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AF36, Biocontrol Agent for Aflatoxins, Now Approved for Almonds
Early July application proved highly effective in field tests Decades of research investigating methods for reducing aflatoxin contamination have led to the discovery of the atoxigenic Aspergillus strain, referred to as “AF36.” Recently approved by EPA and California Department of Pesticide Regulation, AF36 may help to significantly reduce aflatoxin levels. Aflatoxins are naturally occurring, “toxigenic” mold strains produced by certain strains of Aspergillus molds. AF36 is also an Aspergillus mold, but this naturally occurring strain does not produce aflatoxin and therefore is “atoxigenic.” AF36 is carried on a sterilized sorghum seed and is found in the soil of fig, pistachio and almond orchards. When applied, this atoxigenic strain out-competes and displaces existing toxigenic mold strains in the orchard floor and the tree canopy, and therefore acts as a biological control used to reduce the potential for aflatoxin. Effective tool Dr. Themis Michailides, plant pathologist at the UC ANR Kearney Agricultural Center, can attest to its efficacy. His extensive research in aflatoxins was integral to EPA registration of AF36 products for tree nuts. Field studies in both pistachios and almonds have been impressive. In a study of commercial pistachio orchards with AF36 applications occurring once-per-year from 2009–2011, Michailides and team observed aflatoxin reductions from 20–45%, with a 40% total reduction at the end of the study. How to apply Timing: In experimental use on almonds, AF36 proved most effective when spread on moist soil in early July. Ultimately, though, application should be timed around hullsplit. If you know when to expect hullsplit, you should plan to apply about one to two weeks before. You want to have maximum sporulation of the biocontrol during the hullsplit stage. Amount: The proper application rate is 10 pounds per acre. Placement: AF36 should be applied within the berm area of the orchard, not in row middles, so that it will be reached by the irrigation system. Proper irrigation: Irrigation is required directly after application. The AF36 Prevail product will not sporulate without moisture and can fail if there is too much moisture. Aim for soil moisture levels around 13–18%. Proper placement within the berm, close to the irrigation system, will ensure it is successfully activated. NOW management still essential While the AF36 Prevail product shows promise, it is essential to keep up with NOW and pest management as NOW damage still presents one of the greatest threats to aflatoxin development in the crop. Growers can minimize the risk of aflatoxin contamination by using multiple IPM practices: reducing overwintering populations of NOW through winter sanitation; timely harvest; in-season sprays and employing mating disruption. Step-by-step videos and product sourcing To learn more about AF36 and its application, watch two short videos produced by California Pistachios. While the videos feature AF36 in pistachio orchards, the information is useful and accurate for almond growers, as well. AF36 Prevail is available in California from Western Milling. For product information, contact Jeff Chedester, seed business manager, at (559) 978-0725.  Doster, M.A., Cotty, P.J., and Michailides, T.J. 2014. Evaluation of the atoxigenic Aspergillus flavus strain AF36 in pistachio orchards. Plant Disease 98:948-956.  Palumbo, J.D., Mahoney, N.E., Light, D.M., Siegel, J., Puckett, R.D., Michailides, T. J. 2014. Spread of Aspergillus flavus by navel orangeworm (Amyelois transitella) on almond. Plant Disease 98:1194-1199.
Voting Begins for Almond Board Directors
Growers, check your mail for ballots to select two independent grower member and alternate positions and one independent handler member and alternate positions for the Almond Board of California (ABC). Those in these positions will serve as directors for ABC, with terms beginning on March 1, 2016. Candidates for the independent grower positions are: Position One, Member (one-year term): Dave Phippen, Manteca (incumbent) Position One, Alternate: Brad Klump, Escalon (incumbent) Position Two, Member (three-year): Brian Wahlbrink, Waterford (petitioner) Dick Cunningham, Hughson (petitioner) Position Two, Alternate Bill Harp, Bakersfield (petitioner) Candidates for the independent handler positions: Position Three, Member (one-year term): Dinesh Bajaj, Orland (petitioner) Position Three, Alternate Joel Perkins, Coalinga (petitioner) Ballots and instructions have been mailed to all independent growers whose names are on file with ABC. The Almond Board must receive ballots by Feb. 11, 2016, in order to be counted. If an independent grower does not receive a ballot, one may be obtained by contacting Sue Olson at (209) 343-3224. As a governing body for the industry, the ABC Board of Directors is composed of five handler and five grower representatives who set policy and recommend budgets in several major areas, which are production research, public relations and advertising, nutrition research, statistical reporting, quality control and food safety.
20th Annual Food Quality and Safety Symposium: Planning for the Future
On June 7, more than 160 almond industry professionals gathered in Modesto to cover the critical topics of almond quality and safety. Hosted by the Almond Board of California (ABC) and in its 20th year, this event highlights issues affecting almond growers, hullers/shellers and handlers. This year, those issues included aflatoxin control strategies, the FSMA Produce Safety Rule, almond coproduct innovations, crisis planning and more. “Commit to fixing the problem,” said Daren Williams, senior director of Global Communications for ABC, when discussing crisis planning for almond producers. “Look forward and backward and communicate early and often.” Williams’ comments underpinned the overall tone of the annual Food Quality and Safety Symposium. In his presentation, he showcased how the almond industry can learn from the successes and failures of other industries that have been the subject of media firestorms, and he consistently tied in the importance of advanced preparation. Dr. Themis Michailides, plant pathologist at the UC ANR Kearney Agricultural Center, presented on his team’s research on aflatoxin development and control strategies. These strategies were key to EPA registration of a biocontrol agent now for use on almonds, AF36 Prevail. Due to higher insect pressure this past year, aflatoxin issues have been more of a concern. AF36 provides one additional tool for growers to use to control aflatoxin development in the orchard. That said, Michailides explained it is still essential to keep up with navel orangeworm (NOW) management, as NOW infestation presents one of the greatest threats to aflatoxin development in almonds. He also informed symposium attendees that due to high demand for the AF36 Prevail product, supply side issues may occur during the product’s first year. 20th Annual Food Quality and Safety Symposium speakers: (back, from left to right) Daren Williams, Tim Birmingham, Brian Dunning, Thomas Jones; (front, from left to right) Scott Schultz, Roger Ruan, Guangwei Huang, Dr. Zhaorigetu Hubhachen, Dr. Themis Michailides. Tom Jones, Senior Director of Analytic Services for Safe Food Alliance, emphasized during his presentation that almond growers and hullers/shellers should prioritize creating a written Farm Food Safety plan, even if they are utilizing the Commercial Processing Exemption under FSMA. A food safety plan will help growers identify practices in their operations that will help minimize food safety risks. The final two sessions highlighted technologies that use almond biomass — either by converting it into renewable energy products or creating value added products with food and nutraceutical applications. Matt Summers, Chief Operating Officer of West Biofuels, discussed the opportunities for growers and processors to work with partners and investors to secure on-site biomass conversion plants. By converting almond biomass into usable products such as diesel, biochar, and other bio-based materials, the industry can further reduce almond production’s carbon footprint, create green jobs and use biomass that would typically be cleared through open burns. Dr. Roger Ruan, whose research at the University of Minnesota has focused on the biorefining of almond hulls, discussed the unexpectedly high levels of antioxidants and fiber that are produced after processing almond hulls. Ruan’s research is part of ABC’s commitment to find innovative uses for almond coproducts and create a bioeconomy in which coproducts become an input for a new product. Twenty years of AFQS symposia have kept the almond industry at the forefront of food safety and quality with crucial perspectives on emerging science and in-the-orchard applications. The Almond Board is committed to keeping the entire almond supply chain in-the-know as new topics, control measures and quality assurance opportunities arise. To learn more about ensuring safe almond products, visit Almonds.com/Growers/FSMA or Almonds.com/Processors/FSMA.