Category Archives: Agriculture

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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Extension is ahead of the curve on new food safety rules

As part of its grower services program, the Local Food Hub’s Adrianna Vargo conducts a mock audit of Singing Earth Farm in Augusta County.

As part of its grower services program, the Local Food Hub’s Adrianna Vargo conducts a mock audit of Singing Earth Farm in Augusta County.

Adrianna Vargo, director of grower services at Charlottesville’s Local Food Hub, has collaborated with Virginia Cooperative Extension to get critical information to growers regarding the Food and Drug Administration’s new Food Safety Modernization Act. Its aim is to make the food supply safer by shifting the focus from responding to food contamination problems to preventing them from occurring. The policy is the most sweeping reform of U.S. food safety laws for both human and animal foods in 70 years.

Vargo and Extension have acted as boots-on-the-ground liaisons for more than 60 growers throughout Virginia and in North Carolina by providing critical workshops to ensure producers will be able to comply with FSMA legislation.

“One of the aspects of this legislation that has been a huge concern for growers is water testing. FSMA requires so many more water tests throughout the growing season,” Vargo said. “Extension has been an invaluable resource for training. They have been very inclusive and responsive to growers’ needs.”

While implementation of updated food safety rules could be tricky for producers and others in the food supply chain, the new FSMA rules have been on Virginia Cooperative Extension’s radar for a long time. Extension has already been training growers and listening to the challenges they could face when the new rules go into effect after a grace period over the next couple of years.

“As Extension, we see a wide variety of needs, said Amber Vallotton, the state fresh produce food safety coordinator. “We already collaborate on a lot of programs for growers that address the issues that fall under FSMA. All of the trainings have been to push the whole point of understanding risk and preventive measures.”

Laura Strawn, an assistant professor of food science and technology and produce safety specialist at the Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center, heads up technical resources, education, and outreach for Virginia through the FSMA Southern Training Center, part of a network of USDA-funded regional centers charged with helping stakeholders comply with FSMA rules. The Southern Training Center, represented by academic and industry experts, uses a “train the trainer” model to train others about the new regulations and requirements. Ultimately, these new trainers teach the growers.

As a lead instructor in both the Produce Safety Alliance and the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance curricula, Strawn has partnered with several grower associations and commodity boards, including the Northern Neck Vegetable Growers Association and the Virginia Apple Board, as well as the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and nongovernmental organizations like the Local Food Hub to provide FSMA trainings.

“We are well-prepared for the FSMA rules affecting the produce industry here in Virginia,” Strawn said. “Over the past year alone, we have communicated with several hundred growers throughout Virginia to discuss standards and compliance dates with the FSMA rules.”

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