Environment Research
With a later than normal planting window and a summer growing season seemingly short on summer weather, some growers have been monitoring their corn growth stages and asking about gauging the risks associated with corn maturity and frost, particularly those who planted very late or have longer maturity hybrids. While there are still several weeks left to the growing season, a few things growers trying to gauge their crop stage for frost risk may want to consider include:

Crop Staging

Clearly, the closer to maturity (black layer) the crop is, the less impact a frost event will have on the crop. For quick review:

The emergence of silks is the R1 stage. As a rough guideline, once pollination occurs, it takes about 60 more days for the crop to reach physiological maturity. Thus, silk timing can give a bit of an indication of when maturity of the corn crop may be expected – a crop that pollinated around July 25th may be expected to reach maturity or black layer sometime around September 25th. While there can be some small differences across hybrid maturities, hybrid maturity ratings have a much more significant impact on the length of time in vegetative stages than reproductive stages.

The R2 blister stage occurs following pollination when fertilized kernels are just beginning to develop, while the R3 milk stage occurs when kernels are turning yellow and are beginning to fill with an opaque milky fluid. Grain fill is rapid by the R3 stage, and maturity under normal conditions would be 5-6 weeks away.

The R4 dough stage occurs when the milk solution turns pasty as starch continues to form, with some kernels beginning to dent as dough begins to turn to hard starch at the dent ends of kernels. Under normal conditions, the dough stage may be generally 3-5 weeks from maturity.

The R5 dent stage occurs when the majority of kernels have dented, and the milk line, which separates the hard starch phase from the soft dough phase, progresses from the dent end towards the cob. The dent stage may last approximately 3 weeks.

The R6 maturity or black layer stage marks physiological maturity. This occurs when a small layer of cells at the base of the kernel near where the kernel connects to the cob die and turn black, which marks the end of grain fill from the cob into the developing kernel. Maximum dry matter accumulation has occurred, so any frost or stress event after this stage will have little impact on yield unless harvestability is compromised. Black layer normally forms once milk line has reach the base of the kernel, although significant stress events (extended period of very cool average temperatures, significant defoliation) can result in black layer formation before the milk line has reached the base of the kernel.

Frost Severity

In regards to frost severity, a light frost (ie. 0°C) may damage or kill leaves, but not be cold enough, or last long enough to actually penetrate into the stem and kill the plant. While premature leaf death limits further grain fill from photosynthesis, a living stem can still translocate dry matter to the developing grain to continue to provide some grain fill after a light frost event.

In the event where temperatures are low enough (ie. -2°C), or last long enough to penetrate and kill the entire plant, there is no ability of the plant to continue filling grain, and yield at that point has been fixed.

Any frost event during the blister or milk stage would result in significant grain yield losses as significant grain fill is still yet to occur at these stages.

A light frost event at the dough stage may reduce yields by 35% while a killing frost may reduce yields by 55% (Lauer, 2004).

Yield loss in the dent stage depends on the relative time left to mature. A light frost at the beginning of dent stage may reduce yields by 25% while a killing frost may reduce yields by 40%. During the mid-dent stage, significant dry matter accumulation has occurred, and light and killing frosts may reduce yields around 5% and 10% respectively.

Estimating Time to Maturity

Time required to reach maturity can be estimated by knowing the approximate Crop Heat Units (CHU) required for each reproductive corn stage. A general approximation of CHU required to complete the various R growth stages in corn is presented in Table 1. Scouting corn for the crop stages described above and referring to Table 1 will give an indication of how many CHU are required for the corn crop to reach maturity.



Comparing the estimated CHU required from Table 2 to an estimated number of CHU available until typical first frost date gives an idea of how much CHU would be available in an “average” year, and how close to maturity the crop may be for the average expected first frost date. Typical first killing frost dates based on 30 year climate normal across a selection of locations in the Province are presented in Table 2, while CHU values can be estimated through calculation tables in the Field Scouting chapter of Pub 811 Agronomy Guide for Field Crops, or through other weather information providers such as Farmzone.com or WeatherCentral.ca.

This Report includes data from WIN and Environment Canada
Published in Corn
Bumblebees are less able to start colonies when exposed to a common neonicotinoid pesticide, according to a new University of Guelph study.
Published in Insecticides
Like it or not (and believe in climate change or not), Canada has committed to greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reductions, and the implementation will affect farmers. Part of GHG mitigation will certainly revolve around reducing nitrogen (N) fertilizer losses.

“Farmers already have production challenges with growing crops, and this will add another layer of complexity...We don’t know yet how it is going to impact at the farm level,” says Mario Tenuta, a soil scientist at the University of Manitoba.

Tenuta says agriculture is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and nitrous oxide is the big one for agriculture. The increase in agricultural emissions in Canada is largely related to an increase in nitrogen (N) fertilizer use. In Canada, N fertilizer use has risen five-fold since 1970. In 2009, agriculture in Manitoba, for example, was responsible for 35 per cent of total GHG emissions (excluding fuel and fertilizer production). Fifty per cent of nitrous oxide emissions came from fertilizer and crop residue, and another 27 per cent came from indirect emissions from the soil.

In December 2015, the Manitoba government committed to reduce emissions from 2005 levels by one-third by 2030 and one-half by 2050. The province is committed to being emission neutral by 2080.

“Nobody likes to be a target, but we are. It is happening so what are we going to do about it?” Tenuta says.

4Rs and enhanced efficiency fertilizers
The “4R” nutrient stewardship program focuses on getting the best nutrient use efficiency by using the right source, rate, time of application, and placement of fertilizer. It aims to improve or maintain yield and profitability, while limiting fertilizer loss and providing water and air quality benefits. From a GHG emissions perspective, Tenuta says financial incentives could be used to encourage implementation of the 4Rs to reduce emissions. In 2015 at the Manitoba Agronomist Conference he reviewed current research and outlined how using the 4Rs could reduce GHG emissions.

Two research projects in Manitoba showed how increasing the N fertilizer rate also increased nitrous oxide emissions. In a Carberry, Man., potato crop, nitrous oxide emissions increased linearly as the N rate increased from zero to 240 pounds per acre. The economic rate was about 60 pounds per acre. In another trial in Glenlea, Man., a similar increase in emissions occurred as N rates increased.

“The simple way to reduce emissions was to match application rate to crop uptake,” Tenuta says.

Crop rotation also affected emissions. Nitrogen fixing legumes such as fababean, alfalfa or soybean had little to no nitrous oxide emissions and were fixing N into the cropping system instead of emitting N. Other rate considerations to potentially reduce emissions include using variable rate N, soil testing every year, and better understanding differences in variety and hybrid N requirements.

The second of the 4Rs, placement of fertilizer, also has an impact on emissions. Subsurface banding N fertilizer reduces nitrous oxide emissions, and when enhanced efficiency fertilizers such as environmentally smart nitrogen (ESN) or SuperU fertilizers are banded, reductions are even greater, at 26 per cent less than banded urea.

“Good band closure and coverage of the band is important. We are also looking into band depth, because we are banding more shallow with crops like canola, and we don’t know enough about losses from shallow bands,” Tenuta says.

Another key component of the 4Rs is application timing. Traditional yield estimates based on N application timing showed fall broadcast/incorporated to be 80 per cent of spring broadcast/incorporated, while fall banded was equal to spring broadcast/incorporated, and spring banded was 20 per cent better. However, Tenuta has found very late fall application just before freeze-up doesn’t increase nitrous oxide emissions when compared to spring banded N. Two years of his research comparing fall versus spring anhydrous ammonia application found the spring timing had much greater nitrous oxide emissions.

“Lower emissions from fall application goes contrary to what people thought might happen. Because the soil temperature was very cool, the timing used nature to stabilize the N and freeze it in,” Tenuta says.

Fertilizer source is the final of the 4Rs to take into consideration. With conventional sources of N fertilizer, scientists generally accept that anhydrous ammonia produces the highest emissions, followed by urea, ammonium and nitrate fertilizers. Nitrification – the conversion of ammonium to nitrates – is behind most nitrous oxide emissions from N fertilizer.

The other choices in sources of N fertilizer come from enhanced efficiency fertilizers (EEF). These include stabilized, controlled release, slow release and nutrient blend N products. The goal of these products is to slow the conversion of N fertilizer into forms that are more easily lost through ammonium volatilization, nitrification or denitrification, and to more closely match N availability with crop uptake.

WTCM13.5 EEF mechanismEnhanced efficiency fertilizer mechanism of action. Source: Tenuta, University of Manitoba.

“In the field, the research shows that these EEF products really do work. They tend to provide a larger benefit in wet years,” Tenuta says. “I recommend that you talk to the manufacturer representatives to make sure you are using the right product properly.”

Another source of N that reduces nitrous oxide emissions is legume plowdown as an enhanced efficiency N source. Current research at the U of M has found that, compared to conventional cropping systems with N fertilizer, a legume plowdown results in very little emission.

“You have to estimate if EEF are worth it for your system. For example, if you’re putting more N fertilizer on in the fall to compensate for winter losses, you might be able to put on a EEF in the fall at a reduced N rate and that might pay for the additional cost of the product,” Tenuta says.

He adds that uses of the 4Rs and EEF N products are currently focused on improving yield and N use efficiency for higher profitability. But they can also play a role in reducing nitrous oxide emissions and helping to meet emission reduction targets. Ultimately, if farmers are contributing to emissions reductions, the hope is that they will be compensated for those practices.

Best management practice recommendations to reduce nitrous oxide emissions
• Use the 4Rs – right rate, time, source and placement.
• Optimize N application rates through soil testing, understanding crop requirements and interactions with the other Rs.
• Consider using lower emitting sources of N fertilizer.
• Legume crops emit little nitrous oxide.
• Green manuring limits nitrous oxide emissions.
• Banding works.
• Investigate ways of making EEF products work through reduced N application rates and improved N use efficiency.
• Spring apply N fertilizer unless fall banding can be accomplished shortly before fall freeze-up.

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If you read about neonicotinoids in the news, the context is likely the impact of this class of insecticides on pollinators. But according to Christy Morrissey, an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan, there’s another side of the story that’s been neglected in the mainstream media.

Since 2011, Morrissey has been studying the impact of neonics on Prairie wetlands. More specifically, she’s been charting the extent to which wetlands could be contaminated by neonic residues, and the impacts on invertebrate life that form the basis of the food web, as well as effects on bird populations in those wetlands.

“We were interested in wetlands in the Prairie pothole region because of their ecological significance,” she says. “There’s an obvious interaction between water and agriculture in this region of Canada.”

Morrissey and her graduate students have analyzed hundreds of wetlands in the Prairies, and have bird studies at five sites in a range of landscapes across Saskatchewan. Almost all of these sites are located on private land. Morrissey says most farmers are receptive and interested in her work.

“Most people genuinely think the chemicals they’re using are safe because they’re on the market and they are generally following guidelines as to how to apply them,” she says. “It’s the guidelines that we believe are flawed. They aren’t necessarily as safe as [people] were led to believe they are. They do say you shouldn’t use the chemicals near water, but that isn’t possible in the Prairies.”

Last year, Morrissey co-authored a review paper looking at neonicotinoid use in more than 230 studies to come up with guidelines for safe levels. In Prairie wetlands, she says, the levels routinely exceed guideline levels researchers would set as being safe.

“These compounds are extremely toxic at very, very low levels — 1,000 times more toxic to an insect than DDT [dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane]. At these low levels, and because the compounds stick around for a long time, that is enough to cause effects on native aquatic insects,” she says.

Spring runoff
Anson Main, formerly one of Morrissey’s graduate students, is the lead author on a study released last year looking at spring runoff transport of neonicotinoid insecticides to Prairie wetlands.

Main studied 16 agricultural fields on a single farming operation, each of which had at least one wetland collecting runoff from a surrounding field. He took samples of top and bottom snow, particulate snow and wetland water. “In the wetland water you could be detecting up to 200 nanograms of neonicotinoids per litre, but for meltwater it could be 489 nanograms per litre. The mean was something like 170,” he says.

“Prairie wetlands are 85 to 90 per cent formed by snowmelt, so these pothole wetlands were accumulating this runoff,” he explains. “Meltwater is scouring the surfaces of the fields where there is some residual insecticides that are persisting. In the spring, the residues are being washed in as these basins are filling with water.”

Depending on the chemical, the half-life of some neonicotinoids (including clothianidin) is about three years, Morrissey says. Neonics are highly water-soluble and re-mobilize when water pools.

Francois Messier is the owner of a 10,000-acre farm near Saskatoon, where Main conducted the study. He grows canola and cereals (including barley, wheat and oat), of which only canola seed is treated with neonicotinoid insecticide.

Messier, once a wildlife ecologist at the University of Saskatchewan, now makes his operation available to university collaborators for studies such as Main’s.

For Messier, the use of neonicotinoids is unavoidable when it comes to canola. “The impact of flea beetles could be so devastating,” he says. “The average seed cost is about $75 per acre, and you don’t want to lose the crop right off the bat. I don’t think there is an alternative to using insecticide.”

But Messier says a distinction must be made between canola systems and cereal systems. He believes neonics are used preventatively against wireworms in cereal crops but in most cases are unnecessary. “I never use any insecticidal seed treatment on my cereal seed, and I would put my yield against anyone else’s in my neighbourhood,” he says.

Real-farm implications
Morrissey says the biggest take-away from the research is that neonicotinoid insecticides should never be used as an “insurance policy” due to the potential long-term negative effects, such as the development of resistance. “A, it’s expensive,” she says. “And B, it’s a toxic chemical that is environmentally concerning.”

Over the next few years, Morrissey hopes to connect the research community with farmers in the Prairie pothole region in a new “resilient agriculture” project that will develop and implement sustainable practices at a field scale. The project will aim to find strategies to keep crop yields high and environmental impacts low, with farmers as the key decision-makers.

“The information farmers are getting is almost all from seed and chemical companies that are selling them a product,” Morrissey says. “That’s not all the information out there.

“The word hasn’t gotten out to producers as much as I would like. They need to know this information more than anyone,” she adds.

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Published in Corporate News
Timely information about drought conditions can help agricultural producers, agribusiness, government planners and policy-makers, emergency preparedness agencies and others to better plan for and proactively respond to drought. The Canadian Drought Monitor tracks a wide range of drought-related information and boils it all down to easy-to-understand, online monthly maps.

“The Canadian Drought Monitor is kind of an early warning system. It provides a clear picture of what is occurring in near real-time. We’re tracking drought conditions continuously so that we know where we’re at and we can respond quicker to problems,” explains Trevor Hadwen, an agroclimate specialist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). AAFC leads the Canadian Drought Monitor initiative, working in close collaboration with Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada.

He notes, “There is a very large process around developing the Drought Monitor maps that is unique to this particular product. It is not as simple as feeding climate data into a computer and having it spit out a map.” That’s because drought is difficult to measure. It can creep up on people as the cumulative effects of ongoing dry conditions gradually mount up. Its effects are often spread over broad areas. And different groups define drought conditions differently, depending on their interests and needs.

So, the Canadian Drought Monitor draws together diverse information like precipitation amounts, water storage levels, and river flow amounts, as well as information about drought impacts on people. And it combines various drought indicators used by the agriculture, forestry and water management sectors into a single composite indicator.

“All that information is put together to create one easy-to-read map product, with just five classes of drought or dryness. Users can get a very clear picture of the areal extent and severity of the drought with one look at the map,” Hadwen says.

Drought classification
The five drought classes are: D0, abnormally dry – an event that occurs once every three to five years; D1, moderate drought – an event that occurs every five to 10 years; D2, severe drought – an event that occurs every 10 to 20 years; D3, extreme drought – an event that occurs every 20 to 25 years; and D4, exceptional drought – an event that occurs every 50 years. The monthly maps are available in an interactive form that allows users to see the changes in drought location, extent and severity over time.

The Canadian Drought Monitor provides useful information for people in many sectors. Hadwen gives some examples: “For agriculture, the information helps with things like where people might want to market grains, where there might be shortages, where there might be areas of good pasture, where livestock reductions might be taking place, all those types of things. The information is also very valuable outside of agriculture, in terms of water supplies, recreational use, forest fires – the list can go on for quite a while.”

The Canadian Drought Monitor maps feed into the North American Drought Monitor maps. “The North American Drought Monitor initiative started about 12 years ago. The U.S. had been doing the U.S. Drought Monitor project for a number of years, and Mexico and Canada were interested in doing similar projects,” Hadwen notes. “So we joined forces to create a Drought Monitor for the continent.” All three countries use the same procedures to monitor, analyze and present drought-related information.

The continent-wide collaboration provides a couple of big benefits. “Number one, drought doesn’t stop at the borders,” he says. The North American initiative provides an integrated view of drought conditions across the continent.

“Also, the Drought Monitor is extremely powerful in terms of the partnerships that have developed and the linkages to some of the best scientists in North America. We share ideas and build off each other, developing better and more accurate ways of assessing drought. We can utilize some of the information generated from U.S. agencies, like NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and the National Drought Mitigation Center, and agencies in Mexico. This collaboration effort helps increase the efficiency of the science and the technical aspect of drought monitoring.”

According to Hadwen, the continental collaboration has been really helpful in building Canadian agroclimate monitoring capacity. “Over the last decade or so we have certainly matured a lot, and we’ve started to develop some really interesting tools and applications for Canadian producers and agricultural businesses to help deal with some of the climate threats to the farming industry, including droughts, floods, and everything else,” Hadwen says.

AAFC’s Drought Watch website (agr.gc.ca/drought) provides access to the Canadian Drought Monitor maps and to 
other agroclimate tools such as maps showing current and past information on precipitation, temperature and various drought indices, and the Agroclimate Impact Reporter (scroll down for "When complaining about the weather makes a difference").

 WTCJune16 drought

When complaining about the weather makes a difference
If you love to talk about the weather's impacts on your farming operation, the Agroclimate Impact Reporter (AIR) could be for you. If you want your comments about these impacts to make a difference, then AIR is definitely for you. And if you want to find out how the weather is impacting agriculture in your rural municipality, your province, or anywhere in Canada, then AIR is also for you.

AIR is a cool online tool developed by AAFC that grew out of a previous program to collect information on some drought impacts. "We have had a program in place to monitor forage production and farm water supplies in the Prairies for well over 15 years. Then about three years ago, we started to develop a tool to replace that program – a tool that would be national in scope and that could gather information on a whole range of agroclimate impacts," Hadwen explains.

AIR taps into a volunteer network of producers, AAFC staff, agribusiness people and others. "We use crowd-source data for this, gathering information from a whole wide variety of people. Some of them we know through our registered network, and others have a subscription to our email box and provide comments to us on a monthly basis," he says.

"We're trying to gather as much information from as many people as possible on how weather is impacting their farming operations. We ask the participants to do a short [anonymous] monthly survey, usually about 25 quick multiple choice questions, to let us know how things are going."

AIR is collecting impact information in several categories including: drought, excess moisture, heat stress, frost, and severe weather (like tornadoes and hail storms).

"We plot that information and produce a whole bunch of individual maps showing very subject-specific information from each survey question," Hadwen notes. "We also have a searchable online geographic database. On a map of Canada, you can zoom in on different regions and see where we're getting reports of a large number of impacts or not as many impacts. You can even drill down into that map and see the exact comments that we are getting from [the different types of respondents, in each rural municipality]."

The information collected through AIR provides important additional insights into the weather conditions and related issues and risks. He says, "Sometimes the data we have in Canada isn't as fulsome as we would like, and sometimes it doesn't tell the whole story. For instance, the data [from weather stations in a particular area] might show that it didn't rain for a very long period and the area is in a very bad drought, but the producers in the area are telling us that they got some timely rains through that dry period that helped their crops continue to grow. Or, the data might show that we received a lot of rain in a season – like we did in 2015, if you look at the overall trend – but the farmers are telling us that there were big problems in the spring. So, combining both those types of information certainly helps draw the whole story together a little better."

AIR information feeds into the Canadian Drought Monitor to help in assessing the severity of drought conditions. As well, the AAFC's Agroclimate group incorporates AIR information into its regular updates to AAFC's Minister and senior policy people; it helps them to better understand what is happening on the land, and that knowledge can help in developing policies and targeting programs.

Information from AIR is also valuable for businesses that work with producers, such as railroad companies wondering about regional crop yields and where to place their rail cars, and agricultural input companies wondering if they need to bring in extra feed or fertilizer.

AAFC is in the process building AIR into a national program. "We want to collect agroclimate impact information from right across the country. We have a history in the Prairie region, so we have more Prairie producers providing information. We've made inroads into B.C., so we're getting some reports from there already," Hadwen says. "[Now] we're going out to Atlantic Canada and Ontario. And over the next couple of years, we'll be expanding AIR right across the country."

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer AIR reporter, visit www.agr.gc.ca/air.


This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of
Top Crop Manager West.
Published in Business Management
New herbicide technology, carefully applied and coupled with managing modes of action, is Ontario’s best hope for winning the war against what is arguably the worst broadleaf weed in Canada today.
Published in Weeds
Results from a flurry of studies over the past decade indicate certain plant-associated bacteria and other biological particles can play a part in ice formation in clouds, leading to precipitation. One possible implication is that in the future, farmers might grow specific crops to produce those particles in order to increase rainfall in drought-affected areas – although many questions would need to be answered before this could become a reality.
Published in Corporate News
Cover crops long have been touted for their ability to reduce erosion, fix atmospheric nitrogen, reduce nitrogen leaching and improve soil health, but they also may play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change on agriculture, according to a Penn State researcher.

Cover crops comparable to no-till
Climate-change mitigation and adaptation may be additional, important ecosystem services provided by cover crops, said Jason Kaye, professor of soil biogeochemistry in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State. He suggested that the climate-change mitigation potential of cover crops is significant, comparable to other practices, such as no-till.

"Many people have been promoting no-till as a climate-mitigation tool, so finding that cover crops are comparable to no-till means there is another valuable tool in the toolbox for agricultural climate mitigation," he said.

In a recent issue of Agronomy for Sustainable Development, Kaye contends that cover cropping can be an adaptive management tool to maintain yields and minimize nitrogen losses as the climate warms.

Collaborating with Miguel Quemada in the Department of Agriculture Production at the Technical University of Madrid in Spain, Kaye reviewed cover-cropping initiatives in Pennsylvania and central Spain. He said that lessons learned from cover cropping in those contrasting regions show that the strategy has merit in a warming world.

Conclusions
The researchers concluded that cover-crop effects on greenhouse-gas fluxes typically mitigate warming by 100-150 grams of carbon per square meter per year, which is comparable to, and perhaps higher than, mitigation from transitioning to no-till. The key ways that cover crops mitigate climate change from greenhouse-gas fluxes are by increasing soil carbon sequestration and reducing fertilizer use after legume cover crops.

"Perhaps most significant, the surface albedo change (the proportion of energy from sunlight reflecting off of farm fields due to cover cropping) calculated for the first time in our review using case-study sites in central Spain and Pennsylvania, may mitigate 12 to 46 grams of carbon per square meter per year over a 100-year time horizon," Kaye wrote.

"Cover crop management also can enable climate-change adaptation at these case-study sites, especially through reduced vulnerability to erosion from extreme rain events, increased soil-water management options during droughts or periods of soil saturation, and retention of nitrogen mineralized due to warming," he said.

Not a primary management practice
Despite the benefits, Kaye is not necessarily advocating that cover crops be planted primarily for the purposes of climate-change mitigation or adaptation. Instead, he thinks the most important conclusion from his analysis is that there appear to be few compromises between traditional benefits of cover cropping and the benefits for climate change.

"Farmers and policymakers can expect cover cropping simultaneously to benefit soil quality, water quality and climate-change adaptation and mitigation," he wrote.

"Overall, we found very few tradeoffs between cover cropping and climate-change mitigation and adaptation, suggesting that ecosystem services that are traditionally expected from cover cropping can be promoted synergistically with services related to climate change."
Published in Corporate News
A task force charged with reducing levels of toxic algae suspected of killing several dogs that swam in Quamichan Lake is hoping barley will do the trick.

According to North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure, when mixed into the lake, the bacterial properties of barley consumes the phosphorus that blue-green algae thrive on. | READ MORE
Published in Corporate News
Wood scientist Solace Sam-Brew envisions a future where Canadian homes are furnished with products from flax and hemp.

“Both flax and hemp are widely available in Canada, especially in the West,” said Sam-Brew, a recent PhD graduate from the University of British Columbia’s faculty of forestry. “It’s worth considering their viability as alternative raw materials to wood for particleboard production.”

Particleboards are used in products like countertops, shelves and flat-packed furniture. For her PhD, supervised by professor Gregory Smith, Sam-Brew evaluated the characteristics of flax and hemp residues. She determined their physical and mechanical board properties by soaking and breaking hundreds of particleboards to test their strength and durability.

While Sam-Brew found flax and hemp residues were technically better, she hit one snag. The current economics of manufacturing flax and hemp particleboards in Canada are too high for it to flourish as a competitive material.

“The resin, or glue, needed to produce flax and hemp particleboard is a financial barrier,” she said. Resin holds the particles in the board together and flax and hemp products use expensive resin, called pMDI, as the substitute for cheap urea-formaldehyde.

Sam-Brew was able to show in her PhD research that the amount of resin needed for flax and hemp particleboards could be reduced, which would help lower the cost. Substituting lignin, a plant binder, for a portion of the pMDI resin, could also reduce the cost.

According to Sam-Brew, a burgeoning niche market for flax and hemp particleboards exists in Europe. Decades of flax and hemp processing there and the number of companies in business have led to more competitive pricing.

Sam-Brew said the business case for a similar industry in Canada lies in a facility willing to take a chance on the sustainable alternative considering the growing competition for wood residue. Wood residue is wood waste from sawmills and joinery manufacturers, like wood chips, shavings, sawdust and trims, all highly sought after for use by multiple industries, including biofuel, pellet, pulp and paper.

“They’re all fighting over one resource, which can sometimes be in short supply,” said Sam-Brew. “If a company has to travel long distances to collect the wood waste they need to make their products, that costs them money. The particleboard industry could benefit from using non-wood resources if the price is right.”

For now, flax and hemp particleboard production is at a standstill in Canada. But Sam-Brew remains optimistic.

“Flax and hemp particleboards are lighter than wood,” she said. “The downstream impacts of making a lighter product could mean faster production rates and significant energy and transportation savings.”

“The economics don’t look good now, but they could later.”
Published in Corporate News
Although many people have suggested that higher carbon dioxide levels would benefit crops, a recent model offers a less optimistic prediction.

Researchers tested the effects of increased CO2 and warmer temperatures on plant water use. Although increased carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures generally improve photosynthesis, in these experiments the researchers found that pores on plant leaves, known as the stomata, were predicted to narrow in these conditions, reducing the amount of moisture plants release into the air.

Although this change may mean some plants are more efficient in their water use in some arid regions, overall this change in plant physiology will have its own climate effects, resulting in less rainfall in some regions, damaging plants and crop yields, says Qianlai Zhuang, professor of earth and atmospheric science at Purdue University.

“This study reveals that while increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide can directly strengthen plant uptake of CO2, it can also reduce plant transpiration, influence global precipitation patterns, and increase warming locally,” he says.

In many terrestrial ecosystems, precipitation is from water recycled to the atmosphere by plants upwind, affecting both precipitation and temperatures, says coauthor Lisa Welp, assistant professor of biogeochemistry in the department of earth, atmospheric, and planetary Sciences.

“The role that terrestrial vegetation plays in rainfall recycling on land is often simplified or overlooked, but it’s a key player in determining regional precipitation patterns and, therefore, productivity in water-limited ecosystems,” Welp says.

“If some plants reduce their transfer of water to the atmosphere by reducing transpiration rates, this results in regional declines in precipitation. It also results in local heating because evaporating water from plant leaves acts like an air conditioner, keeping surface temperatures cooler.”

Overall, the effect is strong enough that there is no net increase in global agricultural production, Zhuang says. In fact, as carbon dioxide increases globally, the modeling showed that plant life in most regions of the world suffers considerably due to rising temperatures and decreased precipitation.

“You cannot look at just one effect in isolation, such as photosynthesis, and make a determination of how it will affect global crop production,” Zhuang says. “There are both direct and indirect effects, and both should be considered.”

Atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased from 280 parts per million before the Industrial Age, which began in the late 1700s, to the current level above 400 parts per million.

Zhuang and graduate student Peng Zhu devised six model experiments using historic climate data from 1850 to 2011. They found that although a few areas would see improved plant growth – including parts of Canada, most of Madagascar, and the southern tip of India – other regions on the planet would suffer.

“This study indicates that the net CO2 fertilization effect will be overestimated unless vegetation-climate feedback effects are taken into account,” Zhu says.
Published in Corporate News
As farmers struggle with a shifting climate, a group of scientists are drilling down to the heart of the matter: crop genetics.

Some scientists say the solution could lie in crops' DNA and are making “gene catalogs” to help farmers grow healthier produce that can withstand climate change. | READ MORE
Published in Corporate News

While drones have a foothold in the game of precision agriculture, some researchers are toying with the idea of using them as pollinators as well. 

Researchers ordered a small drone online and souped it up with a strip of fuzz made from a horsehair paintbrush covered in a sticky gel. The device is about the size of a hummingbird, and has four spinning blades to keep it soaring. With enough practice, the scientists were able to maneuver the remote-controlled bot so that only the bristles, and not the bulky body or blades, brushed gently against a flower’s stamen to collect pollen – in this case, a wild lily (Lilium japonicum). To ensure the hairs collect pollen efficiently, the researchers covered them with ionic liquid gel (ILG), a sticky substance with a long-lasting “lift-and-stick-again” adhesive quality – perfect for taking pollen from one flower to the next. What’s more, the ILG mixture has another quality: When light hits it, it blends in with the color of its surroundings, potentially camouflaging the bot from would-be predators. | READ MORE

Canada remains involved for the third-installment of the Global Youth Agriculture Summit, taking place October 9 to 13, 2017 in Brussels, Belgium. Four young leaders will represent Canada – two of which will be current members or alumni of 4-H Canada. About 100 young delegates from around the world will share ideas, develop solutions and engage in an open discussion on one of the world’s most challenging questions: How do we feed a hungry planet sustainably?
Published in Corporate News
Fushan Liu never expected the sight that greeted him last year in his lab at the University of Guelph: arabidopsis plants grown two and a half times their normal size.

As a postdoc at the University of Guelph’s College of Biological Science, Liu had been working on a project transforming starch branching enzymes (SBEs) from maize into arabidopsis plants. For weeks, he’d been analyzing the interesting effects of the maize SBEs on the arabidopsis plants’ starch pathways. Then one day he realized the plants he’d been working on had grown much larger than the control plants. Not only that, but there were also far more seedpods, and their leaf and root systems were bigger, too.

“That was the beginning – I saw a really big arabidopsis plant and thought, let’s take a picture. Something has happened biologically,” Liu says.

He showed the photo to his supervisors, Guelph professors Michael Emes and Ian Tetlow. 

“We’d found some interesting effects on the starch, and had done all sorts of measurements,” Emes echoes. “And then one day we stood back and looked at the plants, and we finally saw the wood for the trees. We saw these plants were really different.”

A healthy plant from a typical arabidopsis line normally bears about 11,000 seeds; the new plants bore 50,000 seeds per plant – a more than 400-per-cent increase in seed production. 

“The plants were bigger, the leaves were bigger, there were more stems, there was more flowering and more seed,” Emes says. “It’s not just that there were a lot more seeds, there was a lot more of everything. 

“It was one of those serendipitous events in science. If you’d asked me to produce a plant with more seeds I would have said you couldn’t get there from here,” he adds.

Liu’s focus had been on trying to analyze how the SBEs’ functions changed in arabidopsis leaves, but after this discovery his focus changed to studying the impact on seed yield and biomass, comparing transformed plants with wild-type arabidopsis plants. Importantly, the quality of the oil remained the same as for the non-transgenic plants.

The team published their findings this spring in the Arabidopsis is not a starch crop, but an oilseed genetically similar to canola, so the obvious application of the finding is in breeding higher-yielding oilseed crops for biofuels. Emes and Tetlow have already begun preliminary work with canola, but also foresee potential applications in camelina, soybeans and other crops.

While the dramatic increase in seed production might not occur as easily in canola as in arabidopsis, Liu says even a tenth of the effect would still mean an increase of 40 per cent – a substantial impact on yield.

“This is orders of magnitude different than conventional breeding,” Emes says.

But what, exactly, is going on in the plants?

The good times are here
Emes has a theory that the starch metabolism in the transformants has improved the plants’ ability to grow and reproduce. 

The team is working on two lines using two starch genes from maize. In one of the new lines, there is a massive increase of starch in the leaves, which the plant breaks down overnight. In the other line, there is a bigger impact on yield; there is still an increase in starch in the leaves, but it doesn’t all break down at night, leaving a carbohydrate reserve.

“We know that carbohydrates, during seed development, come from the leaf through the vascular system and into the reproductive system. These are important to flower development and what’s called embryo abortion – the plant makes a kind of ‘decision’ on whether or not to produce seeds,” Emes explains. “Flower and seed production is limited by the supply of carbohydrates. So these plants are now saying, ‘The good times are here, let’s go for it.’ ”

Emes suspects that the wild type arabidopsis plant has an endogenous mechanism that constrains growth because it’s genetically evolved to always keep something in reserve. But in the transgenic plants, the brakes have been taken off. 

If the scientists can crack the code on the maize SBEs’ effect on oilseeds, Emes sees potential applications for feedstock and oil for human consumption, as well as biofuels. He is currently seeking public and private funding to continue the project in canola.

Liu, now a regulatory scientist for the J.R. Simplot Company, says much more work is required to improve seed quality as well as yield in future breeding projects. “If you want to improve quality, if you want to improve omega-3 fatty acid or other special fatty acid content, for now I don’t have any insight on how you can improve those things, from this study,” he says. “At least, from the analysis of the arabidopsis you don’t see a change in these properties – you just get higher yields.”

But Liu is optimistic about the future applications of his work. “Genes are so powerful,” he says. “One small change could be a potential opportunity for dramatically improving crops.”
Published in Plant Breeding
Does no-till increase the concentration of phosphorus in tile drainage water? That’s the question researchers set out to answer with plots on three farms in southern Ontario.

Despite efforts to reduce phosphorus levels in freshwater lakes in North America, phosphorus loads to lakes such as Lake Erie are still increasing, resulting in harmful algal blooms. This has led to increased pressure to reduce phosphorus from non-point sources such as agriculture.

While no-till has long been touted for its ability to reduce phosphorus (P) losses in field run-off by minimizing the amount of phosphorus leaving farm fields attached to soil particles, recent research raised concerns that phosphorus levels in tile drainage from no-till fields were higher than from conventionally tilled fields.
A group of long-time no-till farmers, called the ANSWERS group, wanted to see if this was the case on their own farms under their management practices. The farmers approached the government and researchers in order to set up a scientific study.

Funding came from Environment Canada’s Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Fund, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the Agricultural Adaptation Council’s Farm Innovation Fund and the Grain Farmers of Ontario. “It was a collaboration between researchers, farmers and government,” says Merrin Macrae, a researcher from the University of Waterloo. Macrae was involved in the project, along with Ivan O’Halloran, University of Guelph (Ridgetown), and Mike English, Wilfrid Laurier University.

The results were good news for farmers who have adopted no-till. There were no significant differences in the P losses between any of the tillage treatments, Macrae says.

The multiple-site, multiple-year project took place from 2011 to 2014 on farm fields near St. Marys and Innisfil under a corn-soybean-wheat rotation. A modified no-till system had been in place at both locations for several years prior to the study. This system is a predominantly no-till system but with some shallow tillage at one point during the three-year crop rotation, for example, following winter wheat. This tillage system is referred to in the study as reduced till (RT); the other two tillage systems in the comparison were strict no-till (NT) and annual disk till (AT) treatments.

Tile water was monitored for three years for each of the tillage treatments. The tile drains were intercepted at the field edge (below ground) to capture edge-of-field losses at each study plot. Discrete water samples were collected from each tile using automated water samplers triggered by tile run-off. The weather was also monitored.

Tillage type did not affect either the dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) or total phosphorus (TP) concentrations or loads in tile drainage. Both run-off and phosphorus export were episodic across all plots and most annual losses occurred during a few key events under heavy precipitation and snow melt events during the fall, winter and early spring, Macrae explains. The study shows the importance of crop management practices, especially during the non-growing season, she says.

Both tile drainage flow and phosphorus losses were lower than the researchers expected, Macrae says. Previous studies suggested about 40 per cent of precipitation leaves cropland in tile lines but in this study that proportion was significantly lower.

Macrae admits the researchers were surprised there wasn’t more dissolved phosphorus in the tile drainage water from the NT and RT sites due to the increased presence of macropores and worm holes. However, she points out that these farmers also use best management practices (BMPs) for phosphorus application in addition to using a reduced tillage system. For example, the farmers apply only the amount of phosphorus that the crop will remove. The phosphorus fertilizer is also banded below the surface instead of being surface-applied.

Macrae believes soil type also plays a role in the amount of dissolved phosphorus leaving farm fields in tile lines. “These sites were not on clay soils,” she says. “Clay soils are more prone to cracking, which could lead to higher phosphorus concentrations in tile lines.”

The research highlights the importance of bundling BMPs, Macrae emphasizes. “It’s not just tillage. Farmers should adopt a 4R’s approach: right source, right rate, right time, right place.”
Macrae also says farmers should do what they can to ensure nutrients stay in place, such as maintaining good soil health, using grassed waterways, riparian buffer strips and water and sediment control basins (WASCoBs) where needed, and carefully choosing when and how to apply nutrients.

“Since most of the water movement occurred during the non-growing season, the study showed the importance of how fields are left in winter and why it is important to not spread manure in winter,” she says.

The variability of rainfall intensity, duration and timing will also impact phosphorus losses, she adds.

In future, Macrae hopes to study the impact of tillage on phosphorus losses from clay soils as well as the impact of other management practices such as manure application and cover crops.
Published in Tillage
A global ban on genetically modified crops would raise food prices and add the equivalent of nearly a billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, a study by researchers from Purdue University shows.
Published in Consumer Issues

Timely information about drought conditions can help agricultural producers, agribusiness, government planners and policy-makers, emergency preparedness agencies and others to better plan for and proactively respond to drought. The Canadian Drought Monitor tracks a wide range of drought-related information and boils it all down to easy-to-understand, online monthly maps.

“The Canadian Drought Monitor is kind of an early warning system. It provides a clear picture of what is occurring in near real-time. We’re tracking drought conditions continuously so that we know where we’re at and we can respond quicker to problems,” explains Trevor Hadwen, an agroclimate specialist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). AAFC leads the Canadian Drought Monitor initiative, working in close collaboration with Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada.

He notes, “There is a very large process around developing the Drought Monitor maps that is unique to this particular product. It is not as simple as feeding climate data into a computer and having it spit out a map.” That’s because drought is difficult to measure. It can creep up on people as the cumulative effects of ongoing dry conditions gradually mount up. Its effects are often spread over broad areas. And different groups define drought conditions differently, depending on their interests and needs.

So, the Canadian Drought Monitor draws together diverse information like precipitation amounts, water storage levels, and river flow amounts, as well as information about drought impacts on people. And it combines various drought indicators used by the agriculture, forestry and water management sectors into a single composite indicator.

“All that information is put together to create one easy-to-read map product, with just five classes of drought or dryness. Users can get a very clear picture of the areal extent and severity of the drought with one look at the map,” Hadwen says.

The five drought classes are: D0, abnormally dry – an event that occurs once every three to five years; D1, moderate drought – an event that occurs every five to 10 years; D2, severe drought – an event that occurs every 10 to 20 years; D3, extreme drought – an event that occurs every 20 to 25 years; and D4, exceptional drought – an event that occurs every 50 years. The monthly maps are available in an interactive form that allows users to see the changes in drought location, extent and severity over time.

The Canadian Drought Monitor provides useful information for people in many sectors. Hadwen gives some examples: “For agriculture, the information helps with things like where people might want to market grains, where there might be shortages, where there might be areas of good pasture, where livestock reductions might be taking place, all those types of things. The information is also very valuable outside of agriculture, in terms of water supplies, recreational use, forest fires – the list can go on for quite a while.”

The Canadian Drought Monitor maps feed into the North American Drought Monitor maps. “The North American Drought Monitor initiative started about 12 years ago. The U.S. had been doing the U.S. Drought Monitor project for a number of years, and Mexico and Canada were interested in doing similar projects,” Hadwen notes. “So we joined forces to create a Drought Monitor for the continent.” All three countries use the same procedures to monitor, analyze and present drought-related information.

The continent-wide collaboration provides a couple of big benefits. “Number one, drought doesn’t stop at the borders,” he says. The North American initiative provides an integrated view of drought conditions across the continent.

“Also, the Drought Monitor is extremely powerful in terms of the partnerships that have developed and the linkages to some of the best scientists in North America. We share ideas and build off each other, developing better and more accurate ways of assessing drought. We can utilize some of the information generated from U.S. agencies, like NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and the National Drought Mitigation Center, and agencies in Mexico. This collaboration effort helps increase the efficiency of the science and the technical aspect of drought monitoring.”

According to Hadwen, the continental collaboration has been really helpful in building Canadian agroclimate monitoring capacity. “Over the last decade or so we have certainly matured a lot, and we’ve started to develop some really interesting tools and applications for Canadian producers and agricultural businesses to help deal with some of the climate threats to the farming industry, including droughts, floods, and everything else,” Hadwen says.

AAFC’s Drought Watch website (agr.gc.ca/drought) provides access to the Canadian Drought Monitor maps and to
other agroclimate tools such as maps showing current and past information on precipitation, temperature and various drought indices, and the Agroclimate Impact Reporter (scroll down to see sidebar).

 WTCJune16 drought

 

WHEN COMPLAINING ABOUT THE WEATHER MAKES A DIFFERENCE

If you love to talk about the weather's impacts on your farming operation, the Agroclimate Impact Reporter (AIR) could be for you. If you want your comments about these impacts to make a difference, then AIR is definitely for you. And if you want to find out how the weather is impacting agriculture in your rural municipality, your province, or anywhere in Canada, then AIR is also for you.

AIR is a cool online tool developed by AAFC that grew out of a previous program to collect information on some drought impacts. "We have had a program in place to monitor forage production and farm water supplies in the Prairies for well over 15 years. Then about three years ago, we started to develop a tool to replace that program – a tool that would be national in scope and that could gather information on a whole range of agroclimate impacts," Hadwen explains.

AIR taps into a volunteer network of producers, AAFC staff, agribusiness people and others. "We use crowd-source data for this, gathering information from a whole wide variety of people. Some of them we know through our registered network, and others have a subscription to our email box and provide comments to us on a monthly basis," he says.

"We're trying to gather as much information from as many people as possible on how weather is impacting their farming operations. We ask the participants to do a short [anonymous] monthly survey, usually about 25 quick multiple choice questions, to let us know how things are going."

AIR is collecting impact information in several categories including: drought, excess moisture, heat stress, frost, and severe weather (like tornadoes and hail storms).

"We plot that information and produce a whole bunch of individual maps showing very subject-specific information from each survey question," Hadwen notes. "We also have a searchable online geographic database. On a map of Canada, you can zoom in on different regions and see where we're getting reports of a large number of impacts or not as many impacts. You can even drill down into that map and see the exact comments that we are getting from [the different types of respondents, in each rural municipality]."

The information collected through AIR provides important additional insights into the weather conditions and related issues and risks. He says, "Sometimes the data we have in Canada isn't as fulsome as we would like, and sometimes it doesn't tell the whole story. For instance, the data [from weather stations in a particular area] might show that it didn't rain for a very long period and the area is in a very bad drought, but the producers in the area are telling us that they got some timely rains through that dry period that helped their crops continue to grow. Or, the data might show that we received a lot of rain in a season – like we did in 2015, if you look at the overall trend – but the farmers are telling us that there were big problems in the spring. So, combining both those types of information certainly helps draw the whole story together a little better."

AIR information feeds into the Canadian Drought Monitor to help in assessing the severity of drought conditions. As well, the AAFC's Agroclimate group incorporates AIR information into its regular updates to AAFC's Minister and senior policy people; it helps them to better understand what is happening on the land, and that knowledge can help in developing policies and targeting programs.

Information from AIR is also valuable for businesses that work with producers, such as railroad companies wondering about regional crop yields and where to place their rail cars, and agricultural input companies wondering if they need to bring in extra feed or fertilizer.

AAFC is in the process building AIR into a national program. "We want to collect agroclimate impact information from right across the country. We have a history in the Prairie region, so we have more Prairie producers providing information. We've made inroads into B.C., so we're getting some reports from there already," Hadwen says. "[Now] we're going out to Atlantic Canada and Ontario. And over the next couple of years, we'll be expanding AIR right across the country."

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer AIR reporter, visit www.agr.gc.ca/air.

 

 

Published in Business Management

May 12, 2016 - With farming season soon to be underway, a research group is looking for canola to help with their study.

Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI) researchers are hoping to further pursue a study they began in 2014 by monitoring canola used for summer storage.

READ MORE.

 

Published in Corporate News

Apr. 26, 2016 - Honey bee colonies in the United States are in decline, due in part to the ill effects of voracious mites, fungal gut parasites and a wide variety of debilitating viruses. Researchers from the University of Maryland (UMD) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently completed the first comprehensive, multi-year study of honey bee parasites and disease as part of the National Honey Bee Disease Survey. The findings reveal some alarming patterns, but provide at least a few pieces of good news as well.

The results, published online in the journal Apidologie on April 20, 2016, provide an important five-year baseline against which to track future trends. Key findings show that the varroa mite, a major honey bee pest, is far more abundant than previous estimates indicated and is closely linked to several damaging viruses. Also, the results show that the previously rare Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus has skyrocketed in prevalence since it was first detected by the survey in 2010.

The good news, however, is that three potentially damaging exotic species have not yet been introduced into the United States: the parasitic tropilaelaps mite, the Asian honey bee Apis cerana and slow bee paralysis virus.

"Poor honey bee health has gained a lot of attention from scientists and the media alike in recent years. However, our study is the first systematic survey to establish disease baselines, so that we can track changes in disease prevalence over time," said Kirsten Traynor, a postdoctoral researcher in entomology at UMD and lead author on the study. "It highlights some troubling trends and indicates that parasites strongly influence viral prevalence."

The results, based on a survey of beekeepers and samples from bee colonies in 41 states and two territories (Puerto Rico and Guam), span five seasons from 2009 through 2014. The study looked at two major parasites that affect honey bees: the varroa mite and nosema, a fungal parasite that disrupts a bee's digestive system. The study found clear annual trends in the prevalence of both parasites, with varroa infestations peaking in late summer or early fall and nosema peaking in late winter.

The study also found notable differences in the prevalence of varroa and nosema between migratory and stationary beehives. Migratory beekeepers -- those who truck their hives across the country every summer to pollinate a variety of crops -- reported lower levels of varroa compared with stationary beekeepers, whose hives stay put year-round. However, the reverse was true for nosema, with a lower relative incidence of nosema infection reported by stationary beekeepers.

Additionally, more than 50 per cent of all beekeeping operations sampled had high levels of varroa infestation at the beginning of winter -- a crucial time when colonies are producing long-lived winter bees that must survive on stored pollen and honey.

"Our biggest surprise was the high level of varroa, especially in fall, and in well-managed colonies cared for by beekeepers who have taken steps to control the mites," said study co-author Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an assistant professor of entomology at UMD. "We knew that varroa was a problem, but it seems to be an even bigger problem than we first thought. Moreover, varroa's ability to spread viruses presents a more dire situation than we suspected."

For years, evidence has pointed to varroa mites as a culprit in the spread of viruses, vanEngelsdorp noted. Until now, however, much of this evidence came from lab-based studies. The current study provides crucial field-based validation of the link between varroa and viruses.

"We know that varroa acts as a vector for viruses. The mites are basically dirty hypodermic needles," Traynor said. "The main diet for the mites is blood from the developing bee larva. When the bee emerges, the mites move on to the nearest larval cell, bringing viruses with them. Varroa can also spread viruses between colonies. When a bee feeds on a flower, mites can jump from one bee to another and infect a whole new colony."

Nosema, the fungal gut parasite, appears to have a more nuanced relationship with honey bee viruses. Nosema infection strongly correlates to the prevalence of Lake Sinai Virus 2, first identified in 2013, and also raises the risk for Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. However, the researchers found an inverse relationship between nosema and Deformed Wing Virus.

Some viruses do not appear to be associated with varroa or nosema at all. One example is Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus, which causes loss of motor control and can kill individual bees within days. This virus was first detected by the survey in the U.S. in 2010. At that time, less than one per cent of all samples submitted for study tested positive for the virus. Since then, the virus' prevalence roughly doubled every year, reaching 16 per cent in 2014.

"Prior to this national survey, we lacked the epidemiological baselines of disease prevalence in honey bees. Similar information has been available for years for the cattle, pork and chicken industries," Traynor said. "I think people who get into beekeeping need to know that it requires maintenance. You wouldn't get a dog and not take it to the vet, for example. People need to know what is going on with the livestock they're managing."

While parasites and disease are huge factors in declining honey bee health, there are other contributors as well. Pesticides, for example, have been implicated in the decline of bee colonies across the country.

"Our next step is to provide a similar baseline assessment for the effects of pesticides," vanEngelsdorp said. "We have multiple years of data and as soon as we've finished the analyses, we'll be ready to tell that part of the story as well."

 

 

Published in Emerging Trends
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