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 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:

 

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.

 

All women inductees to the 2017 Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame.

For the first time in its 57–year history, inductees to the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame (CAHF) are all women.

A ceremony to formally induct agricultural publisher and consultant, Robynne Anderson, livestock photographer, Patty Jones and Jean Szkotnicki, President of the Canadian Animal Health Institute takes place on Thursday, November 30, 2017 in Calgary, Alberta.

The Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame Association honours and celebrates Canadians for outstanding contributions to the Agriculture and Food Industry and publicizes their achievements in Canada. Portraits of all inductees since 1960 hang in the CAHF Gallery at the National Trade Centre in Toronto, Ontario.

Prior to this year, only five women have been among the 210 inductees into the CAHF. “I am personally thrilled that more Canadian women are being recognized this year for their extraordinary accomplishments in the Canadian agriculture industry,” said Herb McLane, President of the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame Association in a press release. “This year’s three inductees have contributed to the strength and health of our industry from very different perspectives – covering the animal health sector, publishing and consulting, and livestock photography…It is very heartening to be recognizing the outstanding contributions these three women continue to add to the Canadian agricultural industry.”

Robynne Anderson – “Our time has come.”

Robynne-Emerging-AG-025-smallRobynne Anderson began her career as a legislative assistant to the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, working on the new Plant Breeder’s Rights Act. Her knowledge of agriculture and experience in government led her back to Manitoba where she created Issues Ink, a consulting and publisher company that produced several business-to-business, agricultural magazines. Robynne now lives in Calgary where she operates Emerging Ag – an agricultural consulting firm.

Anderson knew nothing about her nomination to the CAHF. “When I got the call I was shocked and touched,” she says. “I’m honoured to work with a lot of great people and at a certain level, I’m not sure that I’m particularly the one who should be receiving this honour. When I think about the likes of Cora Hind, I am honoured to be in such company.”

The inductions are a reflection that cultural attitudes to women in agriculture are changing, says Anderson. “I hope this is a foreshadowing of many more women to come because perhaps they haven’t been nominated as much as they should. We need to do a better job about nominating our women leaders and celebrating them and I think the long-term impact women have had in agriculture will begin to become more evident. 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. Globally, we have probably about half and half of women leading international associations versus men so I really do think our time has come.”

Women are an important part of agriculture.

Jean Szkotnicki Photo.pdf

For the past 25 years, Jean Szkotnicki has led the Canadian Animal Health Institute in advocating for Canadian veterinary pharmaceutical companies while balancing the needs of livestock producers. A champion for antimicrobial stewardship, Jean was instrumental in ensuring antimicrobials are used properly as part of a “one health” approach to human and animal antibiotic use in Canada.

“It’s a surprise, and an honour and very humbling to be nominated,” says Szkotnicki. “Some of the people in the Hall of Fame have been my mentors over the years and to be considered in the same league with them is overwhelming. To be recognized for your work is just wonderful.”

Szkotnicki says this year’s all female CAHF inductees sends a clear message that women are an important part of agriculture. “It shows that women are competent, high energy, and collaborative. In the future, there will be just as many women being nominated as there were men as we continue to see more and more women in agriculture recognized for their roles.”

A lifetime serving the Canadian dairy industry.
Patty Jones May 17

Patty Jones has spent the last 44 years building her world-renowned, livestock photography business.  Her library contains more than 70,000 animals from all breeds. She is the official photographer to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. Patty also buys, sells and breeds dairy cattle on the family farm, Silvercap Holsteins near Puslinch, Ontario.

In following blog posts, we’ll tell you these amazing women’s stories. They talked to us about their Hall of Fame induction, what led them to their career paths, and their views on the changing role of women in agriculture.

Contact us today to find out how we use compelling storytelling, and attention-grabbing, professional graphic design to get our clients noticed and generate sales and success.

Watch for our new blog coming this summer

We’ll be launching a new blog this summer that will discuss issues relevant to some of the work that we do here at Angela Lovell Communications.

As well, we’ll be highlighting events and news from the industries we specialize in – primarily agriculture, health, small business and entrepreneurship.

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