Moving the goalposts

We’ve mostly (though not entirely) steered clear of the Xylella crisis in Italy, because it all seems to futile. I was in Puglia earlier this summer and it was heartbreaking to see entire olive groves dead and dying, and for what? Because of fear and mistrust all around, and an absolute absence of any kind of societal solidarity. So the recent news that the infected zone continues to march steadily up Italy’s heel was in many respects inevitable.

The disease is now threatening plant nurseries, which may be even more important economically than those majestic old olive trees, because they supply huge amounts of grapevines for export. And what do the nurseries say? That “a lack of effective action on the part of regional authorities is responsible for the spread of Xylella, which is now unfairly forcing a crucial economic sector to shut down or move”. On the one hand, they’re absolutely right. On the other, they think that plant nurseries should be exempt from the controls because “no Xyella-infected plants have ever been identified in plant nurseries”.

To which, pessimist that I am, I would add only “Yet”.

Heritage cereals anyone?

In the middle of my recently completed magnum opus on wheat and bread, I got a message from Shelley at Against the Grain Farms in Canada. They’ve been working on restoring old varieties of wheat and barley for the past 31 years and they’re looking to contact farmers and researchers who would like to collaborate in some participatory plant breeding.

Another hymn to Vavilov. Amen

Hard on the heels of the 99 per cent Invisible podcast on Svalbard comes another once-over-lightly on NI Vavilov. A book by photographer Mario del Curto documents the genebank in St Petersburg and the legacy of its founder. A review of the book is mostly fine and dandy, although I do take issue with this image.

The caption reads “Sunflower plant at the Kuban research station (from Seeds of the Earth: The Vavilov Institute, © Mario Del Curto)”.

Can that possibly be correct?