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To help plants better fend off insect pests, researchers are arming them with silicon.
The University of Delaware’s Ivan Hiltpold and researchers from the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University in Australia are examining the addition of silicon to the soil to see if it will help strengthen plants against potential predators.
Hiltpold, assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the basis of the project was to assess the impact of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi on a plant’s nutritional quality and also on root pests, using sugar cane and root-feeding insects, primarily cane grubs–the voracious larvae of the cane beetle.
“This research demonstrated a cascading effect,” said Hiltpold. “We have silicon and other plant nutrients in the soil, we have the fungi that is interacting with the plant and metabolites, and all that plant chemistry has an impact on insect development.”
Silicon is the world’s second most abundant element after oxygen in the Earth’s crust, but because it is in a stone or mineral form, it is not readily available for use by plants.
By amending the soil with silica, a form of silicon that plants can easily take up, the researchers helped the plants build up tiny particles called phytoliths, or “plant stones,” to defend against herbivorous insects and possibly rodents.
“The plant builds up these sorts of stones in its tissues, which will reduce the digestibility of the plant material because digesting stones is not very easy,” said Hiltpold. “Also, these stones wear the mouth parts of insects and possibly rodents. If your teeth are not really cutting any more, then you cannot eat as much as you could. All of that added together will reduce the impact of herbivory on the plant.”
In experiments with two sugarcane varieties grown in a greenhouse, root-feeding insects, primarily the cane grub, fed on the plants. The immune function of the insects was assessed by measuring their immune response to entomopathogenic nematodes–small organisms that kill insects in the soil–while insect growth and root consumption were assessed in a feeding trial.
The researchers found that high levels of silicon concentrations decreased insect growth and root consumption, the latter by 71 percent.
Because the silicon doesn’t affect grazing livestock, Hiltpold said that it also will not affect humans when, for example, a person consumes boiled carrots or sweet corn.
Hiltpold said they chose the cane grub for their study because it is a major pest in Australia.
“Sugar cane is a big industry in Australia, and these larvae are really causing a lot of damage to it. These grubs can be pretty big–their diameter can be as big as my thumb,” Hiltpold said. “As soil pests, they are really hard to control because they are hard to reach with insecticides and they are hard to monitor. We don’t really know where they are before we see the damage on the plant, and then usually it’s too late. Having options to control them is always good.”
The option of using silicon to naturally strengthen the plant’s defenses against the cane grub would be both environmentally friendly and economically attractive to growers, as they would not have to spray as much to protect their crops.
“The idea of amending crops with silicon in general is that, OK, we have this element that is naturally present. The only thing is that it’s not bio-available so it cannot be taken up by the plant as is, but if we add a little bit of bioavailable silicon to the field, then it boosts the plant’s biomass,” said Hiltpold. “The plant productivity is increased and also the plant defenses are increased because the silicon accumulates in the tissue above and below ground and helps the plants to cope with insect as well as mammal herbivory.”
Hiltpold said this research could be applicable to other types of plants besides sugarcane.
He also said that in addition to the plants’ interaction with the silicon, the fungi had a surprising impact on the insects.
“We don’t exactly know if it’s via the plant or directly from the exposure to the fungi, but the insect immune system was triggered when the plants were treated with the fungi,” said Hiltpold. “That could be useful in an integrated management view because triggering an immune system if there is no invader, no pathogen exposure, might have a cost on the growth or performance of the insect, so that will eventually have a beneficial impact on the plant because the insect is doing less well and doing less damage. I think that was an interesting finding that was never demonstrated before.”
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The pig-to-person spread of the flu at fairs continues to be a concern — just this week a child in North Dakota and a child in Ohio contracted influenza from pig exhibits at the fair. However, a new study shows protective measures, including cutting the length of time pigs and people congregate, makes good sense for both animals and humans.
A team led by Andrew Bowman of The Ohio State University tracked human cases of H3N2 swine virus associated with seven agricultural fairs in 2016. They tallied 18 cases in Ohio and Michigan documented after exposure to flu-infected pigs. Though most of these infections caused mild, manageable illness, new flu viruses jumping from pigs to people raises the risk of a flu pandemic.
The good news is that there are ways to curtail the spread of disease without eliminating swine exhibits altogether, said Bowman, an assistant professor of veterinary medicine. Chief among them: a 72-hour limit to swine exhibits, which would interrupt widespread flu transmission from pig to pig and from pigs to people, he said.
“Shorter exhibitions don’t eliminate the possibility of the disease spreading, but it can be the difference between a few animals catching the virus and most of them becoming infected,” Bowman said.
Other measures to decrease disease transmission include:
- Vaccinating pigs against flu.
- Designing the intake process for animals when they arrive at the fairgrounds so that they aren’t all touching the same surfaces with their snouts.
- Posting guidance for handwashing and supplying hand sanitizer near animal exhibits.
- Posting signs warning against eating and drinking around animal exhibits.
- Encouraging those at higher risk of flu complications to forego visits to the animal exhibits. People who fall into this category are babies, young children, adults over 65, and those with illnesses that weaken the immune system.
The work that led to the new study was part of a larger effort to monitor flu virus among exhibition swine at 101 fairs in the Midwest. Regardless of clinical signs, pigs were tested at the end of exhibitions. The Ohio State-led effort included 161 pigs at seven fairs – almost 78 percent of which tested positive for the virus, though in many cases there were no observable symptoms of flu.
The human infections that arise from exposure at the fair are often in the exhibitors, because they have prolonged exposure to the animals, Bowman said.
“We’ve worked hard with exhibitors to say, ‘Don’t hang out in the barn longer than you need to, don’t make it the social gathering place,'” he said.
The research team found genetically identical flu virus at multiple fairs in Ohio and Michigan, which illustrates how fast this virus – and potentially others – can move within swine at agricultural shows, the researchers wrote.
The H3N2 virus implicated in these pig-to-human transmissions didn’t originate in swine. In fact, people passed the virus to the pigs to begin with, Bowman said.
“As much as we like to point fingers at the pigs, it comes from us too,” Bowman said.
“The ease with which viruses can pass between pigs and people and evolve into new, more concerning viruses illustrates the importance of continued monitoring of swine to detect viruses that can threaten animals and people,” he said.
Tropical Storm Harvey’s path seems to be headed to the Caribbean or the Yucatan Peninsula while the second wave may be the one to watch which is being tracked to make landfall on Florida or could change course and cruise into the Gulf of Mexico. These events are expected to happen in the next 4 days and investors are watching. And we have a third Disturbance lurking west and southwest of the Cabo Verde Islands. These storms could be a boon to the Energy complex and the Orange Juice contract as well. Today we have a Milk Production report at 2:00 P.M. Central. On the Grain front it was rather quiet in the overnight electronic session. While investors are keeping their eyes on yields other traders believe it is a no brainer that that the carryover will cast a pall on any rally and Mother Nature seems to be dictating the results we have seen so far. In the overnight electronic session the September Corn is currently trading at 350 ¾ which is ¼ of a cent higher. The trading range has been 352 to 350.
On the Ethanol Front the September contract posted a trade at 1.500 which is .010 of a cent lower with 5 contracts traded at that price. The current market is showing 5 bids @ 1.500 and 2 offers @ 1.510 with further declining Open Interest at 335 contracts as we move closer to expiration on this contract.
On the Crude Oil front we have rig counts at high noon and the market may get support from this number with further Tropical Disturbances in the Atlantic could cause disruptions in the flow of Oil as we
Showed large draws in product with the weekly Energy Stocks data the last month and could see the draws stretch. In the overnight electronic session the September Crude Oil is currently trading at 4725 which is 16 points higher. The trading range has been 4738 to 4692.
On the Natural Gas front the same old negative stories are keeping prices down. If the Tropical Storms create havoc we could see this market get some legs under it. Mother Nature is still playing games with weather as she has all year. The Farmer’s Almanac is calling for a tough winter in the Great Lakes region this winter, however, weather forecast for 2017 have been mostly wrong. In the overnight electronic session the September Natural Gas is currently trading at 2.904 which is 2 ½ cents lower. The trading range has been 2.928 to 2.888.
— Daniel Flynn
The Energy Report: Barcelona
The despicable and horrendous terror attacks in Barcelona Spain are being felt by global markets that are sinking because of the lack of respect and tolerance for our fellow man. Markets also fear the fallout from the abandonment of President Donald Trump because of his comments on the senseless murder caused by a driver in Charlottesville as fears that his economic agenda will be put on hold and more of his staff may abandon him. Whether it is hatred or killing or just not wanting to hear another person’s point of view, the extremist views are hurting everyone, not only the markets but the entire human race. We need to debate or points of view with intellect and respect not with mobs, protests and violence and hate.
Oil prices are rising after Genscape reported that supplies in Cushing, Oklahoma suddenly plunged by one million barrels. This is adding to the perception that the physical oil market is tightening much faster. Brent spreads driving the market into contango is signaling that demand is exceeding short term supply. Historic draws in US inventories are signaling the same thing. Oil supply in the US is back below 2016 levels.
Supplies should tighten even more as US crude imports, especially heavy crude, could be retrained by politics and Mother Nature. Reuters is reporting that a tanker carrying a cargo of about 1.0 million barrels of Venezuelan heavy crude has been stranded for more than a month off the coast of Louisiana for lack of a bank letter of credit to discharge. The cargo’s fate adds to state-run oil company PDVSA’s precarious financial position. Revenue from the company’s oil sales, which have suffered because of low prices and declining production, account for more than 90 percent of the nation’s exports.
Reuters says that major banks are cutting exposure to Venezuela as a result of political upheaval in the South American country. Some have closed accounts linked to officials of the OPEC member who have had sanctions leveled against them by the U.S. government and have refused to provide correspondent bank services or trade in government bonds. Signs of supply tightness have started appearing in the United States, the world’s biggest oil consumer.
The Atlantic Is more active from a storm perspective than we have seen in some time. Tropical Storm Harvey has formed and there are two storms right behind them. Accu Weather says that from west to east, the systems have been dubbed Tropical Storm Harvey and 92L. The third system is likely to be 93L. Accu Weather says that designation is assigned between 90 and 99, when there is potential for the formation of a tropical depression or storm within several days. The “L” represents potential formation for the Atlantic Ocean. Interests in the Caribbean and Central America should closely monitor the tropical Atlantic, particularly shipping, cruise and fishing ventures.
Tropical Storm Harvey to enter Caribbean Sea this weekend. Accu Weather says that the storm developed on Thursday afternoon east of the Windward Islands, becoming the eighth named tropical system of the 2017 Atlantic season. Heavy, gusty thunderstorms from Harvey will affect the Windward and southern Leeward Islands through Friday. Enough rain can fall on the islands to cause flash flooding and mudslides. Wind gusts can be strong enough to cause minor property damage. Small craft should stay in port on Friday.
Then 92L may pass north of the Caribbean Sea next week, the steering winds are likely to guide the second area of disturbed weather farther north than Harvey. “We project 92L to pass over or just north of the Leeward Islands this weekend,” according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski. How much strengthening occurs will determine the intensity of rainfall, winds and seas. Some dry air has become drawn into 92L, which could hinder its development for a time. “If 92L can overcome the dry air, it has a chance at becoming a depression or tropical storm this weekend,” Kottlowski said. A track just north of the islands of the northern Caribbean, especially the mountainous islands of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Cuba, would favor development and strengthening, as opposed to a track right over the islands. So 92 could pose the most threat to the Gulf of Mexico shipping lanes. The third storm is expected at this time to turn out to sea and pose little risk to land.
Going south to Texas. I will be back at the Money Show for the first time in almost a decade. For all of my Energy Report readers who asked when I would be back, make sure you meet me in Dallas. To find out more just go to Dallas Money Show. Make sure you sign up early to secure a space.
— Phil Flynn
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Tags: agriculture news, ag news, commodity markets, commodities, crop markets, corn, oil