Tag Archives: VDACS

Scientists determine key factors of honeybee decline

Working with Bees – Virginia Tech from VirginiaTech on Vimeo.


Though a contributing factor, farmer-applied pesticides are not the primary cause of honeybee colony loss in Virginia, according to Virginia Tech scientists Richard Fell and Carlyle Brewster.

The scientists recently took wax, pollen, and bee samples from more than 110 hives across the state and have analyzed about half of them for pesticide residues.

class2“We did not find excessive amounts of agricultural pesticides in the hives, but we did find a significant amount of beekeeper-applied miticide,” said Fell, professor emeritus of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Intended to kill the invasive, parasitic varroa mite, miticides can also be damaging to bees. Fell urged beekeepers to sample their colonies to determine mite infestation levels before treating. If treatment is necessary, beekeepers should use a miticide that does not cause residue problems, such as formic acid.

As more information emerges on the spread of the Zika virus, Fell also encouraged the public to be mindful that mosquito pesticides are toxic to honeybees and should only be applied when absolutely necessary.

Fell and Brewster, who is also a professor of entomology, are now in the third year of a five-year, $1.4 million project funded by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to better understand honeybee decline.

Their next step is to examine select hives more intensely to determine other key factors involved in honeybee loss. The approximate rate of hive loss in Virginia is more than 30 percent per year, and continued losses are expected to drive up the cost for important crops that bees make possible, such as apples, melons, and squash.

While it is good news that agricultural pesticides are not wholly to blame, it also means that the problem is more complicated than expected, and the researchers have their work cut out for them.

“Landscape change, lack of habitat, and climate change’s impact on floral bloom seasons are all factors that impact honeybees that we need to learn more about and potentially develop strategies around,” Brewster said.

Tim Kring, department head of entomology, said he will hire two new pollinator scientists — one researcher and one Extension specialist — in the coming year.

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New workforce opportunities for students

Holston High School students played an important role in finishing the inside of the barn that was built using the grant funds. Once the structure was up, they constructed walls and sides to keep the animals safe.

Holston High School students played an important role in finishing the inside of the barn that was built using the grant funds. Once the structure was up, they constructed walls and sides to keep the animals safe.

Agriculture is an evolving industry that is becoming more scientific and technical. These changes mean exciting new career opportunities, but students must be equipped with the skills and knowledge to meet employers’ ever-changing needs.

In an effort to help teachers prepare students for these jobs, Virginia Tech has provided six Virginia high school programs with Virginia Agricultural Education Centers of Innovation grants. This funding is made possible through the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services with matching funds from the Virginia Tech Foundation Fund for Community Viability.

“We are excited to work with agriculture teachers who are pushing traditional boundaries to broaden students’ education and career opportunities,” said Donna Westfall-Rudd, associate professor of agricultural, leadership, and community education and project leader for Virginia Agricultural Education Centers of Innovation.

Teachers were asked to develop proposals that detailed curriculum and activities that supported contemporary agricultural education through the use of new classroom and laboratory technology. The goal of the innovative curriculum was to improve students’ career and college readiness.

In Washington County, Holston High School agriculture teacher Sarah Scyphers used her grant to build a barn to house animals near the school. Scyphers is excited about the learning possibilities associated with keeping the animals on-site. “Instead of playing games and just identifying things, the students can now put their hands on the animals,” she said.

Having the animals at the school will allow Scyphers and Phil Blevins, the Virginia Cooperative Extension agriculture and natural resources agent in Washington County, to conduct Beef Quality Assurance training for the students during the school day.

John Carpenter, the middle school agriculture teacher in Carroll County, has worked with Handibot, a smart power tool company, to develop a compact, computerized, numerical-control milling machine that is ideal for school systems as well as affordable. Carpenter’s students are using drafting software to develop programming skills while learning an appreciation for one of our country’s leading natural resources — timber.

Halifax County agriculture students made art-inspired garden decor and tools. These items will be sold in an online store created by the students and their high school teacher, Jon Chandler, as an entrepreneurial experience. The students built the online store while learning horticulture and developing business skills.

Lessons created for these and the other programs are available to teachers through the Virginia Agricultural Education Centers of Innovation website. Grant recipients have also shared their experiences at the Early Career Teachers conference and the National Association of Agriculture Educators convention.

Community resources and expertise were extremely valuable to teachers developing innovative programs. Each teacher formed an advisory committee made up of community leaders, local industry representatives, parents, and school board members. These committees provided guidance for curriculum development and assistance during implementation of the programs. This support ensured that students received relevant skill development to prepare them for college or future careers.

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