Organic Food: A Study of Consumer Perception and Preferences in Greece

Okay, I know you are asking why I am talking about Greek organic food what Greek people think about it? Well, there are several reasons but in particular there are not many U.S. studies on this issue right now and it is an interesting study about what people think about organic food.

First off, this survey was given to people in all 13 regions of Greece, and they got 1,945 responses – not a bad number! 60% were women, which is fairly standard since they buy most household food items and over 60% were under 40 which is good for estimating our future with organic foods. Most were employed in very good jobs and over 53% had a college degree. Nearly 99% said they were aware of organic foods and 86% thought that organic foods were healthier than conventionally produced foods.

Here are a few things that bothered me and should bother all of us whether we grow organic or process organic food. First, only 60% of the survey participants knew about the organic certification program and that certification is required to use an organic label which is not unlike US consumers. Second, only 28% knew about the actual European organic logo you see in the picture above. This is sad and may not be too far from the U.S. knowledge about organic labels. The USDA Organic Seal is important and useful and must be protected. Third, and maybe most important, 61% believed that there is no adequate control in organic food production. Most of you in organic production may think that there is too much control now, but the average consumer is skeptical that there is anyone really inspecting to make sure what is labeled organic is organic!

Where do they buy organic foods in Greece? Nearly 80% buy in either supermarkets or in specialty stores (48.3% and 31.1% respectively) and not much in Farmers Markets or Online. How often do they buy organic? 55% say they buy either daily, 2-3 times per week or weekly. What do they buy organic? Mostly fruits and vegetables, milk, and other dairy products. Surprisingly, over 30% of organic purchases are meat and poultry which is better than in the US.

Two things to end with. 65% believe that organic food is more nutritious and 43% believe it is higher quality! Those are great numbers and are encouraging for this age group. Second, and most important to me, nearly 80% say they will continue to buy organic despite organic food’s higher prices.

To read the full study with all the numbers go here: Organic food: A Study of consumer perception and preferences in Greece.

Can Plant Roots Change Your Soil?

A recent review article in the publication “Trends in Plant Science” caught my attention and to be honest I have read it several times. The title is, “Building soil sustainability from root-soil interface traits,” and is written by several authors all from wonderful universities or institutes throughout the world. The title tends to overwhelm you until you read the first couple of sentences, “By reversing our thinking of how root-soil interface traits affect the function of the rhizosphere (the area around a root where microbes survive) there is considerable opportunity to restore degraded soils, mitigate greenhouse gases, and enhance biodiversity. Breeding crop varieties with the target of improving soil health and reducing soil degradation will produce better condition for crop growth through more efficient resource use and stress tolerance.”

The authors propose that plants are known to have a huge impact on soil properties, but these plant properties are generally ignored in plant breeding in favor of yield. They say, “with the shift towards reduced tillage and smaller input of both fertilizer and chemicals that a plant’s capacity to alter soil structure and the rhizosphere microbiome will become increasingly important.”

In this article they estimate that under the soil under a small grain crop is 2% roots but 50% rhizosphere and this could be even more with better breeding. The properties of the rhizosphere influence both plant growth and the soil environment and form the place where the plant gets nutrients from the soil. Also, a huge amount of microorganisms’ cycle nutrients and compete against plant pathogens in this rhizosphere.

Wheat Rhizosphere

Breeders’ may now have new tools because Quantitative Trait Loci (QTLs) related to this entire concept of improved rhizosphere and rhizosheath (area around the root and the soil that adheres to the root) have been found, and because they are known, breeders can select for plant varieties with these traits. For example, they have found that different varieties of barley can vary by over 500% in rhizosheath size. A larger rhizosheath means great resistance to stress including drought with a direct benefit to the improvement of soils around the root rhizosheath.

I really appreciate this last paragraph! “A genotype’s capacity to engineer favorable soil properties at the root surface could enhance its fitness under variable field conditions. We have shown evidence that selecting genotypes for favorable root–soil interface traits can also improve yield with minimal metabolic cost. The impact of plant roots on soils has been appreciated for centuries, but it is only now that new emerging technologies are unravelling the mechanistic processes of how plant root traits form the rhizosphere and impact both plants and soils. We are only at the beginning of understanding whether rhizodeposition and root hairs could be selected for more sustainable soils, but the emerging evidence is positive and compelling.”

If this is interesting to you the full article can be accessed here:

Upcoming Rice Field Days

There are two upcoming Rice Field Days titled “Designing Texas Rice for the Future,” and they feature a lot of information for Texas producers.  As always there will be lots of general information on rice production but specifically there will be a look at the future of rice breeding.  Whether conventional or organic, rice breeding work holds the keys to our future and these researchers are working hard to overcome nutrient deficiencies, disease and insect pressure, yield, and more.

Eagle Lake Field Day, Tuesday, June 28 starting at 4 pm.

Beaumont Field Day, Thursday, July 14 starting at 8 am.

To register, help sponsor, or just more details, please call Brandi Morace, Administrative Coordinator at the Rice Research Center in Beaumont, 409.245.8630.

Spider Mites on Tomato

It didn’t take long for spider mites to attack tomatoes and attack with a passion. I usually get a lot of calls this time of year about tomatoes that are turning yellow, and, in most cases, it is spider mites that are the culprit.

Notice the dark spots on either side, hence the name.

The two spotted spider mite is responsible for a lot of our tomato problems. They are very small at 1/32 of an inch or less. If you turn over a tomato leaf you will see the webbing characteristic of spider mites and if you look closer, you may see the actual mite moving around. Spider mites overwinter as adults and even continue to breed on host plants in mild winters. Spider mite adults lay a clear to yellow egg suspended in a fine web of silk. 6-legged nymphs emerge from the eggs and go through 2 molts before they emerge as 8-legged adults. A generation can last from 5 to 20 days depending on the temperature, the hotter the quicker. When the host plant begins to decline, the mites spin silk threads and use these strands to “fly” or “balloon” in wind to disperse to other plants. This is how they get to your tomatoes in the first place. Under ideal conditions (hot, dry weather, lack of natural enemies, and well-fertilized plants), mite populations can increase 10-fold per week!

Spider mites about to spin a silk thread and take off!

Scouting is essential to control. If you see spider mites early you can wash them off with hard streams of water or use an insecticidal soap. Sulphur has long been used as a preventative for mites as well as a fungicide for diseases. Garlic and other botanicals have been promoted, but my experience has not been good. Organic products that have a good track record are Certis Biologicals – BoteGHA, PFR-97, DES-X and Trilogy.  Marrone Bio – Grandevo and Venerate. Spinosad made by several companies can be effective.  Another option is beneficial insect releases like Phytoseiulus persimilis beneficial mites which are known to be very effective.  A bottle of 2,000 is just $23. 

Severe spider mite infestation – pull out the plant!

Unfortunately, most gardeners do not notice infestations until they are severe, and control by then is difficult. I like to recommend that gardeners remove the plants that are somewhat infested. This may seem drastic but letting populations explode doesn’t seem healthy either.

Lastly let me add that spider mites love plants that are stressed, especially from water. I was recently running a greenhouse experiment with tomatoes and marigolds. I had many pots of each, and I had inadvertently left some of both plants almost outside the area that was sprinkler watered. This meant that 2 tomato plants and 2 marigold plants were getting just enough water to live but not much else. I then went on vacation for a few days and when I came back the only spider mite infested plants were those stressed for water. I have seen this in fields over and over again, water stress brings on insect stress!  Tomato plants can use 1.5 gallons of water every day and most gardeners only water once a week.

Peanut Seedling Test Plot

Today (May 20) we finished planting a peanut seedling disease test plot at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center in Stephenville. In this test we are looking at 10 different treatments for seedling disease control on untreated peanut seed.

Conventionally (not organic) peanut seed is treated with a fungicide that protects the seed and the young seedling from any of the common fungus diseases found in soil. Seed treatments are really beneficial in situations where the conditions are not very good for germination like cold, wet weather. In an organic system with untreated organic seed, you basically need to wait till the weather is better or maybe you discover some organic treatments you can use when you plant, like in this test. What we are doing is testing some organic seed treatments (applied to the seed before planting), some liquid in-furrow treatments, and some soil incorporated treatments and comparing them with an untreated check (just peanut seed) and a check with a regular conventional fungicide treated seed.

Over the course of the next several weeks we will be evaluating the germination percentage for each of the 400 seed planted in each treatment, how quickly they grow, and the stage of plant at each week. Below are the products used and the treatment method: IF = in-furrow, seed is a seed treatment sprayed on to wet and then dried, incorporate into beds before planting.

1Ecological LaboratoriesQuantum-EXP 1IF
2Summit AgroAviv 20 oz/100 gallon wet and drySeed
3Summit AgroAviv 20 oz/acIF
4Certis BiologicalsDouble Nickel 8 oz/acIF
5Certis BiologicalsDouble Nickel 16 oz/acIF
6American Plant FoodSigma 5-3-2 1000 lb/acincorporate
7Untreated Check
8Corteva AgriscienceBexfond 14 oz/acIF
9ValentEndoprime 2 oz/acIF
10Treated Check

Tank Mixing with Biologicals

I am not promoting one company over any other companies, but I think the YouTube video of Rob Gibson’s talk at the Bio Controls Conference is excellent and worth a watch as we get into organic spray season.

As Rob talks about in the video, there can be issues with water pH, physical or chemical incompatibility or a host of other issues that can crop up with tank mixes. It is an 18-minute presentation, not much time compared to cleaning out a gunky mess in your lines or maybe a final spray that doesn’t even work because of an issue with your solution. Sometimes our organic products get negative reviews when the real issue is how we mixed the spray solution and not the products in the spray solution!