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Articles from 2014 In January

Corn+Soybean Digest
Corn planted in 12inch rows on the left and 20inch rows on the right highlights how inrow spacing differences could help boost yields in highpopulation production systems
<p>Corn planted in 12-inch rows on the left and 20-inch rows <span style="font-size: 13px;">on the right highlights how in-row spacing differences could </span><span style="font-size: 13px;">help boost yields in high-population production systems.</span></p>

Farmers test narrow corn rows, high plant population

What could be the future of high-yield corn production got a test run on a tiny plot on one of Steve Ford’s best fields in 2013.

Ford, one of about two dozen Corn Belt farmers with similar Stine-sponsored test plots, was more than a little curious about how high-population corn planted in 12-inch rows would stand up – and how it would yield.

“It made 283 bushels per acre,” says Ford, who farms near Redkey, Ind., in northeastern Indiana, close to the Ohio state line. “My combine doesn’t get to see yields like that. There was almost none of it down. That is something you worry about at high populations. The strength of the stalks, surprised me.”

Ford says similar ground planted at 34,000 seeds per acre in 30-inch rows yielded about 220 bushels per acre in 2013, a year that produced his best-ever corn crop. That corn, planted May 15, had a head start on the 12-inch corn, which was planted June 8 or 9 at a 54,000 population.

“In my mind, I do not know how much difference the excellent growing conditions made for the 12-inch corn,” he says. “I am not going to go out and buy a new planter for this. But I am going to play around with it in 15-inch rows on a high-clay nob across from my house in 2014. It intrigues me enough to continue working with it.”


The high-population premise

Corn plant populations – and yields – have been edging upwards in roughly lock step over past 80 years. It’s that correlation that convinced Stine Seed to begin pushing the concept in its breeding program in recent years by selecting for corn specifically suited for populations well above today’s standards.

In 2012, it made a splash when it showcased special-bred high-population hybrids planted in 12-inch rows on its Adel, Iowa seed farm. In 2013, it upped the ante by planting 15,000 acres in 12-inch rows, and rolled out an on-farm trial program with test plots at 26 locations across the Corn Belt.

“We have increased yields by a factor of almost five over the past 80 years, and plant populations are up by the same factor of four or five,” explains David Thompson, Stine national sales and marketing director..

“What that means is that we harvested the same amount of grain per plant in 2012 as we did in 1930,” he adds. Once you understand that, the path to 300 or 350 or 400 bushels/acre is pretty clear. By our math, to harvest 350 bushels/acre, you need something in the neighborhood of 60,000 plants per acre. The question is, how are we going to get that many plants on that acre?”

Stine’s answer? Plant in significantly narrower rows. For example, in 12-inch rows, at 60,000 seeds per acre, plants would be spaced every 8.7 inches. In 30-inch rows, spacing would be about every 3.5 inches at the same population – too close to avoid competition from crowding, says Thompson.

Yield as populations increase


Paradigm shift?

It remains to be seen whether high plant populations and narrow rows are the wave of the future. But many seed companies are testing the concept, although not as publically as Stine Seed, says Mark Licht, Iowa State University field agronomist.

“I would say that most seed companies are looking at pushing their hybrids to see whether they can get better performance at higher seeding rates,” he says.

“Ultimately, this could be a paradigm shift,” he says. “This is going to get us thinking about our corn systems in a new way. All of a sudden, its not just how did this hybrid perform at narrower row spacing. It’s how is it going to perform at ultra high populations.”

Discussing the link between plant population and yield is nothing new, but the big jump in plant populations being tried by Stine Seed is, says Licht.

“For years we have said that the way to increase yields is to put more plants out there,” he adds. “Part of the thinking is based on yield physiology. We are breeding for one ear per plant. Yes, we can get a bit more yield by adding a few more kernels per ear. But in order to get significantly more yield, we have to get more plants out there.”

But that theory often hasn’t been borne out in higher yields in field trials of sub-30-inch corn planted with traditional hybrids at plant populations slightly higher than normal, notes Licht.

However, he contends that researchers have fallen prey to planting hybrids selected for 30-inch rows and 35,000 seeding rates. “One of the major flaws of my own work is that when we have changed row spacing, we have done it with a common hybrid,” says Licht. “I have quit doing these trials because of the difficulty of identifying a hybrid that was developed for that scenario. If we really want to look at ultra high populations, we really have to look at hybrids that were selected for that environment.”


2013 results

In addition to farmer field trials, Stine Seed conducted trials in 2013 comparing six of its high-population hybrids at four seeding rates (34,000, 43,000, 51,000 and 60,000) and two rows widths (20 and 12 inches) at multiple locations.

In 12-inch rows, the highest populations were the yield winners with four of the six hybrids, The 51,000 seeding rate won or tied with the highest population in the other two face-offs. Winning yields ranged from 225 to 250 bushels/acre.

Thompson acknowledges that adoption of high-population narrow-row corn faces many challenges, including availability of suitable hybrids, planting and harvesting equipment. “Our goal is to demonstrate what is possible,” he says. “We think we are moving this conversation forward.”

In 2014, Stine plans to continue its demonstration program. It also will provide a portion of cooperating farmers’ seed on fields planted to select hybrids at seeding rates above 38,000 and in rows 20 inches wide and narrower.



Conditions within a narrow-row field could differ from the 30-inch growing environment enough to require changes, he adds. “How do we sidedress N? How do we spray narrow-row corn? Do we go with a skip row and controlled traffic?” asks Licht. “If we go to narrower rows, we will have to shift our thinking when it comes to general crop management.”

For example, preemergence weed control programs could become more critical because of the challenges of making follow-up applications in the emerged crop. But the crop likely would canopy earlier and effectively control late-emerging weeds earlier than in wider rows.

Differences in in-field airflow based on different spacing and shorter plant stature could affect disease and insect pressure – for better or for worse. “Would we have more diseases in corn, or would they be less problematic?” he asks. “We don’t know.”

Stine Seed says that management practices for ultra-narrow-row corn will have to be refined as more experience is gained. For now, the company recommends that growers testing the concept consider using a fungicide to combat possible heightened disease pressure.


Arkansas’s Rick Crawford spreading the word about U.S. rice

In a country where farmers grow more than 90 million acres of corn and more than 80 million acres of soybeans annually, crops like rice and peanuts – and even cotton – can look very small.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t important economically, especially to the communities in states where they are grown, says Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., a speaker at the Arkansas Rice Council and Arkansas Rice Farmers meeting in Stuttgart yesterday (Jan. 30).

The day before Crawford was one of 266 House members voting for the Agriculture Act of 2014, the long-awaited farm bill he helped write as a member of the House Agriculture Committee and of the Farm Bill Conference Committee.

“If you haven’t been watching, we’ve been up against some pretty tremendous odds,” he said. “One of the things I observed almost on day one when I got to Washington was that politics in Washington are largely dictated by geography as much as they are by party affiliation, and that was certainly true with the farm bill.

“So we had a lot of Midwest representation that simply doesn’t understand the way things are done in Arkansas, and they particularly don’t understand Arkansas rice production (or in other states, for that matter).”

Crawford says when he tells his colleagues that the First Congressional District in Arkansas is responsible for about half the U.S. rice production, he gets puzzled looks. “First, they scratch their heads and say ‘I didn’t even know we grew rice in the United States.’ Then they say, ‘You guys grow rice in Arkansas.’”

Crawford and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., faced an uphill battle after the Senate came out of the starting gate with a “one size fits all farm bill” that provided a safety net for Midwest corn and soybean growers and few others.

Southern members of the House Ag Committee like Crawford and Rep. Mike Conway, R-Texas, chairman of the General Farm Commodities Committee wrote provisions into their version of the farm bill that would provide assistance to rice and peanut growers during times of weather disasters and low prices.

“I think they (Midwest members) are getting the message, but this farm bill was a tough one,” said Crawford. “We have a safety net in place. It’s not what you’re used to. But with the help of your legislative staff with the Arkansas Rice Farmers, we’ve been able to arrive at something you can live with.

“We would certainly have liked to get more. But under the circumstances, I think that what we did was pretty remarkable given the conditions that exist in Washington with the budget constraints and the continual pounding that Arkansas producers have received over the years going back to 2000 when the crosshairs were squarely placed on Mid-South agriculture.”

The Farm Bill Conference Report received near-unanimous support from the Mid-South congressional delegations. Only one House member from Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton, a Republican, voted against the measure.

For more on the farm bill, click on


Farm bill passes house, Senate to vote soon

Farmers across the U.S. heard good news this week as farm bill legislation was approved in the Conference Committee, and then went to the House for a passing vote of 251 to 166. The Senate is expected to vote next week.

Commodity and agriculture-related organizations were pleased with the bill passage in the House.

“We’re thrilled to see today’s action on the part of the House and look forward to an equally fast consideration in the Senate,” said NCGA President Martin Barbre, who observed the floor vote from the House gallery while visiting the Capitol. “This legislation provides an adequate and flexible farm safety net, as well as a strong federal crop insurance program. More importantly, farmers need the certainty of a new five-year law, and we are happy to see this legislation includes many reforms we’ve supported and stressed over the years, reforms that make sense both for farmers and taxpayers.”

The American Soybean Association supports the bill’s risk management framework; its strengthening of crop insurance; streamlining and optimization of conservation programs; investment in critical trade development and renewables like biodiesel and biobased products; support for beginning farmers and ranchers and acknowledgment of the role of agricultural research.

“We have maintained throughout this process that we are willing to work together with all of agriculture to move this process forward,” Gaesser said. “The bill is a reflection of that willingness to cooperate and compromise and Chairwoman Stabenow, Chairman Lucas, and Ranking Members Cochran and Peterson deserve great credit for producing a bill that captures that cooperation and compromise so well.

“We can see the finish line,” he added. “It’s been a long, long road to this point, but we’re almost there. It’s up to the Senate now to bring this process to fruition by passing the farm bill.”

Individual state organizations are pleased with the bill and the quick movement through the House.

“After more than two years of work, we’re pleased to finally see a farm bill move forward out of the House. This bill addresses many of the policy objectives Illinois farmers have stressed during the lengthy debate and provides needed business certainty for farmers over what could be a very challenging next five years,” says Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert, Jr.

“The farm bill strengthens the federal crop insurance program, which is the most important risk management tool available to farmers. The bill maintains resources for cost-share, working land conservation programs that allow farmers improve water quality, and adapt to tightening regulations.

“This legislation is not only fiscally responsible, but helps Illinois farmers put a much needed five-year plan in place to help manage their risk in an increasingly risky business.  We applaud our Representatives’ hard work in crafting and supporting this important legislation and urge our Senators to follow suit,” Guebert says.

 “We appreciate the farm bill’s swift passage in the House of Representatives and urge the Senate to do the same, ultimately putting the bill on President Obama’s desk,” said Mark Gross, president of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association.

“This is the largest deficit reducing bill to pass through Congress in some time. Beyond that we are pleased with the options farmers will have when it comes to risk management.“

The South Dakota Farmers Union echoed the support.

"This farm bill provides South Dakota's number one industry with much needed aid as well as hope for a bright future," Sombke said. "On behalf of the family farmers, ranchers and South Dakota's consumers, I commend the House on passing the farm bill. The conference report is a true compromise and I am pleased to have certainty for all South Dakotans."

The Independent Community Bankers of America weighed in on the passage, too.

“ICBA is pleased the House today passed a new farm bill. Adopting this compromise legislation has amounted to a herculean effort over the past couple of years. The legislation will provide a long-term framework for agricultural and rural policies that will benefit rural America, our farmers and ranchers, and the community banks that serve them.  

 “ICBA appreciates the farm bill’s strengthening of crop and revenue insurance programs, removal of term limits on USDA guaranteed farm operating loans, and other federal policies important to rural America.


There are several resources with details about the House-passed legislation and the bill that came out of the Conference Committee.

The Climate Corporation Addresses Farmer Data, Privacy

The Climate Corporation Addresses Farmer Data, Privacy

The Climate Corporation on Friday announced the availability of its new Guiding Principles on Data and Privacy statement, as well as the formation of a new Open Agriculture Data Alliance.

According to David Friedberg, CEO of The Climate Corporation, development of new technologies in agriculture comes with some level of uncertainty about its potential implications. However, Climate Corp's plan is to immediately and transparently address some farmers' concerns about data use and privacy.

New outline addresses data collection and commitment to farmer privacy; new Open Agriculture Data Alliance formed

"In our experience, farmers are more likely to embrace new technologies that will drive the evolution of agricultural production when they have certainty about the use, privacy and control of the data they personally generate on their own farms," he said.

Friedberg added that the concerns can be addressed while advancing the conversation about industry standards that support farmers' needs.

"Farmers come first and we need to do what we can to make sure the industry is adopting practices and standards that do what's best for the farmer," he said.

Two years ago, Monsanto established its Integrated Farming Systems platform that aimed to combine data science with precision agriculture technologies to help farmers derive new value. Recently, these research and product development teams, along with the Precision Planting group, transitioned to The Climate Corporation, led by Friedberg.

"Throughout the process of building our platform, we've reached out to our farmer customers and industry stakeholders for their input and they've told us that farmers need to know how their data will be used and protected in order for them to embrace data science in agriculture," Friedberg said.

"The Climate Corporation believes that farmers must have control over the data they provide to us, and they must be able to move it easily across different technology platform. It's our responsibility to remove the roadblocks to the growth and adoption of these important technologies," he added.

Following the announcement, American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said The Climate Corporation's plan was an important step toward securing widespread cooperation on big-data issues.

"We are encouraged by the fact that the company is working to address some of the concerns about data privacy, security and ownership expressed by our members," Stallman noted in a statement. "Farm Bureau will work quickly to convene formal discussions with all interested parties with a goal of securing cooperation on this emerging issue among farmers, companies and other production chain stakeholders."

Specific commitments
The Climate Corporation is committing to several guiding principles that will drive its development of data related products and services. According to the company:

• Farmers own the data they create.

The company will make it easy for farmers to control who can access the data they provide and for what purpose, and enable farmers to easily remove that data from our systems. We will only use a farmer's data to deliver and improve the services for which they are subscribing. We will ensure safeguards are in place to protect farmer information from outside parties, and we will not sell customer-provided data to third parties.


• We will provide basic data services for farmers free of charge. 

Farmers need to be able to easily create, store and access their data, and The Climate Corporation will provide basic data services free of charge.

• Farmers need to easily access and share their information across technology platforms. 

The company will enable farmers to share their data across other platforms at no cost.  This approach requires industry standards that enable both consistency in the collection of data and farmers' easy transfer of that data between platforms.

Open Agriculture Data Alliance
The Climate Corporation is also forming an Open Agriculture Data Alliance of providers and farmers to act as an independent body that will ensure that different platforms share common interoperability, common data formats, and security and privacy standards.

Enabling different systems to work together will give farmers more control, and can ultimately help farmers optimize yield, improve conservation practices, and improve the profitability of their operations, Climate Corp says.

Many other industries, including healthcare, banking, retail and online services, are leveraging data to deliver improved customer experiences and new value.

"As data science is applied to agriculture, The Climate Corporation understands and respects our need to earn the trust of our farmer customers," said Monsanto President and Chief Operating Officer Brett Begemann.  "We're at the forefront of a revolutionary new opportunity to advance agricultural productivity.  We're taking a bold step in the direction of transparency to enable the growth of this platform and to make farming more sustainable as we work to meet the demands of a growing planet."

To read the The Climate Corporation's guiding principles for data access and privacy visit

DWR: 2014 State Water Project allocation now zero

DWR: 2014 State Water Project allocation now zero

The 2014 State Water Project (SWP) allocation is now zero-nil-nada-not nary a drop.

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) took this action Jan. 31 to “conserve the state’s precious resources and protect Californians’ health and safety from more severe shortages in the months ahead.”

The bottom line, the state agency says, is that farmers, fish, and people in cities and towns will get less water.

"The harsh weather leaves us little choice," said DWR Director Mark Cowin. 

The DWR action is in response to Governor Jerry Brown’s Jan. 19 state drought emergency.

Director Cowan said, "If we are to have any hope of coping with continued dry weather and balancing multiple needs, we must act now to preserve what water remains in our reservoirs."

Except for a small amount of carryover water from 2013, SWP customers will get no deliveries in 2014 if current dry conditions persist.

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Deliveries to agricultural districts with long-standing water rights in the Sacramento Valley could be cut 50 percent - the maximum permitted by contract - depending upon future snow survey results.

DWR says many areas served by the SWP have other sources of water, including groundwater, local reservoirs, and other supplies.

“It is our duty to give State Water Project customers a realistic understanding of how much water they will receive from the Project,” Cowin said. “Simply put, there’s not enough water in the system right now for customers to expect any water this season from the project.”

DWR has asked the SWRCB to adjust water permit terms that control State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project operations in order to preserve dwindling supplies in upstream reservoirs for farms, fisheries, and cities and towns as the drought continues.

While additional winter storms could provide a limited boost to reservoir storage and water deliveries, DWR says heavy rain and snow are needed every other day from now until May to get to an average annual rain and snowfall.

But DPR says California still would be in a drought since a normally wet December and January have been critically dry, and follow a record dry 2013 and a dry 2012.

After two previous dry years, DPR says 2014 is shaping up as the driest in state history. Current water storage in key reservoirs is lower than at this period in 1977, one of the two previous driest water years on record.

The Sierra snow survey Jan. 30 found the snowpack’s statewide water content at only 12 percent of average for this time of year.

Reservoir levels

Lake Oroville in Butte County, the principal SWP reservoir, is at 36 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity (55 percent of the historical average for the date). 

Shasta Lake north of Redding - California’s and the federal Central Valley Project’s (CVP) largest reservoir - is at 36 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity (54 percent average to date). 

The San Luis Reservoir, a critical south-of-Delta reservoir for both the SWP and CVP, is at 30 percent of its two-million-acre-foot capacity (39 percent of average for the date).

Never before in the 54-year history of the State Water Project has DWR announced a zero allocation to all 29 public water agencies which buy from the SWP.

These deliveries help supply water to 25 million Californians and roughly 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland. 

Deliveries to senior water rights holders in the Sacramento Valley - all agricultural irrigation districts - were last cut in 1992.

The only previous State Water Project zero percent allocation was in 1991 for agriculture, but cities received a 30 percent allocation.

“Carryover” water stored by local agencies and water transferred from willing sellers to buyers in critically short areas still will be delivered, as will emergency supplies for drinking, sanitation, and fire protection.

More news and comments from Western Farm Press:

Breakthrough cotton research on saving water, SJV Pima defoliation

Agriculture especially vulnerable to California drought

Final state water action plan released

Beef Cattle Herd Expansion Is Real, at Least for Now

Beef Cattle Herd Expansion Is Real, at Least for Now

All cattle and calves in the United States as of Jan. 1, 2014 totaled 87.7 million head, 2% below the 89.3 million on January 1, 2013. This is the lowest January 1 inventory of all cattle and calves since the 82.1 million on hand in 1951.

All cows and heifers that have calved, at 38.3 million, were down 1% from the 38.5 million on Jan. 1, 2013. This is the lowest January 1 inventory of all cows and heifers that have calved since the 36.8 million head in 1941.

Record high prices for fed cattle, feeder cattle and wholesale beef plus significantly lower hay and grain costs certainly set the stage for long-awaited expansion in the beef cow herd. However, expansion is not guaranteed.

Larger than expected calf crop and larger than expected beef cow herd are a bit negative.

Still, inventory data in Friday's USDA Cattle Report show expansion is underway. The report shows cattle producers had a few more beef cows on Jan. 1 than the trade expected. But they had a few less beef replacement heifers. Those figures suggest producers are leaning a bit more toward keeping cows to expand herds rather than by saving replacement heifers. Record high feeder cattle prices likely pushed cow-calf operators that direction.

While beef replacement heifer inventory came in a tad below trade expectations, producers are still holding more replacements than they did a year ago. Both the Jan. 1, 2012 survey and the Jan. 1, 2013 survey also showed producers holding more heifers as beef cow replacements. Producers want to expand. But the 2012 drought driven feed cost spike and forage shortage aborted those previous intended expansions.

What cattle producers want to do and what grazing, feed cost and market price conditions allow them to do can differ dramatically. Feed cost and forage conditions for this year appear to be the most favorable in at least three years. A large portion of the beef heifers kept for herd replacements will likely find their way into cow herds this year.

But more heifers entering the herd do not mean more beef any time soon. Heifers going into cow herds do not go into feed lots. A heifer nursing a calf is not on her way to a dinner plate. That helps drive the 4.1% expected decline in the other heifer category.

The smaller calf crops of recent years, including a 1% smaller one in 2013 total cattle supplies smaller than a year ago.

Fewer calves and feeder cattle available and more of the heifers that are available going into cow herds, rather than feed yards, mean beef output will not expand any time soon.

Wholesale beef prices heading lower. The phenomenal January run of wholesale beef prices is over.  Choice boxed beef prices peaked Wednesday, Jan. 22 at $240.05/cwt. Select topped out at $237.44 that day. By Friday morning Jan. 31,  choice had skidded to $227.97, with select at $228.58.

Oklahoma State University economist Derrell Peel explains several of the factors at work in the current wholesale beef market.  Clearly supply reductions are a major driving factor.  Year to date beef production is down 10% from 2013 January levels, with cattle slaughter down 10.6% year over year so far this year.  This follows a nearly 10% drop in beef production the last week of December, 2013, due in part to a fire that idled one major packing plant for much of Christmas week.  Another factor is that this market rally has been driven almost entirely by Chuck and Round products, rather than by middle meats of ribs and loins.  Additionally, the cutter cow cutout is up $10/cwt. from year ago levels; all of which indicates that this rally is driven by mostly by ground beef and processing beef demand. 

Beef Cattle Herd Expansion Is Real—at Least for Now

The more than 11% drop in cow slaughter in the fourth quarter of 2013 probably played a significant role in setting up the supply reductions that helped drive the January rally.  The unusually small Choice-Select spread at this time is due to a combination of increased demand for select and decreased supply of select relative to choice.  The percent of cattle grading Choice continues to run well above year ago levels, as it has since Zilmax was removed from the market last fall.

Cash cattle prices slipping as well. Tight supplies of feedlot-ready cattle will help support fed prices. But collapsing boxed beef values will intensify pressure to push fed cattle prices back down some.  January's USDA Cattle on Feed Report showed that January feedlot inventories were down 5% from year earlier levels. 

Longer term perspective is shown with the January on-feed inventory declining from the previous month, confirming that December 2013 was, as is typical, the seasonal peak in feedlot inventories.  However, the December, 2013 seasonal peak was the smallest December peak since 1996. The fractional year-over-year rise in December placements does not change the fact that feedlot supplies will be very tight in the months to come.

Fundamentals remain firm. After such a dramatic run, a pullback in both wholesale beef and fed cattle prices is more expected than not.  The big unknown is just how much prices might drop back.  While a series of very short run factors have contributed to this unexpectedly large and rapid increase, the underlying longer term fundamentals are in place to support strong prices. 

Part of the current market run has been due to short-bought retailers and post-holiday refilling of pipeline supplies. It is not clear how much is due to demand strength looking forward.  Assessing demand will be an on-going process.  Meantime, supplies will likely stay relatively tight.  Winter weather could play an especially important role in the ability to rebuild short run supplies.  The market picture may clarify significantly in the next two to three weeks.

Bee research sheds new light on faltering colonies

Bee research sheds new light on faltering colonies

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” – Albert Einstein


In two unrelated, independent studies released this month, researchers have taken a giant step forward in shedding new light on the causes of honey bee colony collapse disorder (CCD), an environmental threat first discovered shortly after the turn of the century that poses a serious threat to nature's ecological balance required to sustain plant and animal life.

Study results released this week involving cooperative research in both the U.S. and China has identified a viral pathogen that typically infects plants but has also been detected in honey bees, a condition most likely contributing to CCD. That pathogen, commonly known as Tobacco Ringspot Virus (TRSV), causes systemic infection in bees and results in colony collapse over time.

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In the other study, released Jan. 20 (2014) at the National Bee Conference in London, researchers indicated that not only three neonicotinoid pesticides adversely affect bee colonies as previously known, but that prolonged exposure to a pyrethroid pesticide used on flowering crops contributes to the reduced size of individual bees produced by a colony, which in turn reduces pollination and the overall number of bees produced.

See what the agriculture industry is doing to address honey bee colony collapse disorder.

Researchers sounded the alarm nearly 10 years ago when the global population of honey bees began to mysteriously decline. In 2005 the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated the worth of global crops by honeybee pollination was close to $200 billion, so the steady decline in bee population quickly became a serious and developing crisis worldwide.

By the 2008, the radical reduction of honey bee populations had developed into a global epidemic, negatively affecting ecosystems in a multitude of environments. Across North America, domestic honey bee populations declined by 30 to 90 percent within individual colonies, and similar numbers were reported by Canada, Mexico and across much of the European Union (EU).

In recent years the EU banned used of the three neonicotinoid pesticides in an attempt to slow or counter the decline in bee populations. But new research indicates that move may have fallen short of providing adequate safeguards for the re-propagation of bee colonies.

Continuing research in declining bee population has uncovered a multitude of possible contributing factors, including the wide use of pesticides related to agriculture, Varroa mites, Nosema, and now TRSV.

Virus is a factor

Results of a bi-national effort were released and published this week in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology. Authors of the study included Yan Ping Chen from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, and lead author Ji Lian Li, at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science in Beijing.

Chen said routine screening of bees for frequent and rare viruses resulted in the detection of TRSV and prompted an investigation into whether the plant-infecting virus could also cause systemic infection in the bees.

"The results of our study provide the first evidence that honeybees exposed to virus-contaminated pollen can also be infected and that the infection becomes widespread in their bodies," Li said in the study. "We already know that honeybees, Apis melllifera, can transmit TRSV when they move from flower to flower, likely spreading the virus from one plant to another."

TRSV was also detected inside the bodies of Varroa mites, a vampire parasite that transmits viruses between bees while feeding on their blood. According to the study, the infected queen in a colony lays infected eggs, and this convinced scientists that TRSV could also be transmitted vertically to her offspring.

The study concluded that the increasing prevalence of TRSV in conjunction with other bee viruses is associated with a gradual decline of host populations and supports the view that viral infections have a significant negative impact on colony survival.

The other study, released by researchers at Royal Holloway University in London, was published last week in the Journal of Applied Ecology. Research team members included Gemma Baron, Dr. Nigel Raine and Professor Mark Brown, all from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway.

The study involved tracking how bee colonies grew over an extended period of time, recording their size and weight as well as monitoring the number of queens and worker bees produced by the colony.

"We already know that larger bumblebees are more effective at foraging. Our result, revealing that this pesticide causes bees to hatch out at a smaller size, is of concern as the size of workers produced in the field is likely to be a key component of colony success, with smaller bees being less efficient at collecting nectar and pollen from flowers," noted research lead Gemma Baron in the study summary.


Also of interest:

Stress may contribute to poor bee health

Casting doubt on neonicotinoid guilt

Pesticides get undue blame in honey bee decline

What’s in a name? Funeral decorum, and a new veggie?

Random musings as this horrible winter drags agonizingly on:

• Does anyone remotely care that the Weather Channel opted to name 2013/14 winter storms? And can we but wonder at those names (which, we’re told, were developed with the help of a Latin class in Montana): Atlas, Boreas, Cleon, Dion, Electra, Falco, Gemini, Hercules, Ion, Janus, Kronos, Leon, Maximus, Nika, Orion, Pax, Quintus, Rex, Seneca, Titan, Ulysses, Vulcan, Wiley, Xenia, Yona, Zephyr?

Oh geez, those are really memorable, all right. And how oxymoronic is it to name a storm Pax — Latin for peace?

I could suggest a few more apropos labels: Gorgon (snake-haired, snake-bodied humanoid whose stare could turn a person to stone, much like this winter’s seemingly perpetual sub-freezing temps), Frankenstein, King Kong, Grim Reaper, Godzilla, Terminator, Dracula, etc.

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• I don’t by the wildest stretch of imagination consider myself a paragon of manners, decorum, or grace, but one can only wonder at the lack thereof that has been occasioned by the smart phones that now are an appendage for everyone from 6 to 96.

At a funeral I attended recently, sitting cater-cornered across from me in the packed chapel, was an impeccably-dressed, dignified-looking 50-ish guy, who SPENT THE ENTIRE SERVICE checking e-mails and/or texting. One can only speculate why he bothered to be there.

Directly in front of him was an early 20s woman, who occasionally whipped out her phone to check messages, but that was less attention-getting than the frequent huge bubbles blown from the wad of gum she was vigorously chewing.

It’s commonplace at meetings, while presentations are being made, that I scan the room and a goodly percentage of the audience is fiddling with phones, iPads, etc., paying not the slightest attention to the speaker. And of course, there are invariably those who didn’t silence their phones, which go off with ear-splitting ringtones clipped from a TV show or The 100 Wildest Animal Sounds or All-Time Favorite Rock/Country/Pop songs.

• Ronald Reagan is famously credited, during debate on a government food program, for categorizing catsup as a vegetable (although there is no credible documentation he ever actually did so). Now a move is afoot in Colorado, the second state to legalize recreational marijuana, to classify Mary Jane as a veggie so it can be sold at farmer’s markets.

Officials of the city of Boulder deem it a publicity stunt by “a marijuana venture capitalist” (picture that title on a business card), and say no honest-to-goodness farmers have made such a request.

With media reports that legal marijuana sales in Colorado threaten to outstrip the supply of legally-grown pot, one can only imagine what today’s highly productive farmers could do to boost output of that “crop.”

Senate To Consider Farm Bill Early Next Week

Senate To Consider Farm Bill Early Next Week

The Senate is set to begin discussion on the 2014 farm bill on Monday afternoon, according to the official Senate schedule.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Thursday filed cloture on the farm bill conference report, calling for a cloture vote at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 3. If invoked, there will be 20 minutes of debate remaining at 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday and a final vote on the report adoption will begin following any discussion.

If approved by the Senate, the bill, which the House passed by a 251-166 on Wednesday, will then move on to the White House for the President's signature.

Senate vote on farm bill likely to be Tuesday

Though Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Ag Committee, said she expects the bill will pass, there will be some opposition.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley is expected to oppose the bill because it does not include the payment limit reforms that were approved by both the House and Senate prior to conference.

Related: 9 Farm Bill Stories To Read Right Now

On the Senate floor Thursday. Grassley said the conference committee, "in another brazen act of manipulation, eliminates my simple, enforceable reform."

"Growing wholesome food to feed the world has always been one of the noblest occupations in my opinion," Grassley said. "But if I were to vote yes on this bill, it would be an endorsement of the egregious manipulation of my payment limit reforms behind closed doors.  I cannot in good conscience do that."

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., a former ranking member of the Senate Ag Committee, also said he would oppose the bill.

"We should not march backwards and pass a farm bill with more government subsidies, more regulations and more waste," Roberts argued this week. "Producers, consumers, and our global trading partners expect more. Unfortunately, U.S. taxpayers deserve better than this conference report."