year it is available for purchase in four states of the USA. Those who tried FieldSripts say that it can boost the yield by up to 5%.

So the idea is clear and straightforward: By the help of a massive amount of soil, climate, etc. data (and an always expanding database) big seed companies aim to prescribe to farmers what to plant, how much to plant, how to plant etc. for the best results.
The idea itself might not be bad in my opinion. Using real state-of-art science to exploit every little detail of nature, and mitigate the huge risk agricultural producers take every single year.
However, the thing I do not really like is the fact that it is all about Monsanto and other big companies. From now on, if farmers want to follow the trend in maize production and stay profitable they have no choice but to get orders from Monsanto. They won’t need engineering skills anymore- Monsanto can give it all. They won’t be able to make their own free choice regarding the variety or machinery they use- it can be only Monsanto. They won’t be the only ones knowing everything about their own farm- Monsanto will know it as well. 

Maybe I am a bit too European in this matter, but I truly think that giving so much power to only a few companies is limited and reckless and killing our own free choice is dangerous. Furthermore, losing our hard engineering skills makes us, producers, vulnerable.

I do not want to be dramatic though, these companies are not the ‘bad’ guys… However, I truly believe that farmers should keep an eye on their production themselves, exploit the oportunities that emerging technologies might offer, but not trust all their work blindly on one single entity.

L.

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A new chance for biotechnology: the dawn of ‘Genetically Edited’ fruits

banana

News about so-called ‘genetically edited’ fruits has gone viral since Trends in Biotechnology mentioned them two days ago (13.08.2014.) (1,2,3,4,5)

The idea of ‘genetically edited’ is clear: due to the high social distrust and strict international regulations imposed on GM crops, biotechnology needed to come up with something more acceptable and natural-sounding. The point of this new technique is that (similarly to GM varieties) it is a fast way to genetically improve crops BUT without the introduction of foreign genes.
Thus, scientists only change the information which is already in the genom. This has become possible because of the fast developments in the precise editing of genomes.

Scientists hope that this method is already acceptable for the general public and consumers would trust genetically edited fruits, such as ‘super bananas’, which produce Vitamine A. (More about the importance of this here.)
Policymakers all over the world shall also reflect on these developments, as it is not clear whether this new method should be considered as  genetic modification or be subject to different rules.

In my opinion the term ‘genetically edited’ itself is still a bit too close to ‘genetically modified’ and ‘genetically engineered’, which both sound quite agressive and unnatural at least to my ears. I do not really see the reason why avarage consumers would show more trust and would be happier to eat these kind of fruits than the genetically modified ones, and I also don’t really understand how could it be possibly easier to proove these crops safe more easily.
I believe that as long as these genetically engineered crops are not marketed and regulated somehow in a radically different way, their acceptance on the market won’t change considerably, no matter how peaceful the purpose of scientists is.

Which might or might not be a problem, depending on who we are asking.

L.

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Serbia benefiting from Russian food embargo

Plum- 'The Serbian Fruit'

Plum- ‘The Serbian Fruit’

Right after Mr Vladimir Putin announced a ‘full embargo’ on foodstuffs from the European Union, European policymakers, organisations and citizens themselves started the mitigation of the harm caused in the agriculture and food industry of the area, especially in Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and so on.

However, on the other hand Russia needs to find new suppliers in order to obtain sufficient amount of food for its own consumers. And this put Serbia in the spotlight. Also, Serbia and Russia have a free trade agreement in place since 2000, which means that goods produced in Serbia are subject to 1% import duties when entering Russia.

Thus, as experts say, the food embargo created a huge economic opportunity for the Balkan country. And even though Serbia seeks to join the European Union, and tries to keep good diplomatic relations in the area, this opportunity might serve the country more than polite diplomatic bounds. As Mr Milan Prostran, Serbian economic expert said “Cruel as it may sound, there is no sympathy on the trading market. This is a big chance for Serbia, the best we had in 14 years.”

Ever-blooming agri-and horticulture in Vojvodina (Northern province of Serbia)

Blooming agri-and horticulture in Vojvodina (Northern province of Serbia)

Serbian Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, Rasim Ljaji also announced that their authorities will also prevent any trade from the EU to Russia via Serbia. “We cannot let that happen, because it would jeopardize Serbia’s entire exports to Russia. To prevent such actions, our customs services will increase their activity and the producers or exporters who try to cheat their way to profit will be severely punished.”

The effect of the intensified Serbian food export to Russia on the Serbian and European economy and agriculture is not clear yet. Serbia itself surely won’t be able to satisfy the entire Russian food market, and intensified production might leave Serbian agriculture with huge surpluses and losses… Or it might make a considerable economic boom in the Balkan country.

L.

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Sugar, fat, taurin, salt… worth even some taxes?

veggies-save-money

Nowadays in the European AgriFood news I see suspiciously often articles and studies about the so-called “sin taxes” (taxes on foods and beverages containing transfats, sugar, salt, taurin etc.). Mainly because of their increasing number; the controversial opinions and the recent study of the European Commission. 

Undeniably, healthy eating is continuously in the spotlight of the media and the general interest, hence it cannot escape from the hands of decision-makers either. Governments all over the world realised that they are supposed to do something to help the issue as well. Mostly, because they reckon that investing in human healthy in general is a good economic decision. And I could not agree more with this idea.

There are numerous policy measures to influence the food choice of consumers (like regulations, education, self-regulation etc.)… and taxes are also one of them. Basically governments introduce taxes on foods and beverages which contain more of these ‘sins’ than they consider harmless.

As an answer, companies usually put a higher price on their products or try to substitute the component if possible.
And how do we, consumers react to this? – Well, usually not too well.
The consumers affected the most are those with avarage-lower income, who (if they definitely must give up on a certain product) are more likely to simply buy the products of a cheaper brand… Which is obviously not the goal of the measures.
Or, if they can, they will most probably cross a border just for a short shopping so they don’t have to give up on their favourite sins.
They might also substitute the product itself, but most likely they won’t turn to a healthier substitute.

Healthier choices?

Healthier choices?

According to several analyists (even according to the study of the Commission), it is extremely difficult to make a direct link between the taxes and healthy eating. Others underline, that consumers themeselves should make their own food choices which could be improved by proper education and the contribution of the industry.

Honestly, I agree with this last view fullheatedly. I do believe that most of the avarage consumers are absolutely not familiar with all the food taxes coming and going (let’s just take the example of Hungary, where 8 different food taxes have been intoduced recently). Thus, an avarage consumer totally innocently enters the supermarket, and sees that his favourite Snickers bar might be 50 cents more expensive than the day before… What would he do? Well, most probably he would still buy the Snickers, or would just buy another chocolate bar which is lighter for the wallet. And even though he would definitely be slightly disappointed about this relatively unimportant event, he would not have any idea that all these changes are meant to force him to make better food choices. I just simply cannot imagine somebody choosing an orange instead of the usual chocolate treat… but not even a muesli bar. 
To make people avare of the importance of their food choices they have to KNOW. And to know, they need to be educated. Only small changes would make a huge difference, like signs indicating more nutritious & at the same time budget-friendly choices in supermarkets. I truly believe that with a little help and guidance people could make their own better choices in the shop even without the tax-force.

So what is the right path to take? Wait and see if long-term studies justify the efforts of national policymakers or choose other policy measures to invest into public health? Is there a perfect tool out there… Or rather we, consumers should take the responsability for the food we put into our mouth?

L.

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Are you old enough for healthy eating?

Fun-Fruit-Skewers-1

I think healthy eating is quite a process in everybody’s life. Obviously we all differ in the question. Not everyone considers healthy eating as a particularly important part of life, and of course ‘healthy’ itself has a different meaning for each of us.

But when we think back in our life, are we able to tell when was the moment we started paying attention to what we are putting into our mouth? When it became more than a torture from our parents and rather like a considerable, every-day, makes-me-happier part of our life?

I think this question (however unimportant it may seem) is of a high importance these days, mainly in the way we approach the younger generations with food. Because- to be honest- being consequent in healthy eating is very difficult sometimes even for us, health-and food-cautious adults. Just think about the good, old, fatty, sugary grandma recipes that we absolutely need to prepare sometimes, or a tall cappucino frappe in the summer heat in the city, or maybe a döner kebab with spicy sauce just because we had a tiring day and we deserve it… Well, the chances to make a little mistake here and there in our nicely planned healthy diet are quite high…

However, while we are usually very forgiving when it comes to naughty snacking, we tend to be much stricter with our kids “because they need all the good, healthy and nutritious stuff to grow well.”

And here comes a little bit of a problem- a recent study of the Journal of Consumer Research shows that kids are more likely to reject eating a certain food, just because they are told it’s healthy. Mainly because they assume that would not taste any good.

The study, which involved 270 preschoolers, says that kids reckon that a food cannot serve two purposes at the same time. Thus, if we can be strong from Popeye’s spinach then it definitely must taste awful.

I think this a very interesting piece of information, which could make an impact on our food marketing and policymaking as well. The good thing is that kids’ nutrition is already pretty much in the spotlight, however all the efforts are made from the viewpoint of dietitians and policymakers. And kids are not really concerned by their opinion.

But what if we market healthy kid-food options (like fruit salad instead of biscuits) with different tags. We could write on the package for example “Explosive taste” instead of “Healthy bits” or “Exciting flavours in here” instead of “Taste the health” and so on. We should make kids associate fruits, veggies, nuts etc. with something exciting, tasty and interesting… Something to long for and not something that they ‘need to eat to grow’.

I really hope this study will reach the right target, and it will have an impact on the future of nutrition to make a young generation more excited about good food.

L.

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What new food trends offer to agriculture?

Agricultural growers definitely must be informed about the newest food and beverage trends in order to meet the requirements of the ever-changing market. And these trends are now stronger and more dynamic than ever.

Foodbusinessnews.net listed new and growing foodie trends of the coming months, let’s see how agriculture can benefit of them.

Maybe the most important is the continuous popularity of healthy eating. Bigger and bigger markets are looking for fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables. There are more vegan people out there than ever and the media alarms us every day that we must eat less meat to be able to sustain our food system on the long term. Also, people are more cautious about their sugar, fiber, protein and potassium consumption. Stevia, coconut sugar, xylitol and other plant-derived sweeteners are enjoying full popularity. Also plant-derived complex proteins are more and more searched and ancient grains are thriving again. Brand new healthy fruit and vegetable varieties and even species are hitting the shelves of supermarkets as well, like the Kalettes, a new veggie obtained by crossing Brussles sprouts and Kale.  Healthy eating is definitely turning into a craze of millions, and agriculture is right there to satisfy the needs.

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Kalettes: the mix of Brussels sprouts and kale-New species and varieties can give an extra boost to the business.

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An example for the rise ad shine of plant-derived natural sweeteners: Coca Cola life with Stevia

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Wheat and corn are not the only options for producing grains- rare and ancient grains are definitely in

Linked to this there is a renewed interest in “organic”, “local”, “craftsman” and “authentic” food. Even though the popularity of organic food is always increasing, consumers also start paying attention of the origin of what they buy (organic does not mean much for the environment if it was shipped thousands of kilometers, right?)

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Also, the share of small beer breweries on the market is growing both in the USA and in Europe which is a good example for the increased interest in local and homemade products. Craftsman food and drinks give the feeling of “affordable luxury” to the consumers. Local means good, healthy and nutritious for us, and producers are encouraged to show off with the local character of their product. On the other hand authentic foods suggest the best quality. In the USA for example Oregon-grown strawberries and Portland diary are supposed to be the best, while in Europe we would buy Serrano ham or Greek Feta cheese.

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Authentic means quality

Producers also need to keep an eye on portions and convenience now. There are more single households than ever, and consumers are looking for single-person packages and small sizes. For example we won’t buy a full liter of milk when we only drink a sip with the morning coffee. Also, instead of 10-kg watermelons we are looking for small size or cut fruits, instead of 500kg salad packages we’d choose the one-meal portions. Also we want to prepare food which is helathy, but it’s quick and convenient to prepare… The role of pre-prepared healthy meals and salad mixes is really important and growing in this issue.

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Convenient and healthy- can it be achieved?

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New horisons for growers: single-person & baby fruits and veggies

Mashups and new tastes are emerging as well. Consumers are willing and happy to experiment with new, exciting mixes now. For example there are more and more foods and beverages with exotic tastes on the market- such as sweet and spicy, sweet and sour, sweet and salty… caramel-glazed hamburgers with bacon and eggs someone? And yes, they are spreading also in beverages! You should not wonder if you see salty-spicy-smoked juices on the menus, producers increasingly use them in our refreshments. We can enjoy for example roasted pineapple or salty caramel juices if we are brave and curious enough.

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Selling bacon for donut producers? Oh, yes.

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Salty beverages seem to be the new drink-craze. You might even roast your pineapple before selling it to the smoothie-bar…

To sum it up: Our food consumption patterns are changing fast these days (for some of us it’s moderately, for others extremely fast let’s say…). We are experimenting, mixing and on the other hand trying to save money and protect our health through better nutrition; we are discovering the world and finding freedom through taste-experiences. The range of foods and beverages is astonishingly vast, most probably a lifetime is not enough to try everything… And this is definitely a good news for agriculture. Producers and traders need to be more creative and brave when finding a market, and they have to work even closer with other producers to offer convenient, exciting, healthy and high quality products. However, due to the more varied needs producers can also diversify their production, target different markets and satisfy different consumer needs by smart marketing, packaging, mixing… Selling old products in new, exciting clothing.

 L.

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