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Monday, January 23, 2017

How the bee population affects agriculture as we know it

"Beekeepers across the United States lost 44 percent of their honey bee colonies during the year spanning April 2015 to April 2016, according to the latest preliminary results of an annual nationwide survey. Rates of both winter loss and summer loss—and consequently, total annual losses—worsened compared with last year. This marks the second consecutive survey year that summer loss rates rivaled winter loss rates. [...] The researchers note that many factors are
Bee with a Varroa mite
contributing to colony losses. A clear culprit is the varroa mite, a lethal parasite that can easily spread between colonies. Pesticides and malnutrition caused by changing land use patterns are also likely taking a toll, especially among commercial beekeepers."

In a report published in 2009 by , and might I add according to them only by them there is no record of any other news sources picking up this report and republishing it. Several Blogs, Articles and Book's have republished many quotes from this report but as far as I can tell it hasn't been republished in its entirety anywhere. The final paragraph of the Discussion in this report goes as follows;

"This is the first descriptive epizootiological survey of honey bee colonies that provides evidence that the condition known as CCD is consistent with a contagious condition or reflective of common risk factors within apiaries Of the 61 variables quantified (including adult bee physiology, pathogen loads, and pesticide levels), no single factor was found with enough consistency to suggest one causal agent. Bees in CCD colonies had higher pathogen loads and were co-infected with more pathogens than control populations, suggesting either greater pathogen exposure or reduced defenses in CCD bees. Levels of the miticide coumaphos were higher in control populations than CCD-affected populations. Potentially important areas for future hypothesis-driven research, including the possible legacy effect of mite parasitism and role of honey bee resistance to pesticides, are highlighted.1"

Even though the CCD states that they cannot pinpoint one thing that suggests a higher risk than others, it is evident that the neonicotinoids do have a substantial effect on the bee population and the UK has gone as far as to ban them for the next two years, so we will see what happens. 

The Makers of the neonicotinoids, not naming names, claim that their product is safe if used correctly and diminishes quickly. However gives us another take on this. 

In a recent article citing The University of Bern Journal they tell us that, ""Insecticides are designed to kill insect pests. Bees, and many other important pollinators, are also insects that will be killed by insecticides if exposure levels are high enough," Raine said....What's being debated is the extent to which field levels of exposure have impacts on pollinators, he said....."It varies enormously depending on many factors, including the type of insecticide, how it is applied and which pollinator species you consider. Current evidence suggests that bumblebees and solitary bees are more severely affected by neonicotinoids than honeybees."

Yale author, Elizabeth Grossman states in her article from 2013 that "But because the insecticide stays with the plant as it grows, it raises questions about the potential for bees to be exposed through nectar, pollen, or leaf surface moisture, where a growing number of studies are finding evidence of neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are known to be toxic to bees, earthworms, and other terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, as was noted in documents submitted to the EPA when they were registered...'The motivation for producing neonicotinoids was reduced human toxicity, but the environmental and ecosystem impacts were not considered in enough detail to predict what’s going on,'3 says Frazier of Penn State. 

This article was written for information purposes only and it truly intrigues you I encourage you to go down the "rabbit hole" and make your own decision. Since this is a public forum I do not want to take one side or the other, but I do intend to go even further down "the rabbit hole". 


Friday, January 20, 2017

Another Scientific Breakthrough: Artificial Plant Breeding

Artificial Selection is a form of selection in which humans actively choose which traits should be passed onto offspring. Humans have used selective breeding long before Darwin's Postulates and the discovery of genetics. Farmers chose cattle with beneficial traits such as larger size or producing more milk, and made them breed; and although they may have known nothing about genes, they knew that the beneficial traits could be heritable. The farmers selected for certain traits in their cattle and probably noticed that the offspring were becoming more and more productive with each generation. Scientists study these traits and spend a lot of time calculating how heritable these traits can be. The more these traits are expressed in the offspring (i.e. size, milk production, etc), the more heritable these traits are said to be. Hunting is also a form of artificial selection, with the genes that humans "want" (i.e. - the biggest buck with the most points, the largest fish, etc.) being removed from the gene pool, allowing the less "wanted" genes to pass on to the next generation by increasing their odds of mating when compared to the hunted specimens. (qtd.[1]

Though farmers had known for centuries that crossbreeding of animals and plants could favor certain desirable traits, Mendel's pea plant experiments conducted between 1856 and 1863 established many of the rules of heredity, now referred to as the laws of Mendelian inheritance.[2]

Gregor Mendel is usually considered to be the founder of modern genetics. Though farmers had known for centuries that crossbreeding of animals and plants could favor certain desirable traits, Mendel's pea plant experiments conducted between 1856 and 1863 established many of the rules of heredity.[2]

An Augustinian monk living in what is now the Czech Republic, Mendel had access to an experimental garden in which he could breed “true” lines of pea plants and patiently wait for them to crossbreed in specified combinations. He worked with seven characteristics of pea plants: plant height, pod shape and color, seed shape and color, and flower position and color. Using the
Mendel used Pea Plants in some
of his first experiments
example of seed color, his results showed that when a yellow pea and a green pea were bred together their offspring plant was always yellow. However, in the next generation of plants, the green peas reappeared at a ratio of 1:3.

To explain this phenomenon, Mendel coined the terms “recessive” and “dominant” in reference to certain traits. (In the preceding example, green peas are recessive and yellow peas are dominant.) He published his work in 1866, demonstrating the actions of invisible “factors”—what we now call genes —in providing for visible traits in predictable ways.[2]

Mendel never enjoyed recognition in his lifetime. In fact, it was more than three decades later, in 1900, that three scientists doing agricultural research discovered his 1866 paper. Erich Tschermak, Hugo de Vries, and Carl Correns independently verified several of Mendel's experimental findings, and the "age of genetics" was born. In the next several decades, scientists would learn more about genes and the special substance called DNA that carried each living thing's specific traits.[2]


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Agriculture and the and the Science behind it - Wheat crop expansion

In previous posts we discussed the top Ten Agriculture Machines and their importance; many other inventions came along as well, such as "mechanical planters, cutters, huskers and shellers .... as did cream separators, manure spreaders, potato planters, hay driers, poultry incubators and a hundred other inventions".1

The importance of Science behind the Ag industry seems to have taken a back seat to the aesthic appearance and grandeur of so many many wonderful machines. The Ag industry would not have made the gains it made in the 19th Century if it was not for the "1862 the Morrill Land Grant College Act [which] allotted public land to each state for the establishment of agricultural and industrial colleges. These were to serve both as educational institutions and as centers for research in scientific farming. Congress subsequently appropriated funds for the creation of agricultural experiment stations throughout the country and also granted funds directly to the Department of Agriculture for research purposes. By the beginning of the new century, scientists throughout the United States were at work on a wide variety of agricultural projects. Ironically, the federal policy that enabled farmers to increase yields ultimately generated vast supplies which drove market prices down -- and disheartened farmers."1

In the late 1800's a Scientist by the name of Mark Carleton who worked for the USDA set our to find a high yield wheat crop that was drought resistant as well as rust resistant. In his research Carelton had come to realize that the Mennonite Farming Community's crops had fared much
better than the average American Farmers crops. It was then that Carleton decided to travel to Russia and Europe where he found three types of wheat that he brought back to the U.S.; much to the chagrin for American farmers and millers. These new crops however proved more successful than traditional American crops. 

By 1901 Carleton had become the Cerealist that was in charge of all grain invention's at the Bureau of Plant Industry. With this new
position Carleton had greater freedom to travel and test the new types of wheat. 

"A number of such varieties were secured and planted at Manhattan, Fort Hays and McPherson. Twenty-six of these varieties of Russian wheat were planted at Manhattan in the fall of 1908."
 Many of these gave excellent results in just the first traials. "The yields in 1909 of several of the best producing varieties are as follows : Banatka, 55.26 ; Champanka, 53.06; White Awnless, 52.27; Ozucka, 51.14; Russian No. 1208, 50.97; Byelokolasska, 50.67; Egyptian, 50.26, bushels per acre, respectively."3
"1908 Carleton became the founding president of the American Society of Agronomy. Unfortunately, despite Carleton’s success at finding a studier wheat crop, personal tragedy and conflicting interests forced his career to an early end in 1918. In 1920 Carleton traveled to Panama and Honduras to study diseases in bananas for the American Fruit Company, and on April 25, 1925, Carleton died in Peru from heart complications caused by malaria".2
 Many other Scientists framed the Ag community as we know it today so stay tuned for the next article.2