Posts Tagged ‘integrated pest management’

The use of some toxic pesticides may be warranted.

Not all pesticides are created equal and some, as we all know, are more toxic than others. The EPA has been reviewing the data on many of the older pesticide categories for some time now and using new guidelines to determine if their uses are still safe.

One active ingredient that is going through this process is Chlorpyrifos. Because of its high mammalian toxicity it is getting a good review. The EPA has made some changes to how this product is being used with its first ruling back in 2000 eliminating all residential uses except for roach bait in protective bait stations. Then back in 2002 it banned the use of the product on tomatoes and made some further restrictions on its use on citrus, tree nuts and other crops. In 2012 the EPA limited the use of chlorpyrifos by lowering application rates and creating no-spray buffer zone requirements.

“Chlorpyrifos can cause cholinesterase inhibition in humans at high enough doses; that is, it can overstimulate the nervous system causing nausea, dizziness, confusion, and at very high exposures (e.g., accidents or major spills), respiratory paralysis and death.”1 Most of the issues with this product has been occupational exposures that applicators would experience and most of those concerns have been addressed through training and strict personal protective equipment requirements.

Why does keeping the use of this product matter for agriculture? Chlorpyrifos is used in corn and soybeans and, because of the large number of acres of these crops, these uses are the largest for this product. Many of these applications are seed treatments, but it is also used on fruits and nut trees, and a limited number of vegetable and row crops as well. Uses have already been restricted as a result of the EPA’s re-registration process. For example, on fruit trees and grapes, it can only be used during the dormant season and on citrus and vegetable crops the harvest intervals have been greatly increased. Most of the foliar application on crops are done because there are pests that are very difficult to control and this product happens to be one of a few that will work. Aphids on asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, and soybeans, as well as leaffooted plant bugs on almonds, are the most common needs for a foliar application I come across. Even though there are other products that can work to control these pests, the lack of products to rotate with means the loss of chlopyrifos runs the risk of developing resistance to those few products faster. “Matthew E. O’Neal, Iowa State University entomologist said when it comes to soybeans there should be some concern about what a chlopyrifos ban could mean in years to come. ‘My concern is if we get into a situation where we have a resistance to the other classes of insecticides used for aphids we’re going to need an alternative,’ he said. ‘Chlorpyrifos is commonly used by farmers for aphids and other pests in soybeans. If one class of insecticide replaces its uses in soybeans, this could increase the likelihood of resistance occurring. In four or five years that’s when you’d start to notice there are is no chlopyrifos and you’re looking for something that works.'”2 This warning holds true for the other critical uses as well. Without the use of chlopyrifos in asparagus for aphids those growers will have a hard time getting a crop to market as many other aphid control products are no longer effective on asparagus aphids.

Knowing that the EPA was reviewing the uses of chlopyrifos and that some concerns (which I will address later) had been brought up, University of California, California Department of Pesticide Regulation and industry stakeholders made a thorough assessment of the critical uses of chlopyrifos in some key crops grown in California and have made some recommendations on how to successfully manage the use of this product. The 198 page document reviews the key uses of chlorpyrifos in four key crops in the state. “The four crops represent $10 billion in annual revenue and cover 2.4 million acres of cropland. During the period of 2002-2012, 61% of the total chlorpyrifos use was recorded on these four crops.”3 The study pointed to an overall decrease in the use of chlorpyrifos with some years showing a slight increase, no doubt due to spikes in pest pressure. These spikes in the amount of product used has caused concern in some areas due to the human and environmental risks associated with chlorpyrifos. Note: since the CDPR report came out a new product to control aphids in alfalfa has been registered and the situation for that crop and chlorpyrifos use has improved.

The major cause for concern now is the previously identified drinking water issues and dealing with a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA). This is the petition the court has addressed in determining that the EPA timeline for evaluating the drinking water issue was not adequate. The EPA’s 2014 revised human health risk assessment confirmed a potential risk to drinking water in small watersheds near areas where chlorpyrifos is widely used. These small watersheds are generally less than 40 square miles and in small regions of the country. The examples are outlined in the revised risk assessment. 4 “The 2014 assessment included a refined drinking water assessment for the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast, but not the entire country. The EPA has determined that safe levels of chlorpyrifos may be exceeded for people whose drinking water is derived from certain vulnerable watersheds in parts of the United States.  the EPA is continuing to work on its refined regional drinking water assessment in order to identify those vulnerable watersheds.”5

Can the drinking water issues be addressed without banning all the uses for chlorpyrifos? Since the problem seems to be isolated to small watersheds near well-defined areas of high chlopyrifos use, it seems that other ways to mitigate the problems should be examined. The work published in the CDPR “Chlorpyrifos Critical Use” report shows that a well thought out approach to this problem is achievable. The report outlines uses to focus on and best use practices to hopefully reduce levels of chlopyrifos in surface water that are exceeding tolerances. Research and education are key components of the process. Farmers and those making pest control decisions need to be aware of the potential problems surrounding the use of chlorpyrifos and need to be willing to make decisions that will help keep the product out of local waterways. But in order for such an approach to work, all stakeholders involved must be on board and willing to follow best use practices.

California’s State Water Resources Control Board has surface water monitoring programs in place and have been monitoring water for a number of contaminants including, but not limited to, certain pesticides, such as chlorpyrifos. Their Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program has many years of data showing where contaminants have been found and at what levels. Data since 2006 has shown some improvements in surface water chlorpyrifos contamination but some areas are still showing exceedances, and some of those areas were not involved in the crops mentions in the DPR critical use program. More investigation and outreach seems to be needed.

So what does all this mean for the fate of chlorpyrifos? Unfortunately the regulatory process does not have a good track record for making policy based solely on scientific evidence, and there are many public groups that have very little patience with any attempt to develop programs that will keep pesticides they are not happy with in use. Research, data collection, programs, and outreach all take time and money. Budgets are tight ,and the number of people with expertise in these areas are declining, making resources available to work on these issues very tight. Public distrust of government regulators is on the rise at the same time government continues to cut budgets for the science needed to address these issues. EPA is forced to rely more and more on industry supplied data which increases the public distrust of the current system. The current public comment period for the proposal to revoke the tolerances for chlopyrifos will be over by the end of the year. Stakeholder groups on both sides of the issue are currently sending in their views on the matter. It would be nice to see a measured and thought out approach to making sure this product can still be used where it is needed come out of this process.

Footnotes
1. http://www2.epa.gov/ingredients-used-pesticide-products/chlorpyrifos
2. You’ll Still Have Pesticide Options If Lorsban’s AI is Banned – DTN
3. CDPR Critical Use Report
4. EPA’s revised human health risk assement for chlopyrifos
5. Proposal to Revoke Chlorpyrifos Food Residue Tolerances

 

Thankful for our food

As we prepare our Thanksgiving day feast it may be a good time to reflect on what it takes to get that food to your table. There are many people in many industries that work hard to bring us the abundance of food we have come to take for granted when we go to our local grocery store. As a plant doctor, I will use this post to summarize what my part of the “food chain” contributes to your Thanksgiving feast.

What is on your table?

croplife1

As you can see, without the benefits of crop protection products, organic or conventional, yields would suffer and the abundance of food we rely on would decrease making our Thanksgiving feast much more expensive.

Do you like pie?

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Plant bugs of all types are very hard to control. Even organic farmers have problems with these pests. Organic pesticides only deter these bugs for a short time making multiple applications necessary to protect the crop. Nasty little buggers!

Modern technology is doing more to increase yields and decrease the amount of pesticides needed to bring food to your table. Not so long ago many of our crop protection chemicals were broad spectrum and applied in pounds per acre. Now they are more targeted to the pest, safer for beneficial insects, safer for workers and applied in oz per acre. Better application techniques make spraying these low rates effective with less impact on the surrounding environment.

Agriculture has many challenges ahead of it to be able to bring more food to a growing population with less land and other resources.

There are still many challenges ahead. Environmental issues to solve. Promises of new technology such and Genetically Modified crops and other new technologies like CRISPer are just a few things science is looking into to make sure everyone on this planet has enough to eat. GMO technology has already  reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68% (from an articled penned by Klumper and Qaim in 2014; a meta study that summarizes his findings of 147 original studies on the impact of GMOs). 
With the help of modern agriculture techniques, hunger is disappearing but we still have a long way to go before the problems of food insecurity disappears as well.
croplife2
As our technology continues to improve, better solutions arise and agriculture continues to tackle the challenges of producing more food with less resources and keeping our environment, workers and families safe and healthy. The more we know the better we do. It is a challenge we take on with pride.

What does a Plant Doctor do after harvest?

As harvest winds down to a close the hard part of my job as a Plant Doctor is slowing down as well. But just because the crops have been harvested doesn’t mean that there aren’t pests to deal with. Now is the time to evaluate how things went during the season. After harvest and during the winter when trees and vines are dormant is a good time to see what may be in store for next year as well.

Almond harvest, seen below, is generally finished in September. Walnuts go into late October.

  In the nut crops, almonds and walnuts, I have samples of the nuts from each block take before the nuts were removed from the field. I crack the nuts open and look for any worm or other pest damage. I’ll crack about 200 nuts on every block (my friends who bake get the good ones). On almonds, ants can eat the nuts when the hulls have split and when the nuts have been shaken off the trees and drying on the ground. If your ant control wasn’t good, you’ll see damage in the crack outs. Other damage that can be seen on almonds is damage from stink bugs.

Stink bug on almond

Stink bug can damage nuts late. Kernels of damaged nuts either become wrinkled and misshapen, or if already hardened before bug damage, will contain a black spot at the puncture site.

Photo

Navel Orange worm in almond

Another pest you can find in either nut is the Navel Orange worm. Not really sure where it got it’s name but it is a pest primarily of nuts. Can be a pest in pomegranates too. They usually attack the nuts late, after the hull and husks have split. The key to controlling this pest it to make sure the populations do not get out of control early in the season. Since they go into the nuts, they are almost impossible to control once they get in.

Another worm that can be found in walnuts is the Codling moth. If you see damage from Navel Orange worm in walnuts it generally means your Codling moth control probably wasn’t very good. Navel Orange worm usually gets into walnuts through the holes left by early Codling moth damage.

After the leaves are off of the trees it is important to take a look and make sure there are no nuts still hanging in the trees. These “mummy” nuts will be places where Navel Orange worm will survive over the winter. Mummy nuts are removed from the almond trees with workers using poles to knock them down. If there is enough rain, most of the nuts will fall as they get heavy with moisture. You don’t want to have more than an average of 1-2 mummy nuts in a tree throughout the orchard. My job is to go around and count these mummies and determine if they need to come off.

Another important task in the winter, on all the tree crops, is to examine scaffolds, limbs, branches, and prunings for scale insects and mites. Walnut scale, San Jose scale, frosted scale nymphs, and European red mite eggs can all be found by examining the wood during the dormant period.  I’ll gather about 100 samples of smaller twigs for every block. I usually bring them home and look at them in the warmth of my kitchen.

Photo

Pile of frass at entrance of peach twig borer hibernaculum.

In the late winter, usually after the first of the year, I’ll decide, based on what I’ve found during the checks I’ve mentioned above and on observations made during the year, what stone fruit and almond trees will need a “dormant spray”. This is a spray that we put on the trees just before they start to wake up for spring. Disease such as shot hole and leaf curl will over winter as spores on the wood and those can be controlled in the dormant spray. Scale, mites and any worms that over winter in the trees, can also be controlled at this time. Peach twig borer overwinters on the tree as a first- or second-instar larva within a tiny cell, called a hibernaculum, that is located in crotches of 1- to 3-year-old wood, in pruning wounds, or in deep cracks in bark. The overwintering site is marked by a chimney of frass and is especially noticeable when first constructed or before winter rains set in. Larvae emerge in early spring, usually just before and during bloom, and migrate up twigs and branches where they attack newly emerged leaves, blossoms, and shoots. Dormant spray will help control this pest.

Grapes generally don’t need much attention after harvest. This year however, the vine mealybugs were so bad I am considering doing some post harvest sprays. These pests will go down below ground and spend the winter on the roots, only to come back up again next season. The fewer going down will mean less coming back up, or at least I hope so. These warm winters are not helping. We are not getting the winter knock down of pest populations we usually see. Monitoring for these pests during the winter entails digging around at the base of the vine to see what kinds of population levels are hiding out.

Citrus leaves with citrus leafminer larvae,

Citrus is a year round crop. The new crop is developing as the old crop is maturing and getting ready to pick. Trees are always green and pests can be found all year. Most of the time pest are not much of an issue in the winter. But when the winter is warm, like it has been the last few years, some pests can keep active. Red scale usually is dormant in the winter but last winter you could pick up males flying around in the traps even in the winter. So going out a couple time a month to keep an eye on what is going on is a must. Bean thrip is sometimes active in these warm winters and some of the export markets don’t what to see them so if fruit is going to these markets, bean thrip need to be dealt with. If not, I just ignore them. Citrus leaf and peel miners can also remain active in the fall if temperatures remain warm.  Citrus tree will put on their last flush of growth in the fall so you want to keep these miners off the leaves.

About this time of year we are expecting (and hoping) for rain so sprays on the citrus for brown rot and Septoria spot are being applied. Certain export markets don’t want certain disease so you need to keep the fruit clean. As the weather gets cooler and hopefully wetter, the snail will come out from under the trees and make baiting for them easier. They are a real pain. Did you know snail eat oranges?

Brown garden snail.

 

 

 

 

Alfalfa will go dormant when it gets cold enough. The only thing to watch out for there are aphids. Certain ones, like cowpea and blue alfalfa aphid can damage the plants if they build up to significant levels.

Last but not least, WEEDS. In all the crops and on the bare row crop beds, weeds will be something to contend with all winter. If it gets cold enough weeds will stop growing or grow slow enough not to worry about too much. There are spray that will go out that will keep them from coming up but most need to be rain activated so if we don’t get enough rain, they do not work very well. We need all the moisture we get in the soil, not being sucked up by weeds. Weeds are my constant bane of existence all year long.

What else does a plant doctor do in the winter? Education!! Plenty of meetings to learn and keep up with all the new technology, pest trends, research, etc. In California I need 40 hours of continuing education to keep my state license but I generally get more than that. So much to keep up on. Always learning.

Note: Thanks for the UCIPM website for all the great photos. These are much better than I could take.

Foreign Invasion threat to farming

Creeping MenaceForeign terrorists have been invading our farms and environment for a long time. These terrorists are called Invasive species. An invasive species is a plant or animal that is not native to a specific location (an introduced species); and has a tendency to spread, which is believed to cause damage to the environment, human economy and/or human health. Species that are moved or migrate to an area where they have not been to before can disrupt the ecology of an area because the native species have not evolved to interact with the newcomer. There may be no natural predators to keep the new species in check or the new species may find a food source that has no defense against the newcomer. There are invasive pests that have invaded our forests, waterways, homes and fields.

The following are just a few I’ve chosen to highlight from the USDA APHIS Hungry Pest website:

gypsy moth“The Asian gypsy moth (AGM) is a destructive, non-native pest that feeds on over 600 types of plants. Large infestations of AGM can completely defoliate trees, leaving them weak and more susceptible to disease or attack by other insects. If defoliation is repeated for two or more years, it can lead to the death of large sections of forests, orchards, and landscaping.” Not only damaging our forests but our landscaping in our cities.

Imported Fire Ants are nasty pests. If you have run into these and have been attacked, you’ll know why. They also damage crops and attack livestock.

giant-snailGiant African Snail is one of the most damaging snails in the world because it consumes at least 500 types of plants and can cause structural damage to plaster and stucco structures. This snail can also carry a parasitic nematode that can lead to meningitis in humans.

Some of these pest have been here a long time and have become “established”. The Asian Tiger Mosquito arrived a long time ago, hitching a ride in some imported tires from China. This mosquito carries West Nile Virus (Link for more on West Nile Virus for WebMD). West Nile virus infects humans and horses. Invasive mosquitoes are also carrying yellow fever, Dengue fever and chikungunya fever.

HydrillaInvasive plants can cause problems as well. Hydrilla is an aquatic plant that invaded Florida and has spread across the country. It is an aggressive plant that out competes native aquatic species and destroys native aquatic ecosystems.

What are some of the more important invasive species that agriculture has to deal with? There are quite a few. First I’ll cover a few that directly impact the crops and then I’ll explain some other ways invasive pest cause problems for agriculture.

Let’s start with one that is something I’m dealing with directly, the Asian citrus psyllid. This pest feeds on the new leaf growth of citrus trees cause the leaves to twist and die back. They are not a particularly difficult insect to control. The biggest problem with this pest is that it can, if infected, transmit a bacteria that causes Huanglongbing (HLB or citrus greening) disease.

Citrus GreeningHuanglongbing causes shoots to yellow, asymmetrically (blotchy mottle), and results in asymmetrically shaped fruit with aborted seeds and bitter juice. The disease can kill a citrus tree within 5 to 8 years, and there is no known cure for the disease.This has already devastated the citrus industry in Florida. It has spread to California, first detected in the Los Angeles area. Even with strict regulations in place about moving citrus trees (the pest does not get on the fruit) it still managed to move from Florida to LA and now up into California’s central valley, the largest citrus growing area in the state.Until just a few months ago none of the psylids found were infected with HLB. Quarantines are in place around areas where the psylids have been caught and this means a lot of extra work if you have to move your fruit to a packing house outside of the area. This includes, but not limited to, spraying pesticides before each pick. A farmer may go through and pick many times before all the fruit is harvested.

BMSBAnother invasive pest headed my way but not yet here is the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB). It “has been detected in California. Wherever BMSB takes up residence, it causes severe crop and garden losses and becomes a nuisance to people. The ability of BMSB to hitchhike in vehicles and planes has allowed it to spread rapidly to new areas. Since it was introduced to the United States from Asia in the 1990s, BMSB has become established in the mid-Atlantic states as well as in Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles”. (from UCIPM website). This pest has recently been found in large numbers in the Sacramento area and has been found Stockton. A number of other native stink bugs are pests in agriculture  They are not easy to control and usually require harsher pesticides to get rid of them. The BMSB has been found to be very hard to control and will definitely be a big impact to our IPM programs as they infest a large number of crops.

These are just two but there are many. Many that have come into California and many that are being tracked for possible entry. You can see a pretty comprehensive list for California here

But other countries are watching us as well and they have their own lists and things they do not want us introducing into their environments. This creates issues for farmers because the packers and shippers must ensure what they are exporting comply with the importing countries regulations concerning these pests. Following is a summary of a few of our pests that we have to take extra measures to control and monitor, and why, in some cases, this causes a problem in our IPM programs.

The Oriental Fruit Moth is a common pest that mainly infests stone fruit (Peaches, Nectarines, Plums, etc). Mexico does not have this pest (or so they claim) so they do not want any fruit coming across the border that may have any of this pest in it. Growers and Packers who want to ship fruit to Mexico must pay into a program for extra monitoring for this pest. This includes paying for inspectors for Mexico to be on site during the growing and harvest season, increased trap density and the costs to have people check these traps more frequently than on a non export field, Since you are not allowed to have ANY of this pest in your fruit you need to make sure you spray every hatch (one a month) even if your trap catches do not indicate a serious infestation. Any trap catches and you are required to spray and you can’t use any of the newer more environmentally friendly products because Mexico doesn’t think they work as well. You really can’t have a good IPM program with someone else dictating what you have to do.

fuller rose beetleFuller Rose beetle is a pest that will lay it’s eggs on citrus fruit, under the stem and can be hard to find. South Korea doesn’t want it. Even if you don’t have it in your fields you are required by the packers to spray at least once before harvest. The citrus industry exports a lot of product and there are other spray programs that are dictated more for appeasing the export markets than for what is going on in the field.

A few years back we had an outbreak of European Grapevine Moth that had hitched a ride on some smuggled grapevines from France over to Napa. They hung out in the Napa area, slowly building populations before someone noticed these were not our common type of worm generally found. Napa doesn’t normally have a big problem with worm pests and this one was causing a lot of problems especially for organic growers. Then it moved. Someone brought infested wood down to Fresno and then the export of table grapes came to a halt. For me, it was just another worm pest that was easily dealt with in my current program but in order to satisfy export markets areas with the pest were quarantined and when and what to spray was dictated by the USDA. No one in those areas could ship out of the US and the industry lost a lot of money.

Spotted Wing Drosophila is a fruit fly that, unlike many of our native fruit flies, will attack undamaged fruit and has many generations in a short period of time. They infest cherries and berries mainly. Also a pest we have to spray for even if we don’t see it because one fly can cause the whole field to be kicked out of an export program.

How do these pest move around? Well, mostly by human activity but also changing climate patterns are opening up new habitats in locations where these pests can move to as well. I mentioned that the European Grapevine moth came in by way of some grapevine cuttings that were transported from France to Napa. They did not go through legal import procedures, otherwise the pests would have been detected. Plants and fruit travel to and from places all the time but if they go through airports or border stations, they can generally be intercepted. But it they do not, hitchhiking pests are never far. This local story is about smuggled fruit being sold by roadside vendors and some had invasive pests on them.

We can all help in the fight against these pests. The USDA’s Hungry Pest website has good information on “What Can You Do“.

The Evils of Roundup?

The last couple of months have been pretty busy for this Plant Doctor. As I begin to get the almonds ready for harvest by cleaning up the weeds on the orchard floors, I look back at all the herbicide recommendations I’ve made over the years and wonder about all the questions that come up about “the evil Roundup”. Yes, I recommend a lot of it. Out of the 8000 acres I take care of probably over half get at least one application, and only 140 of those acres is GMO Roundup Ready. What is it that everyone is so up in arms about?

Roundup

Roundup (glyphosate) is “toxic” and causes cancer: I have read many studies and many discussions about studies that claim to show that glyphosate causes cancer. I have yet to find a study that hasn’t been disproved by a number of researchers and scientists. The one study many people seem to point to regarding Roundup and cancer is the one done on rats by Seralini. You can find plenty of information on how bad that study was. None of that information can be taken seriously. A long discussion on the topic of Roundup and cancer can be viewed on Reddit as well. There are plenty of other “studies” that people seem to find but I’ve yet to see one that hasn’t been picked apart through scientific reviews. Studies showing links to glyphosate causing autism and being found in breast milk have also been busted. Following the science is a bit tedious and time consuming and I can’t say I’ve looking into everything but the studies I have looked at touting adverse health effects of glyphosate don’t seem to lead to anything credible.

Now it is true that the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, issued a report that classified glyphosate as a “probable” cause of cancer. Micheal Specter’s article on Roundup and Risk Assessment in the New York Times points out that “ ‘Probable’ means that there was enough evidence to say it is more than possible, but not enough evidence to say it is a carcinogen..” The dictionary definition of probable is “supported by evidence strong enough to establish presumption but not proof”. Proof is something that is lacking in the link between glyphosate and cancer. Many studies have been done and no connection has been found. There are many things on the IRAC list of probable carcinogens. Glyphosate has many benefits and without any real proof of harm there is no credible reason not to use it.

GMO FARMING

Roundup is overused in GMO crops and is producing “super weeds”: Weeds that are resistant to herbicide are not unique to glyphosate. Resistance management drives many decisions on pesticide use. I advise the farmers I work with to only have one herbicide resistant crop and do not plant that back to back in the same field. Roundup is not the only herbicide I use and most of the time when I use it, it is in combination with another product since combinations slow down the development of herbicide resistance. I certainly won’t refute that there are weeds resistant to glyphosate. But there are weeds resistant to other herbicides as well so it isn’t “Roundup” but it is the way people use it that causes the problems.

Roundup is killing the soil: There was an article in the NY Times about soil degradation and glyphosate use. Looking at the article and the actual study (if you can call it that) there are so many variables that were not taken into account that you can hardly attribute the effects just to the glyphosate use. The fact that glyphosate is widely used and that these effects are not widely reported makes me think the claim is not justified. But I am open to the possibility that further research may uncover some issues in the future. If that happens, adjustments will be made to incorporate the new information into our decisions. New information is always welcome. The farmers I work with have not seen any adverse affects of glyphosate use. Most of the production problems we deal with can be clearly identified as to causes (that doesn’t mean fixing them is all that easy).

bees-gmos

Roundup is killing the bees: The study that is commonly cited uses a methodology that really doesn’t fit real world conditions.  In this study bees were fed a sugar solution laced with levels of glyphosate expected to be found after a typical field application. Hardly real world conditions. The EPA has done many studies and have found no toxic effects on bees. In a post at ScientficBeeKeeping.com there is a quote with references that states “there is no strong evidence that the spraying of Roundup or generic glyphosate herbicide is directly causing significant bee mortality.  However, Drs. Jim and Maryann Frazier have legitimate concerns about the effect of some adjuvants—especially the organosilicones [27], [28]. ” Glyphosate is rarely sprayed on flowering crops and the majority of the time you are spraying it on small weeds before they bloom so it isn’t likely bees would be picking up much glyphosate in pollen, even at field applied levels. Probably the biggest problem with glyphosate and bees is more of an issue of it working so well that now there are no weeds for them to supplement their nutrition. The Scientific Bee Keeping post touches on that as well. But European honeybee colonies used to pollinate crops are actually starting to increase which suggests that the increased use of glyphosate is not damaging their populations. Those that would like to find some kind of link to glyphosate and bee decline have now pointed to wild bumblebee decline and the lack of weeds these species have to forage on. But new research suggests that climate change may be the issue of declining bumblebee populations.

I’m sure there will still be many people who don’t like “Roundup”, Monsanto or GMOs. The sure volume of false information and poor science that is out there for those that want to ingest it pretty much ensures a steady diet for those who have their minds made up. As for me, I have crops to care for and farmers that need to produce those crops to earn a living and feed a growing population. Glyphosate is an inexpensive, effective tool so lacking any good scientific reason not to continue using it, I’ll continue to recommend it where it is needed, when it is needed and in line with good Pest Management practices.

Do you have a question about crop protection practices or a topic you would like me to explore? Leave me a comment or, if you are on Facebook, you can post a question on the public group Pesticide Myth Busters and let the community there help you find a answer.

Why are bees disappearing?

Bumble BeeI have been following stories bee population declines lately. I’m interested in these stories because the crop protection tools mentioned in these stories are things I sometimes use. I like to know as much as I can about these techniques so I can feel I am using them most effectively.

I must admit that most of the stories I see come to me through Facebook. It is an easy tool to organize interests and have stories show up that may interest you. I do find it mildly amusing and somewhat disturbing that many people seem to make judgments on stores without reading or even, if they do read, looking further into the source of the information they are reading, but that is pretty common on that social media platform.

I find it more disturbing that many people seem to know little about basic science, how it works, how ideas are looked at, analyzed and how to even tell if a study is even designed well. One of the basic rules I learned in science is that “correlation does not necessarily mean causation”. Take a look at the bee population decline issue. Here is the reasoning I see highlighted all over the internet: Bees are insects, pesticides kill insects, one kind of pesticide came out the same time the bees started to decline, therefore these pesticides are causing the bees to die. Correlation = Causation. Things are rarely so black and white. In a complex system as nature, lines are never that straight. Most of Europe banned those pesticides, except for England where conservationists went out and planted wildflowers. The bumblebee population that was in terrible decline started to rapidly bounce back (link to story here).

Bees are in decline for a number of reasons. I’m not saying that the jury is not still out on the role those certain pesticides may be playing, but jumping to a conclusion without looking at all the factors does not solve an issue. Saying the problem is pesticides, spending a lot of time, effort, money, etc. on that one factor and ignoring the rest does nothing to solve the problem. Most of the studies being done do not show that the pesticides are the problem but still the issue persists, mainly because the “social media” crazy is keeping it alive.

Habitat destruction is a big problem and that can’t all be pinned on the back of farming alone. Cropping patterns are changing and that is putting a larger demand on the need for bees. Also, all this moving the bees around long distances can’t be good for them either. Many of the wild plants that they may use in a natural diet, farmers destroy because many of those plants harbor diseases and pests that can transmit those diseases to their crops. More people require more land for homes and jobs, and if you go around your neighborhood you will see a different type of monoculture.

I think the problem with bees is a sign that says we all need to take a look at how we are treating our natural world. We are all in this together, and all of our choices matter. Pointing fingers at each other solves nothing.

What dangers are threatening our food supply?

There are many things one can say about farming but “easy” sure isn’t one of them. Many things can threaten a farmer’s crop, insects, weeds, poor soil, lack of water, diseases, lack of labor, well this list could go on and on but most people are aware that there are lots of things a farmer has to deal with, just like all of us in whatever work we do.

For this post I am going to focus on a singular happening in our corner of the world that most of us have not seen in quite some time. This year we had a very dry winter and spring. This caused the plants in the foothills surrounding our valley to dry up quickly, much sooner than usual. Up in those foothills lives an insect called the Beet leafhopper.beet leafhopper

This particular little beastie is vector of a disease that is deadly to certain crops and because it can be so devasting, there was a program that the government used to carry out to spray the foothills when the beet leafhopper populations were high so that they did not desend into the valley and raise havoc to the crops below. Well, for a varity of reason, enviornmental and monetary, that program was cut way back and now they only spray ditches, roadsides and abandonned fields. So this year as the hills dried up and the large number of leafhoppers desended into the valley looking for food what did they find? Tomatoes!

Processing tomatoes has become a big part of the valley crops cycle. Many farmers have spent a lot of money putting field into drip irrigation to help conserve water and they are planting tomatoes because they yield very well with drip irrigation. But not long after planting they starting seeing plants stop growing and turn a sickly color and die. curly top All over the valley, thousands of acres of tomatoes are affected, some just a few plants here and there and some as many as 50-80% of the plants were infected.

Ok, so what is the point, other than many farmers are going to take it in the shorts because a pest damaged their crop. Isn’t that part of farming? What does this have to do with a threatend food supply. Well in all seriousness, no one will starve if we grow a few thousand tons less of tomatoes this year. But think about it. Remember the potato famine in Ireland? There is a disease that is devasting bananas right now too. We are on our 4th pesticide spray to try to keep our tomatoes from being infected and we all know that more pesticide sprays is really not a sustainable way to go. I thank the stars we are not trying to grow organic tomatoes this year. The best option would be of breed a variety of tomatoes that is resistant to this disease, but so far, through normal breeding techiques, that hasn’t happended.

What if they fould a way to genetically modify a tomato to be resistant to this? No more need to spray the hills or ditch banks or roadsides. No more multi pesticide sprays to try to ward of the leafhopper. Less pesticide sprays are what people want, right? Oh yea, I forgot, GMO food is that evil “Monsanto” thing. So what is it that people want anyway? How are we to protect our food supply and cut down on pesticide use if we can’t even use the best technology out there to fight off diesease, make plant more drought tolerant, yeild more, need less pesticides,etc. Maybe some are thinking that farmers shouldn’t have planted so many tomatoes and that our monculture type of farming is to blame. Well, seriously, a guy had to make a living and there are only so many things one can choose to grow. The choices of what to plant has a lot of componets to it. It isn’t like deciding what to put in your backyard garden.

Well, this post is long enough. Just one little scenario to think on the next time you eat something made from tomatoes and “like” another rant on the evils of “Monsanto”. There is a world to feed and a lot less land to do it on. Just think about that next time you are at the grocery store.