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Mack G.,Agroscope | Huber R.,ETH Zurich
Agricultural Systems | Year: 2017

Grassland-based feeding systems have the potential to reduce N input in agriculture through lower use of concentrates. Switzerland has recently introduced a new voluntary grassland-based milk and meat programme that restricts the concentrate and maize use in milk production systems. We analysed the on-farm compliance costs and the N surplus reduction potential for a sample of 2004 mixed dairy farms using farm-optimisation models implemented in the agent-based agricultural sector model SWISSland. Based on the simulation results, we used regression analysis to identify driving forces for the level of compliance costs and the reduction in N surplus of farms which allowed to investigate the effectiveness and the efficiency of the programme for the whole farm population. Our results imply that a payment for reducing the on-farm consumption of concentrate and maize feed does not substantially reduce N surpluses in Swiss agriculture. The heterogeneity of farms results in a distribution of compliance costs with a large group of farms having no or minimal costs. With the current payment of 200 CHF per hectare, reductions of 10.7 and 26.3tonnes of N can be achieved at high costs of 57 and 161 CHF per kg N in the lowland and mountain region respectively. Results also imply that specialisation represented by a high proportion of milk production, high levels of milk yields per cow as well as high milk prices increases the on-farm compliance costs of the programme. In contrast, diversification strategies that focus on intensive milk production in combination with additional low N fed livestock to optimise the use of grass at farm level reduces the compliance costs. © 2017 Elsevier Ltd

News Article | October 23, 2015

Food waste is today's hot topic. In fact, according to scientific surveys in Switzerland, 300 kg of perfectly good food ends up in the bin per person each year. However, this number encompasses the entire shopping basket, from yoghurt to drinkable leftover wine and two-day-old bread. From this basket, scientists at the research institute Agroscope and ETH Zurich have now identified one product that is discarded disproportionately often: the potato. A new study on this topic has just been presented by ETH doctoral student Christian Willersinn, who works in the group led by Michael Siegrist, Professor of Consumer Behaviour, together with colleagues from Agroscope. The study breaks down the losses of this staple food along the entire supply chain. "With this study, we aim to deepen the discussion relating to food waste by looking at a single product," says lead author Willersinn. The study appeared in the journal Waste Management. Until now, precise figures on potato waste were only available from England, where around two thirds of potatoes end up in the bin. However, Willersinn says that these figures cannot be compared with the situation in Switzerland. For the Swiss study, the researchers from Agroscope and ETH examined the losses that occur at the producer, wholesaler, retailer, processor and consumer level. The researchers recorded the quantities both of table potatoes and of processing potatoes, which are processed into chips and crisps. They also compared the losses that occur in organically and non-organically produced potatoes in both categories. To ascertain the quantities lost at the producer stage, Willersinn and his colleagues used data from more than 220,000 quality assessments of individual tubers. The researchers also surveyed wholesalers and retailers in order to obtain the most accurate quantitative information possible at that level. Furthermore, they carried out a written survey of 2,000 households to collect data on private potato waste. In addition to this, 87 people kept a diary for 30 days, in which they recorded their exact potato consumption and exactly how much of the originally purchased quantity, including preparation waste, ended up in their bins. One in two potatoes thrown out "Overall, potato waste is also very high in Switzerland," says the ETH doctoral student in light of the results of his analyses. From the field to the home, 53 percent of conventionally produced table potatoes are wasted, and this figure rises to 55 percent for those produced organically. For processing potatoes, the figures are lower: 41 percent of organic potatoes are discarded, compared to 46 percent of those from conventional production. The higher waste proportion for conventionally farmed processing potatoes is connected to the overproduction of this crop, which barely ever occurs with organic farming. Waste is greater for organically farmed table potatoes because these fail to satisfy the high quality standards more often than conventional ones. "After all, consumers have the same expectations of quality and appearance for organic production as they do for conventional." Losses occur at all stages of the supply chain: up to a quarter of the table potato harvest falls by the wayside even at the producer stage. A further 12 to 24 percent are rejected by wholesalers during sorting. Just one to three percent fall between the cracks at retailers, and a further 15 percent are wasted in households. Although private households account for a relatively small proportion of potato waste, Willersinn says their contribution has the most impact: in private homes, most of the unused potatoes end up in the bin bag or on the compost heap. Producers, traders and processors, on the other hand, recycle the vast majority of waste into animal fodder or, to a lesser extent, into feedstock for biogas plants. According to Willersinn, the blame lies primarily with consumers' high quality standards, especially when it comes to fresh potatoes. This accounts for two thirds of the waste in respect of fresh potatoes from conventional farming. For organic potatoes, this figure rises to three quarters. Consumer health protection also leads to waste: producers reject one in three potatoes after harvest because they are rotten or green and could therefore be harmful to health. Wireworms, i.e. the larvae of click beetles, have also eaten holes into many potatoes, although they would still be edible. Likewise, misshapen or deformed potatoes would be edible but, just like 'worm-eaten' potatoes, are fed to animals for aesthetic reasons. In order to reduce potato waste, therefore, the researcher suggests taking action on the producer side first and foremost; for example, by using suitable cultivation methods such as crop rotation to minimise infestation, by protecting plants against wireworms, and by breeding new, more-robust varieties of potatoes. He is certain: "These measures could improve quality and therefore result in less waste". Shrinking the mountain of waste would also require revised quality requirements, so that misshapen or scabby potatoes could make it onto the shelves. This could reduce losses of conventional fresh potatoes by four percent and organic table potatoes by three percent. However, he says that wholesalers and retailers take a critical view of scabby potatoes, as scab can be transmitted to healthy specimens. "This would mean that waste would occur at the end-consumer stage, instead of at the producer and trader level, because consumers have different quality expectations," Willersinn adds emphatically. He says the eco-balance is at its worst when consumers throw potatoes in the bin. "Losses at the end of the chain are the worst because, at this stage, the most energy has been put into the product. The most sensible thing is therefore to minimise household waste," Willersinn emphasises. He adds that a corresponding study is currently in progress. The ETH doctoral student and Agroscope staff member places the principal onus on consumers: they need to reconsider their preferences and their buying and eating habits. "However, habits are very difficult to change," he emphasises, noting that, according to the household survey, older people throw out less than young people. Willersinn can only speculate on the reasons for this. It is conceivable to him that older people know how to store potatoes and that young people, on the other hand, lack some of this knowledge. This study was carried out as part of the National Research Programme NRP69, "Healthy Nutrition and Sustainable Food Production", funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). It is the most extensive study ever produced in Switzerland on the topic of food waste in respect of a single product. Explore further: Gene expression reveals how potatoes are cultivated More information: Christian Willersinn et al. Quantity and quality of food losses along the Swiss potato supply chain: Stepwise investigation and the influence of quality standards on losses, Waste Management (2015). DOI: 10.1016/j.wasman.2015.08.033

Pornaro C.,University of Padua | Schneider M.K.,Agroscope | Macolino S.,University of Padua
Biological Conservation | Year: 2013

Cessation of agricultural management and subsequent natural forest succession has been the primary land use change in the Southern Alps over the past 50. years. It is generally assumed that early stages of succession host more plant species than grazed pastures, but that this richness is partly lost as the density of woody species increases. Based on vegetation surveys on eight sites in the Italian Alps, we found the effects of forest succession on plant species richness to depend strongly on environmental conditions. The relationship between plant species richness and wood cover at the sites ranged from non-detectable over hump-shaped, to monotonically decreasing. Linear mixed-effects models indicate that high mean annual temperature is associated with a strong decrease in plant species richness and in the number of red-list species along the pasture-to-forest gradient. Sampling plant species composition at a range of scales allowed us to rule out artefacts caused by modified species-area relationships as a consequence of changes in wood cover. Multi-scale sampling also indicated that the primary loss of plant species richness by forest succession is in plant species with low abundance. Our data further allow assessment of the risk of species loss in mountain grasslands in the Southern Alps, which is highest on sites with higher mean annual temperature. These areas should receive concentrated attention and support for biodiversity conservation. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.

Naderi-Boldaji M.,Shahrekord University | Keller T.,Agroscope | Keller T.,Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Soil and Tillage Research | Year: 2016

The soil physical parameter S (S-value or S-index) has been proposed as an index of soil physical quality. Soil physical quality is negatively affected by soil compaction (e.g. caused by agricultural field traffic). It has previously been shown that S decreases with increasing soil bulk density. This study investigated whether the relationship between S and soil compactness can be described by a single function that is valid across soil textures when soil compactness is expressed in terms of the degree of compactness (DC), which is relative density expressed as the ratio of bulk density to a reference density. This would provide an alternative measurement for soil physical quality that is more easily obtained than S. We also evaluated different methods for deriving reference density and tested whether reference values for S suggested in previous studies correspond to critical levels of DC reported in the literature. The relationships between S and DC were investigated for the 12 FAO/USDA soil textural classes based on pedo-transfer functions, and compared with data reported in the literature. A strong positive correlation was found between DC and ln (1/S), and a unique function was found between S and DC that is valid across soil textures, with the possible exception of poorly sorted soils with a high sand or silt concentration. Experimental data on S obtained from the literature supported these findings. The reference value of S (0.035) previously proposed as a boundary between good and poor soil physical conditions was found to agree well with the level of DC (87%) reported in the literature as critical with respect to plant growth. Proctor density was found to be the most useful measure of reference density, better than Håkansson reference density, which introduced some texture dependency into the relationship between S and DC. Our findings indicate that 1/S is a good measure of soil compactness and support the usefulness of S as a soil physical quality index. However, our findings suggest that DC can also be used as an index of soil physical quality, and is much easier to obtain than S. © 2016 Elsevier B.V.

Herzog F.,Agroscope | Franklin J.,Arizona State University
Ambio | Year: 2016

Policy makers and farmers need to know the status of farmland biodiversity in order to meet conservation goals and evaluate management options. Based on a review of 11 monitoringprograms in Europe and North America and on related literature, we identify the design choices or attributes of a program that balance monitoring costs and usefulness for stakeholders. A useful program monitors habitats, vascular plants, and possibly faunal groups (ecosystem service providers, charismatic species) using a stratified random sample of the agricultural landscape, including marginal and intensive regions. The size of landscape samples varies with the grain of the agricultural landscape; for example, samples are smaller in Europe and larger in North America. Raw data are collected in a rolling survey, which distributes sampling over several years. Sufficient practical experience is now available to implement broad monitoring schemes on both continents. Technological developments in remote sensing, metagenomics, and social media may offer new opportunities for affordable farmland biodiversity monitoring and help to lower the overall costs of monitoring programs. © 2016 Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Steinger T.,Agroscope | Gilliand H.,Agroscope | Hebeisen T.,Agroscope
Annals of Applied Biology | Year: 2014

Virus diseases represent important economic threats to the production of seed potatoes worldwide, yet little quantitative information is available on the relative merits of different measures of virus control applied singly or in combination. In this study, we compiled data from the national seed certification programme on the incidence of Potato Virus Y (PVY) and Potato Leaf-roll Virus (PLRV) in potato tubers in Switzerland for the years 1990-2009 and used generalised linear models to investigate the influence of key epidemiological factors on infection risk. Results showed that post-harvest virus incidence increased with initial inoculum levels, with the largest change in infection risk occurring between fields with no inoculum and those with low levels of inoculum. Virus incidence decreased with increasing altitude of fields. Surprisingly, infection risk was considerably lower for imported seed lots even though the model controlled for the effect of inoculum level, potato variety and other confounders. Overall, variety was the most important factor influencing virus risk. The results of the present analysis are useful to fine-tune decision-support systems that predict disease risk under different epidemiological scenarios. © 2014 Association of Applied Biologists.

Schmid A.,Agroscope | Walther B.,Agroscope
Advances in Nutrition | Year: 2013

Humans derive most vitamin D from the action of sunlight in their skin. However, in view of the current Western lifestyle with most daily activities taking place indoors, sun exposure is often not sufficient for adequate vitamin D production. For this reason, dietary intake is also of great importance. Animal foodstuffs (e.g., fish, meat, offal, egg, dairy) are the main sources for naturally occurring cholecalciferol (vitamin D-3). This paper therefore aims to provide an up-to-date overview of vitamin D-3 content in various animal foods. The focus lies on the natural vitamin D-3 content because there are many countries in which foods are not regularly fortified with vitamin D. The published data show that the highest values of vitamin D are found in fish and especially in fish liver, but offal also provides considerable amounts of vitamin D. The content in muscle meat is generally much lower. Vitamin D concentrations in egg yolks range between the values for meat and offal. If milk and dairy products are not fortified, they are normally low in vitamin D, with the exception of butter because of its high fat content. However, as recommendations for vitamin D intake have recently been increased considerably, it is difficult to cover the requirements solely by foodstuffs. © 2013 American Society for Nutrition.

After organic farming arose as a chain separate from conventional food production in many parts of the world in the last quarter of the 20th century, another separate chain emerged in recent years-the chain for food free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This article summarizes the lessons learned from segregated organic chains and compares them with new findings gathered from GMO-free chains of soybeans, maize, and milk in Western Europe. Two mechanisms are found to be widespread to cope with the transaction costs of segregation: a specialization of businesses or entire countries and a "downwashing" process, during which a sequence with decreasing quality requirements is used in facilities. The main role of the state is to create a framework that provides a high degree of credibility for the product information provided. © 2015 AgBioForum.

Agroscope | Date: 2014-11-20

A new pear variety named CH201 is distinguished by its crunchy bicolored fruit, which maintains its quality during very long term storage, and its low susceptibility to fire blight.

News Article | December 6, 2016

A young honey bee worker emerging from the wax cells in which it developed. Credit: Vincent Dietemann, Agroscope In honey bee colonies, a single queen is laying eggs from which thousands of worker bees are born. At a young age, workers care for the brood, then build and defend the nest and eventually, towards the end of their lives, leave the safety of the nest to forage for food. This major step in their lives is speeding up ageing because searching the environment for food exposes these foragers to a wide range of stressors, such as pathogens, predators and adverse weather conditions. Despite her title, the queen is not deciding who does what in the honey bee colony. How work is distributed between nestmates in these societies is not fully understood. Previous research has shown that tasks are allocated based on communication between the queen, brood and individual workers performing these tasks. For example, the presence of foragers in hives reduces the number of younger bees leaving the hives to start foraging. It is also known that the presence of larvae reduces the life expectancy of bees due to the need for adult workers to tend to them and forage to feed them. This was shown by an increase in longevity of workers after experimental removal of larvae. Since their removal also resulted in the removal of young adults that develop from them, the observed effect could not be attributed to the young workers or to the brood until now. 'By experimentally separating the effect of brood and of young adults on their nestmates' destiny, we could tease apart the role of these two actors' says senior author Vincent Dietemann from Agroscope. 'We saw that both the presence of brood and of young workers shortened the life expectancy of their nestmates' adds lead author Michael Eyer from both Agroscope and Institute of Bee Health. The newly discovered role of young workers in honey bee social organisation adds to our knowledge of how demography shapes colony functioning. 'These social regulation mechanisms of food collection allow the fast adaptation of the colony to a changing environment' says co-author Peter Neumann from the Institute of Bee Health. These findings are significant for our understanding of social organization in insects, which often inspires technological innovations. They also provide information on general ageing processes beyond social insects. Indeed, honey bees are used as model system to understand ageing in other organisms, including humans. The acquired knowledge has practical implications for beekeepers because colony management can include removal of brood and thus of young workers. This for example can occur before a treatment to control the parasitic mite Varroa destructor. The extension of worker lifespan induced by the removal allows the colony to compensate this absence and continue functioning. In spring and summer, honey bee colonies are composed of so called 'summer bees'. During the first one to three weeks, they perform tasks such as nursing and cleaning within the nest and later leave its protection to forage for nectar and pollen required for colony growth, before dying. In late summer, falling temperature reduces foraging activity and brood rearing declines. The so-called long-lived 'winter bees' emerge from the last brood reared. Their tasks consist in maintaining the nest at temperatures that ensure the survival of the colony over several winter months and in resuming brood rearing in the next spring, before they start foraging again in spring. Worker life expectancy is thus plastic and varies according to each phase of a colony's life history. In addition to producing honey, wax, propolis and royal jelly, honey bees contribute to the pollination of a large variety of commercial food crops – a service valued at over 150 billions Euros globally. Moreover, honey bees together with other insects pollinate many wild flowers and are therefore central to the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems, of which the economical value is order of magnitudes higher. Explore further: Could honey bee brood be the future of food? More information: Michael Eyer et al. Social regulation of ageing by young workers in the honey bee, Apis mellifera, Experimental Gerontology (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.exger.2016.11.006

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