Bees and Fungicides: Part Three

Part three: Alternative to fungicides.

Axten Family

Axten Farms near Minton, Saskatchewan began to integrate a number of different cropping systems about 10 years ago including no-till, cover crops, inter-cropping, combination planting, compost teas and controlled traffic farming. The goal is to have high plant diversity and plants growing for as long as possible to help feed soil biology and make the whole system more sustainable and resilient to stress from drought.

For several years the farm has been growing an intercrop of flax and chickpeas, which are seeded in alternate rows, and has eliminated disease and the need for fungicide applications. “Since we started doing flax and chickpeas we’ve only ever had one application of fungicide, and that was in 2016 when it was wet and most guys that year sprayed five or six passes,” says Derek Axten. “By separating the rows of chickpeas, we have basically eliminated the need for fungicides.”

Subterranean clover crop

Axten is now going a step further and planting a subterranean clover crop under the flax and chickpeas, which he believes further helps reduce disease risk. “I think it stops rain bounce and splatter, which helps with disease control,” he says. “I don’t have any data to prove that, but I was out looking after a rain and because the clover covers the ground there is no bare soil, so the rain hits the leaf instead of hitting the ground and it doesn’t splash spores up on the chickpea plants.”

Reduced fungicide use and the inter-crop system has put more money in Axten’s pocket and reduced his overall risk. “We’ll usually be 10 to 15 per cent under the average yield for a chickpea monocrop for the area, but that usually comes with 10 to 15 bushels of flax and $100 per acre less fungicide bill,” says Axten. “We carry a lot less risk.”

Pollinator strips

 

Axten is also experimenting with pollinator strips to provide habitat for and encourage pollinators like bees, but also as a way to prevent erosion. Most of the farm is in controlled traffic farming, where the equipment always travels on established tramlines, leaving the no-tilled, cropping areas free from compaction. Because Axten initially was worried about possible soil erosion over time on the hills of the tramlines, he decided to use a small Valmar applicator to seed a mix of clovers in the tramlines as he is seeding the crop. “The idea is that every 60 feet we’re going to have two strips, 10 feet apart of clover growing in every crop,” says Axten. “I want those to be there forever, so it gives a bit of a buffer, and provides a pollinator strip every 60 feet. We lose that five per cent of the crop in the tramlines anyway, so we might as well do something that is useful.”

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Bees and Fungicides: Part Two

bee on sunflower two aug 2010

Image: Angela Lovell


Part two: What can farmers do to minimize risk of fungicides to bees?

Scott McArt, Many farmers don’t consider the effects that fungicides can have on non-target insects such as bees.  But new research by scientists at Cornell University have found that fungicides can make certain insecticides such as neonicotinoids  – already known to be toxic to bees – much more toxic.

Farmers will often refrain from spraying an insecticide during the day when bees are active because they know it could affect them, but because they don’t think that fungicides will have any effect, they often spray them on a sunny, clear day when the bees are active, says Scott McArt, assistant professor of entomology at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who is leading the research study.“Although the fungicide may not be having a direct affect on the bees because they aren’t necessarily very toxic to bees by themselves, it’s the insidious interactions with the insecticides or pathogens in bees that they need to think about,” he says.

Best practices

McArt suggests a number of best practices that farmers can follow to try and minimize the negative effects of fungicides on bees and other non-target insects.

  • Avoid spraying during the day when bees are out foraging.
  • Avoid certain classes of fungicides such as ergosterol-biosynthesis-inhibitors (EBI) and sterol biosynthesis inhibitors (SBI). “Basically, any fungicide names ending in ‘zol’  are the worst in terms of increasing the toxicity of insecticides, including propiconazole which increases the toxicity of pyrethroid insecticides by 1,000 fold,” says McArt.
  • Avoid all fungicides containing chlorothalonil, which is particularly bad because of its synergism with insecticides and bee diseases such as nosema.

Developing strategies

Researchers are already working on trying to figure out the interactions between different pesticide products and their effect on bees and other insects and develop some guidelines for management practices that can help them manage their pests with less risk to non target insects. They are already working with apple growers to test the effects of different types of fungicides for their synergistic effects and to understand the effect of different spray regimens.”We are looking at things like spray timing, and nozzle technology to reduce drift to try and make applications more targeted to pests and reduce the impact on bees,” says McArt. “We need to get the science into growers’ hands.”

(A version of this story first appeared in Grainews).

Next week in part three of this three-part series we explore an alternative to fungicides.

Fungicides and Bees: Part One

Bee on Phacilia forage two MBFI tour Aug 2017

Image: Angela Lovell

In this three-part series we take a look at the negative health effects of fungicides on bees, what farmers can do to minimize the risks and what other producers are doing as an alternative to using fungicides.

Part one: Fungicides could be having negative health impact on bees.

A team of scientists at Cornell University studying pollinator health were surprised to find that fungicides could be having negative health impacts on wild and managed bee populations.

There has been a lot of research studying the effect of insecticides, such as neonicotinoids, on bee health, but it was largely assumed that fungicides, designed to kill pathogens, had no impact on bees. Although researchers found that fungicides themselves are not necessarily very toxic to bees, they can act synergistically with insecticides to make them much more toxic to bees.

Fungicides and insecticides together are more toxic to bees

Fungicides can do two things, says Scott McArt, assistant professor of entomology at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who led the research. “In our laboratory we have shown that fungicides can synergize with insecticides and causes the detoxification mechanism in the bees to be knocked out so they are unable to detoxify the insecticide as well, and even at low levels the insecticide then becomes much more toxic to the bee,” he says.  In their tests the rate of death of bees increased by a least 25 per cent when they were exposed to fungicides and insecticides as opposed to just insecticides alone.

Secondly, in their analysis of bumblebees in the United States, researchers have found that fungicides interfere with the bee’s gut microbiota. “Just as humans need a good balance of microbiota in our gut for proper function, so do bees,” says McArt. “If the fungicide impacts the microbiota the bee is more susceptible to pathogens, in particular nosema, which is a gut pathogen specific to bumble and honeybees.”

In the team’s analysis of 198 managed bee colonies across New York State they found that each had at least six different detectable pesticides in the hives, and 90 per cent of the residues found were fungicides. Overall, their lab research found that fungicides are the best predictor of range contractions in wild bees. “We are not sure if fungicides are contributing to bee decline, but we know that there is a connection between fungicides and the disappearance of bees from areas where they were previously present,” says McArt.

Chlorothalonil of particular concern

One of the active ingredients in some common fungicides – chlorothalonil – has been shown to be especially harmful because it synergizes particularly well with common insecticides such as neonicotinoids and pyrethroids and makes them five times more toxic to bees. “Laboratory studies have shown that exposure to chlorothalonil makes bees more susceptible to nosema,” says McArt. “Although we have to do further studies to understand why, we know it is disrupting the microbiota so they are not blocking the pathogen.  We are also hypothesizing that it could be killing actual gut cells, so there are less to ward off pathogens and less of an immune response.”

Chlorothalonil is an active ingredient in a number of fungicides registered with the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency. Some of those used for agricultural purposes include Bravo 500® and Daconil® from Syngenta.

In response to an email inquiry to Syngenta asking if someone from the company could comment on this research and make any recommendations for growers, Peter Campbell, Head of Research Collaborations for Syngenta at Jealotts Hill, UK replied.

“This study is a correlative study and the authors themselves within the publication ‘caution against over-interpretation of correlational patterns between pathogens and bee declines that may not be indicative of larger patterns or causal mechanisms.’

“Among other things, this suggests a need for further research investigating the reported correlations to provide greater clarity regarding the presence or absence of a plausible mechanistic pathway of causation.”

“It is also well known that a major factor affecting bumble bee populations and their ranges is habitat, in particular, availability of nesting, foraging and queen over-wintering sites. While habitat was included as a variable in this analysis, the classification used was very broad (e.g. cropped land, forest, agricultural area). The categories used in the study are too broad to capture the specific habitat needs of different bumble bee species in terms of their nesting, feeding and queen over-wintering site preferences, as well as the need for continual availability of food.”

Not just a problem for bees

Research into pollinator health has gained a lot of momentum over the past four or five years as there has been a much broader recognition that declining pollinator populations is a serious issue that could have a huge financial impact on agriculture, not to mention global food security.

The United States typically loses 25 to 40 per cent of managed honeybee colonies every year and the last three years that rate has been between 44 and 54 per cent.  There are 416 wild bee species documented in New York State and 53 are known to have had range contractions over the last few years.

The problem is not just unique to bees. A German paper recently published showed a 75 per cent reduction in total insect biomass in Germany in the past 25 years, not restricted only to bees. “There are likely many causes but we have seen a reduction in insects over the last 30 to 40 years we have never been seen before,” says McArt. “It’s a worrying trend.”

(A version of this story first appeared in Grainews).

Next week in part two of this three-part series we explore what farmers can do to minimize risk of fungicides to bees?

Is Your Farm Ready for the Future? Part three.

The final part of this three part series looks at Genetics.blur-bottle-chemistry-248152

DNA testing is another area where great strides have been made to make the technology affordable for farmers. Back in 1998, a DNA test cost around $10,000. Today, a similar test is less than $100 and provides results in 24 hours. Crop protection companies are investing in this technology because it allows for farmers to make prudent spray decisions and preserve the longevity of their products.

CRISPR-Cas9 is a new genetic technology that does not involve actual genetic modification, but which allows researchers to turn specific traits on and off in plants, such as disease or drought resistance, in real time, which allows the plant industry to bring new plants to market much faster. “I estimate there’s about 2000 new plant products a year coming to market,” said Seymour. “This technology is solving fundamental needs in agriculture.”

Plant and Cultured Proteins

One of the hottest trends in the food industry today is the demand for plant-based burgers as more people want a meat-eating experience without the actual meat. As a result, hamburgers are being developed that have the texture and colour of beef, and even bleed.

Cultured meat – grown from animal cells in a laboratory – is attracting a lot of research dollars from large companies like Tyson Foods.  Livestock producers may not like the sound of this technology but lab-produced protein has a compelling argument in terms of the reduced resources required to produce it. Cultured meat uses less land space and water, and produces less greenhouse gases. The downside is that it currently costs about 12 times more than traditional meat to grow, but that cost, said Seymour, is only going to continue to drop.

Are you ready for the future?

With so many technologies on the cusp of being a reality in our daily lives, what are the priorities for farmers in terms of adopting the ones that will make them more productive, their lives easier and makes their farms viable and sustainable for the future? “Anything that comes through your door that uses AI, invest in it because AI will solve fundamental problems on your farm, then any products involving connectivity and data; there is huge opportunity in that” said Seymour.

In an era of transformational change, Seymour is convinced that Canadian agriculture is ready, but it’s up to individual farmers to ask, “Am I ready for the future?”

©2018, Angela Lovell.

For permission to publish or reproduce this article contact Angela Lovell Communications below:

Is Your Farm Ready for the Future? Part two.

Artificial Intelligence, Robots and Virtual Reality

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When we think of robots, AI or virtual reality we probably think of the movie I Robot, or the Holodeck from Star Trek, but augmented reality is already being used in some sectors to train staff remotely. “What would it be like if I could call a dealer and put on a set of goggles and he walks me through how to reassemble my bailer,” says Seymour. “How does that change how we look at agriculture labour and the type of skills we need? How does it change how we interact with our dealerships? They are doing this already in other sectors; it’s just not quite agriculture ready.”

In a number of industries, robots have been welding, painting and doing other functional tasks for decades. Robotic milkers in dairies have freed up producers to focus to cattle health and helped solve challenges in recruiting labour. In horticulture, a prototype robotic apple picker is being developed that identifies when the apple is ripe and picks it.

Driverless technology is going to be a real game-changer. A modern electric vehicle has only 21 moving parts compared to 2000 in a conventional vehicle. As this next generation technology continues to develop, there may be no need for dealerships because there are no maintenance issues, said Seymour. “What does that look like in Ag equipment if we could redesign the engines on equipment? Our service needs change dramatically,” he added.

SeedMaster has already developed DOT, a driverless air drill with a roller, grain tank and sprayer. “DOT can cover 2,500 acres, so will the next generation of modern farm be built on 2,500-acre increments,” said Seymour. “This technology is here. Their challenge is there’s no regulatory platform yet to driving on the road to haul it from field to field.”

3D printing is another technology already in use that could potentially revolutionize farm equipment dealerships. “A modern dealership with a 3D printer might have a whole bunch of polymers and we send in the code to print the belt, bearing and bolt just in time to deliver,” said Seymour. “Some farm equipment dealers with multiple locations have $15 million in overhead just carrying parts. So, what would it take to get that off the books? Does that change how we manage our inventory at dealership level? Does it drive efficiency to the Ag market, absolutely?”

Connecting and Managing Data

Most farmers already collect data, whether it’s from the yield monitor on the combine or satellite imagery of their fields. The future will be about connecting that data so farmers can make better management decisions and be more transparent and accountable to increasingly discerning consumers who want to know where their food is coming from.

“Where we’re heading with data management is the de-centralization of data,” said Seymour. “It’s housed all over and it’s rooted in blockchain. Most people have heard of the virtual currency, Bitcoin. Blockchain is the process by which this money moves around.”

Blockchain is a software platform for digital assets that is mainly being used by financial institutions and stock exchanges to handle transactions. It uses distributed ledger technology (DLT) that creates a digital, de-centralized, public ledger that eliminates human error and is less likely to be tampered with, which helps prevent fraud.

Seymour believes blockchain technology could and will move traceability to another level. “Farmers would have a ledger, which would be the blockchain where they input their data at farm level and anybody can access it at any time,” he said. “Consumers will want to know which crop protection tools you used, how your cattle were fed, and any data you have would be loaded in the system. This isn’t very far away.”It’s an emerging risk management tool in the food and food processing industries,” says Seymour. “Inevitably, it will eventually flow to farmers.”

Helping to make these technologies possible is the development of sensors, which is a huge growth industry. As sensors are developed for every application imaginable, they become exponentially cheaper and more useful in our daily lives.  “If young people aren’t sure what to do in their careers, go to school and learn math, learn how to write algorithms and interpret data because that’s where the real money is going to be made is by the people who can take the data you’re collecting and turn it into knowledgeable decisions that we can learn to use,” said Seymour.

A great example is in irrigation he added. Today, we have soil sensors in irrigation that detect when it’s dry and turn on the water. The next generation of sensors and data management will say the soil is dry, the plant’s in the two-leaf stage, the weather forecast calls for two-tenths of rain in three days, now turn on the water. “That’s where this industry is heading so the kind of skilled jobs we need in agriculture is going to be how we fix the sensors and how we manage the data within the sensors,” said Seymour.

Coming soon: Is Your Farm Ready for the Future? Part three…Genetics, Plant and Cultured Proteins

©2018, Angela Lovell.

For permission to publish or reproduce this article contact Angela Lovell Communications below:

Is Your Farm Ready for the Future? Part one.

drone-landing-mbfi-tour-aug-2017.jpgWe always tend to think that we are at the pinnacle of the technology revolution as we look back and see the pace of change in everything from cell phones to driverless cars. But there are companies everywhere developing futuristic technologies that are going to impact our lives and our livelihoods in ways at present unimaginable.

Marty Seymour, Director of industry and Stakeholder Relations at Farm Credit Canada recently addressed the Manitoba Beef Producers Annual General Meeting about some of the hottest trends in technology that could disrupt agriculture and food production.

“The most productive period in the United States was yesterday,” said Seymour. “We produce more stuff today than we did yesterday and the day before. The pace of change is much faster because our economies are bigger, there are more people and there are more things driving it. When I think about the future, having experience is no longer an advantage. It only means you’re an expert in the past, and I believe we need to be thinking ahead to what is coming.”

Consumer Goods Driving Innovation

A lot of investment is being poured into developing all kinds of technology that serves consumers from artificial intelligence (AI) to digital devices. “A lot of the technology is going come out of consumer driven products and agriculture will win on this one because the consumer stuff drives the price down,” says Seymour. “I think we need to think bigger, and I’m not suggesting you need to have every one of these technologies, but be mindful that someone else is and you have got to find what works for you and what’s going to work on your farm.”

If you use a cell phone you are using AI whether you realize it or not. Apps like SIRI, Amazon ECHO and Google Home are using our devices to connect everything in our lives ostensibly to make our lives easier. This is known as the Internet of Things (IoT) and most of the research dollars going into IoT are for things such as Smart Homes, Smart Wearables, Smart Cities and Connected Cars, while agriculture is bottom of the list.

Smart Farming

Farmers are soon going to hear the term ‘smart farming’ a lot more often. Smart farming is basically the advanced use of information and communications technology that goes way beyond just precision agriculture, UAVs or GPS. It involves the collection, connection and management of vast amounts of data, and implementation of advanced robotics and AI throughout all levels of agricultural production.  Large companies like Google, Microsoft and IBM are investing heavily in things such as Smart homes and wearable devices, but are only just starting to look at agriculture.  “We are on their radar, but we’re not top of mind,” says Seymour. “My challenge to our industry is how can we get into the conversation?”

That said, agriculture is already benefitting in some areas from investments made in consumer items, and specifically from the toy industry. Agriculture has been an enthusiastic adopter of infrared technology and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) but it was the toy industry that made UAVs effective and affordable for farmers to use. “When the first UAVs hit the market in agriculture they were worth $8,000 to $10,000 and they didn’t fly really well, and you had to get your own camera and tape it to the thing,” said Seymour. “The toy industry came along and made stable UAVs with good cameras, and now you can put a drone in the air for $600 and do a great job of flying over fields. We benefit from all the research in consumer products as it spins off into agriculture.”

Coming soon: Is Your Farm Ready for the Future? Part two…. Artificial Intelligence, Robots and Virtual Reality

©2018, Angela Lovell.

For permission to publish or reproduce this article contact Angela Lovell Communications below:

 

Where did you get that pen?

I have had several people ask me where did I get the beautiful pen in the header image of my website.

The answer: Cotswold Pens. During a visit to my home town of Witney in Oxfordshire, England I came across Andy King and his hand crafted pens at the local Farmers Market.

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Image: Angela Lovell

Andy makes his pens from sustainably and responsibly sourced woods from around the world. The Bolt Action Bullet pen you see in my picture is made from Berberis, a wild shrub that grows on his family farm.

In our high-tech world of texting and keyboards, it’s a treat to put such a beautifully crafted pen to paper.