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.

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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.

 

Robynne Anderson has a true passion for agriculture and people.

Robynne Anderson got the call to tell her she had been nominated to the 2017 Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame (CAHF) as she was about to board a plane to Rome for meetings at the United Nations.Robynne-Emerging-AG-025-small

Anderson’s induction into CAHF is a culmination of a lifetime’s work serving agriculture, which began on the family grain farm founded by her grandfather. Although she helped out with the chores like any other farm kid, her goal was to become a history professor.

While attending Carlton University to take a history degree, she worked as a Page in the House of Commons as part of a government scholarship program.

“I was working for the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, who became Minister of Agriculture when the then serving Minister of Agriculture was sadly diagnosed with cancer and had to leave his post quite quickly,” says Anderson. “The team in the office was trying to decide how to divide up the additional work and they said you’re from the farm, you should go over to agriculture.”

Anderson wasn’t sure this was the best plan, because she hadn’t taken much interest in many aspects of the family farm. She was surprised, however, when she went over to the Department of Agriculture, just how little people, in general, seemed to know about farming.

“I learned very quickly that the things I considered to be the most basic understanding of agriculture were not necessarily common knowledge,” says Anderson. “One day they were looking at pictures from a meeting in Saskatchewan and I knew it was a Massey Ferguson combine in a barley field. I felt like everybody would know that but I realized that, in fact, everybody didn’t know that. It was a lightning bolt moment for me and that’s how I embarked on my career trying to combine an understanding and a passion for agriculture with an ability for people who need to communicate about it, and work on policy environments, to be able to bridge that divide between what they understand in a farm context and how that actually meets the rest of the world.”

Helping secure land tenure for women farmers

One of the highlights of Anderson’s political career was as a member of the United Nations Committee on Food Security, where she helped to negotiate and develop the Voluntary Guidelines on Governance of Tenure, a proactive document that emphasizes the importance of secure land tenure for women in agriculture globally.

“A group of us worked to raise these questions about land tenure more profoundly,” she adds. “Over the course of several years, a document was negotiated called the Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure. I sat through those and we raised the bar on the discussion about how securing land tenure underpins the success of women, as well as access to finance and the ability to access markets.”

“People often don’t appreciate that globally women represent about 60 to 70 per cent of the world’s farmers and in many parts of the world women do not have access to land ownership,” says Anderson. “The question of land tenure underpins success in agriculture. If you don’t have the security of your land, you don’t get access to credit then you don’t have the same ability or incentive to steward your land. You don’t have the options for a multi-generational transfer, and the security of the infrastructure one needs to farm comes into question.”

Back to Manitoba

After spending some time working as a legislative assistant in Ottawa, where she also worked on the new Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, Anderson felt it was time to go back to Winnipeg, Manitoba and pursue her other passion, as a communicator. She started Issues Ink, a consulting and publishing business which published a number of business-to-business magazines for different sectors of the agricultural industry.

“I realized that there was a communications gap that was bigger than simply policy issues, it also reflected how people were sharing information inside the agriculture sector,” she says. “I had the opportunity to build a number of publications; ultimately I think we had nine different titles that focused on agricultural communications inside sectors. I combined the work of my father on the farm with the work of my mother who was the head of university relations at the University of Winnipeg. We often used to laugh that I was a marriage of Bob’s work and Joan’s work.”

More women leaders in agriculture

The fact that all three of the 2017 CAHF inductees are women, is a reflection that cultural attitudes to women in agriculture are changing, says Anderson. “I’d like to think the induction ceremony is a sign that our time has come,” she says. “Only five women are in the CAHF right now out of 210. That is a reflection of reality. It’s also a reflection of culture and perhaps that culture really has begun to change with three women being inducted. I hope this is a foreshadowing of many more women to come because there have been more women leaders than five, so we need to do a better job of nominating our women leaders and celebrating them. I think it will begin to become more evident about the long-term impact women have had in agriculture.”

When Anderson began her agricultural industry career in her 20s, she was often the only woman in a room of 200 men at meetings. Today that’s rarely the case, which she sees as an indication that attitudes have changed a lot towards women in leadership and decision-making roles.

“We have an increasing number of women who are in senior leadership roles inside agribusiness and also inside the association environments that support the underpinnings of agriculture,” she says. “Globally, we have probably about 50 per cent women leading international associations.”

Anderson believes there are many factors influencing this shift, with more and more female university graduates and women engaging in all aspects of society.

“I don’t think agriculture is completely isolated in this. It’s part of a much larger trend,” she says. “I think the role of women on the farm has been a unique element to this. In every farm family I knew growing up, women had important roles but there was always the assumption that it would be the husband who went to the meeting or was the formal “representative” of the farm. The thing that’s really shifted is, we just don’t accept that as a given. In many ways, lots of women for generations have been underpinning the agriculture sector and engaged. We are now beginning to talk about it, celebrate it, and acknowledge it. The more we do that, the more presumptions there will be that daughters will inherit farms, and rent land and that women will be presidents of grain companies. Where once the son was the one who would inherit the farm, now I think farm families look at all the kids to decide which one is  most suited to take over the farm.”

Women are much more active off the farm too – serving on farm groups and the boards of industry associations, which leads many more women into roles as influencers in the industry.

“You graduate to leadership after participation so a generation of leaders before me got in there and were active and then my generation has come along and we’re not only active but we invest right from the start so it’s easier to graduate into leadership roles,” says Anderson. “Increasingly, when you see women in leadership roles in organizations, there’s a growing respect for the skills women bring to leadership and they bring some special qualities to it.”

Leadership roles often involve multi-tasking, something women are very good at, which is a result, says Anderson of women often taking a wider view of things.

“I think women are good at multi-tasking not only from the sense of doing multiple things at once, but seeing the arc of all things,” she says. “Women have traditionally been in roles where for the past two or three generations they have been working and managing households. I think that’s something farmers in general are good at. You understand that you’ve got to grease the machines, do the maintenance in the winter, seed in the spring, manage the spraying and the good stewardship of that, and when you are ready to harvest, if you haven’t got the combine fully operational when the crop is ripe, it’s going to break down. That whole arc in that participation, agriculture is uncommonly good at. We sometimes feel marginalized in agriculture but we punch above our weight globally, especially in Canada, where we’re less than two per cent of the population. We’re good at pulling together and expressing our interests, our passion for rural communities, and our passion for food.”

Women mentoring women

Anderson says she has been fortunate to work with – and mentor – many intelligent, creative and passionate women over the course of her career, but she thinks there is still a need for more special programming to help women learn leadership skills.

“Some of that is going to come naturally because we see more women run agricultural businesses like I did with Issues Ink and with Emerging Ag where we’re able to hire young women and mentor them and grow their careers,” she says. “We need proactive engagement at every level to help all young people in agriculture succeed.”

Currently, Anderson has her hands full with her business, Emerging Ag, which is focusing on improving agriculture and food production worldwide.

“We are interested in how we garner more respect for the agriculture and food sectors and  want to be part of practical solutions to the challenges of improving agriculture,” says Anderson. “Those challenges are highly varied. In a development context, the reality is almost a billion people who are farmers live below the poverty line. The very concrete things we need to do to change that have everything to do with the farming lives of people in Canada. They need good quality seed, they need land tenure, they need access to great extension services and knowledge sharing, they need the machinery and inputs to be successful at growing that crop, they need grain storage and ways to reduce their losses, they need access to markets and they need awesome agricultural research to fuel that whole process.”

All of these things that ignite Anderson’s passion led her to found Farming First, a global coalition for sustainable agricultural development.

“Those are the pillars of Farming First and the reality is in Canada we need to have conversations about how we do them and how we connect better to consumers so they have respect for those roles, and continue to improve the way we farm and do great things for the environment,” says Anderson. “But when we work on a development context, some of the access questions are very different. It’s a privilege to be able to span that horizon and have some practical, on the ground reality to take to international forums and help people think concretely about what they need to be able to help farmers.”

What’s next?

In our next blog post we will feature the story of another 2017 CAHF inductee, Jean Szkotnicki who talked with us about her induction, what led her to her career path, and her views on the changing role of women in agriculture.

Contact us today to find out how our compelling storytelling style and attention-grabbing, professional graphic design can help you get noticed and generate sales and success.