Monthly Archives: June 2013

Virginia farm seeking ways to preserve bees

By Tonia Moxley The Roanoke Times © June 23, 2013


The bee sounded angry.

But after a few moments, she gave up looking for someone to sting and flew away.

It had not been a good day to open the honey bee hives at Spikenard Farm Honey Bee Sanctuary, said Gunther Hauk, executive director of the organization.

There had been too many clouds and the possibility of rain. Even after the hives had been closed up, one bee remained disturbed.

Hauk, 71, is the farm’s lead beekeeper, and he said he doesn’t wear the characteristic bee-proof veil most other beekeepers employ. No gloves or bee-proof suits, either. Even a recent sting in the nostril couldn’t make him put a protective layer between him and his beloved honey bee colonies.

At Spikenard, they do beekeeping and farming their own way and work to pass it on to the about 300 students who come annually to Floyd County for courses in a kind of sustainable agriculture called biodynamic farming.

Hauk and wife Vivian Struve-Hauk came to Floyd from Illinois about three years ago, after appearing in two national documentaries, “Vanishing of the Bees” in 2009 and “Queen of the Sun” in 2010. In those films, the Hauks talked about a new way of beekeeping that focused not on agricultural production, but on attention to honey bee health.

The films explored both scientific and philosophical opinions about colony collapse disorder (CCD), a largely unexplained syndrome affecting primarily commercial beekeepers who transport colonies across the country each year to pollinate crops, such as almonds in California and wild blueberries in Maine.

At the same time, hives owned by commercial and hobby beekeepers alike have been beset by an infestation of the Asian Varroa destructor mite traced to the 1980s. The mites vector more than a dozen known viruses that can also cause healthy colonies to dwindle and die out.

A rise in annual losses experienced over the past winter and spring across the country has refocused attention on the plight of honey bees and people’s economic dependence on them.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about a third of the fruits and vegetables sold in grocery stores are pollinated by honey bees provided by the commercial beekeepers who truck them across the country from crop to crop.

Declines in honey bees and other pollinators, such as native bees and butterflies, could cause crop failures and sharp increases in the prices of food, some experts say.

“People are not aware that we are going to hit a food crisis,” Hauk said. “But for me a crisis is a blessing.”

Crisis, like a circle, turns people around, he added. And a crisis might lead to a less industrialized food system.

“CCD is not only about one pesticide or two,” he said. “But is about how we farm and how we keep bees.”

Hauk, who established the nonprofit Spikenard Farm first in Illinois, saw that food system up close.

“We were surrounded by corn and soy; once in a great while you would see a wheat field,” Hauk said. “For hundreds of thousands of miles you have only one crop, and it’s dead.”

Not the crop, but the landscape was dead, Hauk said – eerily lacking in insects and animal life. Hauk said crop dusters sprayed chemicals right on the borders of the sanctuary, forcing him to leave a 600-acre property there and re-establish as a working farm, apiary and educational center on 25 acres in Floyd County. Today the sanctuary is surrounded by forests and organic farms.

Since “Vanishing of the Bees” was released in 2009, the Hauks have used their film appearances to promote an approach they practiced in Illinois, based on the teachings of early 20th century European philosopher and social reformer Rudolf Steiner, who believed that without a natural and spiritual focus in agriculture and education, Western civilization would destroy itself.

In that mold, Hauk said he eschews conventional methods and equipment used widely by commercial and hobby beekeepers for hand-made hives in which bees build the size and shape comb they choose. To fight mites, Hauk said he researched recipes for “biodynamic preparations” to help the bees fight them on their own.

Biodynamic farming relies in part on recipes for homeopathic remedies to enrich soil, boost honey bee health and contribute to overall agricultural fertility without artificial fertilizers or pesticides. Many of these same principles are used in modern organic farming, which is widely practiced in Floyd.

At Spikenard, much attention is also paid to the spiritual aspects of farming and of beekeeping. Hauk talks openly about encouraging “vitality” and “dynamic life force” in the hives. This approach encourages eye-rolling from some mainstream beekeepers, but their reaction doesn’t bother Hauk.

“Some crazy nut has to be out in front,” he said.

While his homeopathic approach turns off some, experts do cite some of the same of problems and solutions Hauk talks about.

Michigan-based Larry Connor is a former extension apicultural entomologist at The Ohio State University in Columbus, who also worked as a commercial bee breeder. Today he is an author, publisher, lecturer and educator for beekeepers.

Connor numbers the loss of pollinator habitat in the vast fields of corn and soy beans often termed “monoculture” as a top issue facing honey bees and beekeepers. The widespread use of herbicides with genetically modified crops has eliminated weeds that honey bees once used for food, Connor said.

Bees that forage in industrial fields of sweet corn can come in contact with pesticide residues that may cause behavior changes. Together with disease and weakness from Varroa mite infestation, these problems can cause significant colony losses, Connor said.

“But the Varroa mite is the overriding pressure,” he said.

Connor said fighting the mite relies not on miticides used for decades by beekeepers, but on mite-tolerant strains of bees developed by researchers to keep his colonies alive. Connor said he believes to stay afloat, other beekeepers will eventually have to do the same.

Meanwhile, Hauk said, he will continue to build up the grant-funded sanctuary and its programs, and help move it to greater self-sufficiency.

The farm’s board of directors purchased the property last year. And, earlier this month, the organization kicked off a capital campaign to raise $30,000 in 30 days to build an outdoor pavilion needed to establish an educational and retreat center.

For more information, visit

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Wanted:  Compact Tractor with Bush Hog

Compact tractor- up to 30HP; 4WD Diesel with front loader bucket and rear bush hog attachments. Reasonable hours of usage, $10,000 and below.

Rick Stafford
Last Resort Farm
(cell) 703-973-7687

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Invasive fly threatening U.S. fruit crops

Berry picking is pretty good in the Northern Piedmont right now and that has pushed the Drosophila to the front of my thoughts.  The article below is informative and its contents correspond with information shared by grower, Bill Green of Hartland Orchards  during a recent farm tour.

Apr. 2, 2013 By Matt Shipman, North Caroina State University

Humans aren’t the only species with a sweet tooth.

Research from North Carolina State University shows that the invasive spotted-wing vinegar fly (Drosophila suzukii) also prefers sweet, soft fruit — giving us new insight into a species that has spread across the United States over the past four years and threatens to cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to U.S. fruit crops.

“Because we know that D. suzukii prefers softer, sweeter fruit, we can focus our research efforts into which wild fruits may serve as reservoirs for this species and help identify new crops that might be at risk,” says Hannah Burrack, an assistant professor of entomology at North Carolina State and lead author of a paper on the research.

“These findings may also be a starting point for plant breeders interested in developing new fruit varieties that are more resistant to D. suzukii.”

Originally from east Asia, D. suzukii were first detected in California in 2008. They have since spread to states from Wisconsin to North Carolina to Florida.

The female flies use serrated blades on the tip of their abdomens to cut through the skin of ripe fruit and lay their eggs. The eggs hatch into larvae that feed on the flesh of the fruit until they reach maturity — ruining the fruit in the process.

Sellers go to great pains to remove infested fruit before it reaches the marketplace, so consumers won’t notice a difference in fruit quality.

But infestations can cause significant economic problems for fruit growers. For example, researchers estimate that D. suzukii has the potential to destroy 40 percent of blackberry and raspberry crops in the eastern U.S., which would affect berry prices and availability.

D. suzukiialready causes tens of millions of dollars in crop damage annually to cherries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries. But researchers estimate that losses could climb into the hundreds of millions of dollars per year if the pest can’t be controlled.

While ongoing studies explore pesticide-based approaches to control D. suzukii, the new research from North Carolina State should help scientists and farmers with other control options.

For example, the study found that D. suzukii are more likely to infest certain varieties of raspberries and blackberries. This means growers may be able to limit crop damage by planting more of the varieties that D. suzukii tend to avoid.

Similarly, this information allows farmers to focus pesticide treatment on varieties that are most susceptible to infestation.

The three-year study evaluated D. suzukii impacts in commercial blackberry and raspberry crops in North Carolina, and also encompassed laboratory experiments to help researchers determine which characteristics made fruits more likely to be infested.

The work was supported by the Southern Region Small Fruit Consortium, North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, North Carolina Department of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture and North Carolina Blueberry Council.

The paper, “Variation in selection and utilization of host crops in the field and laboratory by Drosophila suzuki iMatsumara (Diptera: Drosophilidae), an invasive frugivore,” was published online March 14 in Pest Management Science. Co-authors are Gina Fernandez, a professor of horticultural science at North Carolina State; Taylor Spivey, an undergraduate at Brevard College; and Dylan Kraus, an undergraduate at North Carolina State.

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Long-Term Agriculture Science Investment Is Seeing Pay-offs in Georgia

(It can pay off in Virginia too)

Originally Posted to by Sonny Ramaswamy, Director, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, on June 19, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Today, I am in Athens, Georgia, visiting the University of Georgia (UGA) and meeting with university leaders, faculty, and students to learn about the great work being done here to advance agriculture and solve some of our most pressing challenges.

NIFA has a long history of investing in agricultural science, and for much of the research it takes years to see the payoff. I’d like to highlight two projects at the University of Georgia NIFA has funded that are seeing real outcomes today.

Dr. Scott Nesmith, a professor of horticulture at UGA, began receiving funding from USDA in 2001 to develop blueberry cultivars adapted to the South. His work has resulted in new varieties of blueberries that are thriving in Georgia climate and soil. Three of his cultivars, Suzibel, Rebel and Camellia, are popular with growers and individuals. Rebel was bred to be an early crop blueberry whereas Camellia was bred as a late-season blueberry. The best part is Suzibel has a higher yield, on average 25 percent higher than industry standards.

Blueberry production in Georgia has increased from 3,500 acres to more than 20,000 acres over the past 10 years with annual farm gate values easily approaching $254 million. The blueberry has become Georgia’s number one fruit crop, surpassing peaches, and Georgia may well become the number one producer of blueberries in the country this year.

The second project at UGA I would like to highlight was originally supported in 2005 to track the entry of bacteria in poultry into the food chain. Research recently published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology found that high levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria on the farm corresponded to high levels on carcasses at the processing plant. Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria cause an estimated 1.9 million food-borne illnesses in the United States annually, and poultry is a major source of both.

As UGA professor of food animal and health management Roy Berghaus notes in the study, this has big implications on the methods used to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. Most efforts in risk reduction focus on the processing plant, however, the study suggests more efforts to eliminate bacteria on the farm would go a long way in reducing the number of foodborne illnesses we see each year.

As these two projects show, long-term investment in agricultural science goes a long way toward increasing agriculture production and food security and protecting the safety of America’s food supply.

– See more at:

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Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013

Investing in the future of American agriculture

H.R.1727 and S.837

Originally posted by National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Agriculture is a vibrant sector of our nation’s economy, yet high barriers to entry make farming and ranching one of the hardest careers to pursue. Limited access to land and markets, hyperinflation in land prices, high input costs, farm and tax policy disadvantages, and lack of training discourage many would-be producers from entering agriculture. As a result, the average American farmer is now 57-years-old, and the fastest growing group of farm operators are those 65 years and older. Despite these significant hurdles, there are dedicated people who see great opportunities in agriculture today and want to start their own farm or ranch businesses.

We need a national strategy and commitment to support beginning farmer and ranchers entering agriculture. With an aging farm population, now is the time to invest in the future of American agriculture by nurturing new agriculture start-ups.

Bill Basics

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013 will invest in the next generation of American producers by:

Enabling access to land, credit and technical assistance for new producers.

Assisting new producers to launch and strengthen new farm and value-added businesses.

Helping new producers become good land stewards.

Providing training, mentoring, and research that beginning farmers and ranchers need to be successful.

Conducting outreach on agricultural job opportunities for military veterans.

Why It Matters

The future of family farming and ranching in America – and the viability of our nation’s food supply – depends upon removing existing obstacles to entry into farming so that more people can start to farm.

This bill encompasses a national strategy for addressing those barriers, focusing on the issues that consistently rank as the greatest challenges for beginning producers.

This bill makes an important investment in the next generation of farmers and ranchers at a cost of just a fraction of one percent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget. The Act is a bipartisan and bicameral bill that was recently introduced in both the House and Senate in April 2013.

The bill is a result of strategic collaboration among many individuals and farmer advocacy organizations, including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and many NSAC member groups, including Land Stewardship Project, Center for Rural Affairs, National Young Farmers’ Coalition, California FarmLink, and Michigan Organic

More information available at

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Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack: Climate change will soon affect agriculture

Have you ever wondered whether Virginia will become the new North Carolina?

Here is a portion of an article that communicates Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack’s message regarding climate change and the need for farmers to take note and get ready.

Washington D.C. — U.S. farmers and ranchers must adapt or risk getting left behind as climate change becomes an increasingly influential part of the agricultural landscape, the head of the U.S. Agriculture Department said Wednesday.

During a speech in Washington, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said better technological advancements through products such as seed so far have been enough to maintain production levels despite more intense storms, forest fires and an increase in invasive species.

But Vilsack, who served two terms as Iowa’s governor, called the threat of a changing climate “much different than anything we’ve ever tackled” and warned that without more drastic changes the accelerating pace and intensity of global warming during the next few decades may soon begin to significantly affect agriculture.

“If we do not adapt and mitigate climate impacts, it could have an impact on yields, it could have an impact on where we grow, what we grow in the future,” Vilsack told reporters after a speech on the effects of climate change on agriculture. “This is not something that is a next week issue or a next year issue, but this is something that over the next several decades we’re going to continue to confront.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 2012 was the hottest year ever in the United States since record-keeping began in 1895, surpassing the previous high by a full degree Fahrenheit.

The country was battered by the worst drought to hit the United States in more than 50 years, leaving some crops to wither away in bone-dry fields across the Midwest. Plentiful spring rains have nearly eradicated drought across Iowa. Currently, 2 percent of the state is mired in a drought, compared to all of Iowa at the start of 2013.

Vilsack noted the impact climate change has had on various regions of the country. In the Midwest and Great Plains, the growing season has been extended by nearly two weeks during his lifetime.

As temperatures climb, he said, future crop production will change, depending on water availability and other factors. In areas where water-intensive fruit and vegetables are grown, drought-resistant row crops may one day be planted.

“I am not here today to give a scientific lecture on climate change,” Vilsack said during his speech. “I’m here to tell you what we’re seeing on the ground.”

Vilsack announced a series of initiatives the USDA is implementing to help producers, including the creation of so-called “Regional Climate Hubs” to work with producers and foresters in different parts of the country on ways to reduce the impact of climate change on their operations. USDA also has a database to help farmers see how conservation practices would change their greenhouse emissions and boost the capture of carbon from the atmosphere.

Originally published by the Desmoine Register.|head


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Conservation Districts Are Like Noses: Everybody Has One

New to your area or food production in general?  After meeting the Virginia Cooperative Extension agent serving your area, make plans to visit  the local conservation district office.  Your extension agent and your conservation district employees should be among the all-stars on your farm team.

In my area, we look to John Marshall Soil & Water Conservation District but in Rockingham County, Shenandoah Valley Soil & Water Conservation District supports local residents.  The point is, everyone in Virginia enjoys the support of a local conservation district for those things relating to “. . . locally-driven solutions to natural resource concerns.” (National Association of Conservation Districts).

I thought that it is interesting and worth sharing that a national-level organization exists for the 3,000 local conservation districts in the United States.   See the contributions of conservation districts at your national, state, and local levels at

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