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Articles from 2018 In January


2018 River Valley Beef Cattle conference Feb. 14 at Russellville, Ark.

2018 River Valley Beef Cattle conference Feb. 14 at Russellville, Ark.

Cattle health, marketing and pasture weed control are among the items on the agenda for the 2018 River Valley Beef Cattle Conference set for Feb. 14 in Russellville, Ark.

The conference will be held at the Hughes Center, 1000 E. Parkway Ave. Registration opens at 8:30 a.m. and is $20 at the door. Contact your county Extension office for more information. The conference winds up at noon with a steak lunch.

“We have a solid line up of speakers for this year’s conference to address issues that are on the minds of our cattle producers,” said Bob Harper, Logan County Extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

This year’s agenda:

  • 9:05 a.m. – Welcome - Perry McCourt - Farm Credit Services of Western Arkansas
  • 9:10 a.m. – Disease prevention and minimum vaccination program for beef cattle
  • Chris Ashworth, DVM - Zinpro Performance Minerals
  • 10 a.m. – Cattle working facilities overview - Shane Gadberry – Professor, ruminant nutrition, U of A System Division of Agriculture
  • 10:30 a.m. – Marketing cattle and calves - J.J. Jones – Oklahoma State Ag Economics
  • 11:15 – Pasture weed control - John Boyd, weed scientist, U of A System Division of Agriculture.

LSU AgCenter sets two producer meetings in northeast Louisiana

Agricultural producers will have two opportunities to get updates on cover crops and soil health at two northeast Louisiana workshops slated for February.

The meetings are sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the Louisiana Master Farmer Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

The first workshop on production in the Macon Ridge area will be held Feb. 7 at the AgCenter Macon Ridge Research Station. Registration begins at 1 p.m. at the Tom H. Scott Research, Extension and Education Center south of Winnsboro.

Mississippi alluvial production systems will be addressed at the second workshop on Feb. 13 beginning at 1 p.m. at the Northeast Research Station at 4589 Route 605 in St. Joseph.

Advance registration is not required, and the public is invited to attend either meeting.

AgCenter experts will cover topics on cover crop selection, seeding rates and mixes, planting methods, termination and summer cover crop management.

Insect and nematode issues, disease management, herbicide compatibility and fertilizer rates will also be discussed.

Participants will receive credit for Phase 2 of the Louisiana Master Farmer Program. Certified Master Farmers and certified crop advisers who attend also will earn continuing education credit.

For more information, contact James Hendrix at 318-235-7198 or jahendrix@agcenter.lsu.edu.

Max Armstrong's Daily Updates

MIDDAY-MidwestDigest-01-31-18

Veteran newsman Steve Alexander has today’s report.

How about this? Kansas City to St. Louis in 30 minutes. A high-speed ‘hyperloop’ is being considered in Missouri. It’s a tubal track through which passengers are carried at speeds up to 640 mph. Colorado and Texas are doing similar studies.

Missouri’s Lt. Gov. could use the ‘hyperloop’ right now. Lt. Gov. of Missouri says he travels so much that he needs a personal driver. He’s asking for larger budget for his office to allow him to make the hire.

In Kansas yesterday, it was a Day of Fasting and Prayer, declared by Gov. Sam Brownback. Critics have declared 24-hour Pizza and Beer Party starting at 3 p.m. today, when Brownback leaves the state.

In Illinois, Democrats want to raise the minimum age for smoking or chewing tobacco to 21.

Kentucky has a growth program in its prison system. The state’s top public safety official says the state’s prisons could run out of room by May 2019, forcing the release of thousands of nonviolent inmates.

Kentucky raises mosquitoes in addition to racehorses. Male lab-grown mosquitoes from Kentucky are being sent to Florida to breed with Florida female mosquitos, creating eggs that won’t hatch. It’s an effort to combat the Zika virus.

NAFTA in all caps with letters in colors of flag wildpixel/ThinkstockPhotos

Republican senators call on Trump to keep NAFTA

Thirty-six Republican senators have sent a letter to President Trump highlighting the North American Free Trade Agreement’s benefits to the United States and outlining how the administration can improve the agreement.

“NAFTA supports 14 million jobs, representing thousands of jobs in each of the 50 states,” the senators wrote. “Despite all of its benefits, however, we can do better and there are opportunities to improve the agreement. Modernizing NAFTA to increase market access, expand energy exports to maximize domestic energy production and including provisions on intellectual property and e-commerce will make this agreement even more beneficial to the United States.”

Co-signatories include:

  1. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.
  2. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa
  3. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,
  4. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.,
  5.  Joni Ernst, R-Iowa,
  6. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.,
  7. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.,
  8. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.,
  9. Rand Paul, R-Ky.,
  10. John Cornyn, R-Texas,
  11. John Boozman, R-Ark.,
  12. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.,
  13. John Thune, R-S.D.,
  14. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.,
  15. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.,
  16. Rob Portman, R-Ohio,
  17. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.,
  18. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.,
  19. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.,
  20. Bill Cassidy, R-La.,
  21. John Hoeven, R-N.D.,
  22. Steve Daines, R-Mont.,
  23. Jim Risch, R-Idaho,
  24. Todd Young, R-Ind.,
  25. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.,
  26. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho,
  27. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.,
  28. Tim Scott, R-S.C.,
  29. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.,
  30. James Lankford, R-Okla.,
  31. Mike Lee, R-Utah,
  32. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.,
  33. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.,
  34. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.,
  35. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and
  36. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

The text of the letter:

Mr. President: 

We write today to reaffirm the benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and congratulate you on efforts to modernize the agreement and put America first. You have the opportunity to unleash the American economy like no President has done before and fuel historic growth. 

NAFTA has driven U.S. trade with Canada and Mexico to approximately $1.3 trillion annually. Whether manufacturers, farmers, or insurance providers, a wide range of industries in the U.S. have benefitted from this agreement and American consumers are reaping those benefits, too. Canadians and Mexicans buy nearly $500 billion worth of U.S. manufactured goods each year, translating to $37,000 in export revenue for every American factory worker, and U.S. agricultural exports to the two countries have quadrupled under the agreement from $8.9 billion in 1993 to $38.1 billion in 2016.

NAFTA supports 14 million jobs, representing thousands of jobs in each of the 50 states. Despite all of its benefits, however, we can do better and there are opportunities to improve the agreement. Modernizing NAFTA to increase market access, expand energy exports to maximize domestic energy production and including provisions on intellectual property and e-commerce will make this agreement even more beneficial to the United States.

Mr. President, your leadership has jump-started our economy. The recent tax reform bill is already leading to economic success across all industries and the stock market is at record highs. The next step to advance the economy requires that we keep NAFTA in place, but modernize it to better reflect our 21st century economy. We look forward to working with you and your administration to make that modernization a reality and bring Americans even greater economic success. 

Source: Sen. Grassley’s office

LeadAR: Arkansas leadership program adds new participants

New changes are coming to LeadAR, Arkansas’ premier leadership program.

The program, founded in 1984 and operated by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, was originally modeled after the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s leadership training program. Over more than three decades, LeadAR has trained hundreds of participants to serve as leaders in businesses and communities throughout Arkansas, especially in rural and agricultural areas.

Noah Washburn, LeadAR program director, said a series of changes have been implemented for Class 18, which kicks off in mid-February and will conclude in late 2019.

“The purpose of LeadAR is to enhance these emerging community leaders using the latest research tools to expand their self-awareness, increase motivation, and enrich their communication skills as a leader,” Washburn said. “Over the past decades, thinking about leadership in general has expanded to look at individual leaders’ roles within dynamic groups.”

New program objectives include preparing emerging leaders to assumer greater responsibilities within their own organizations, industries and communities; providing participants with diverse perspectives to analyze complex cultural and economic issues, and much more.

The course will be taught through a series of eight three-day seminars, in addition to a week-long study trip within the United States later this year, and a two-week-long international study trip in 2019.

The first seminar is scheduled for Feb. 7-10 in Little Rock. This seminar will focus on leader development and will be held at the Holiday Inn Airport Conference Center.

In addition to the Division of Agriculture, LeadAR also is supported by the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation, Farm Credit Midsouth, Farm Credit of Western Arkansas, AgHeritage Farm Credit Services, the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, many LeadAR alumni, individuals and organizations.

Class 18 members

LeadAR Class 18 includes 28 participants from 16 counties throughout the state. Those class members are:

Anthony Armstrong of Little Rock, Pulaski County; Sudha Bande of Little Rock, Pulaski County; Jacob Box of McGehee, Desha County; Gayla Bradley of Clinton, Van Buren County; Lori Burrows of Little Rock, Pulaski County; Ethan Dunbar of Lewisville, Lafayette County; Jonathan Duran of Benton, Saline County; Arlisa Harris of Forrest City, St Frances County; Marc Harrison of Little Rock, Pulaski County; Jason Hayes of Brinkley, Monroe County;

Jennifer Johnson of Blytheville, Mississippi County; Stephanie Malone of Little Rock, Pulaski County; Rickey McCauley of Proctor, Crittenden County; Tyler McDonald of Lewisville, Lafayette County; Ryan McGeeney of Little Rock, Pulaski County; Brad McGinley of Sheridan, Grant County; Dr. Kyle T. Miller of Helena, Phillips County; Curtis Moore of Lincoln, Washington County; Christian Olson of Little Rock, Pulaski County;

Ana Phakhin of Springdale, Washington County; Gina Radke of North Little Rock, Pulaski County; Rick Reed of Batesville, Independence County; Elizabeth Solano of Little Rock, Saline County; Donette Spann of Cabot, Lonoke County; Maddison Stewart of Little Rock, Pulaski County; Yolanda Wallace of West Helena, Phillips County; Chris Wasson of El Dorado, Union County; and Mary Wood of Russellville, Pope County.

Guar Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Dr. Curtis Adams
Dr. Curtis Adams, Texas A&M AgriLife Research crop physiologist, Vernon, tested the effects of contrasting soils, a sandy loam and a clay loam, and Rhizobium inoculants on nodulation and plant growth in two guar varieties in the greenhouse.

AgriLife study sheds light on nodulation in legume crop guar

Texas A&M AgriLife scientists are conducting several research projects to improve producers’ understanding of guar and the legume’s value to their operations in the Rolling Plains and South Plains.

Guar has been grown in Texas for more than a century, but acreage of the crop in the state is relatively low, said Dr. Curtis Adams, Texas A&M AgriLife Research crop physiologist in Vernon.

Lack of nodulation on guar roots is one of the producer concerns addressed in a recent AgriLife Research study by Adams and Dr. Calvin Trostle, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist in Lubbock, along with Dr. Santanu Thapa, AgriLife Research postdoctoral research associate in Vernon.

Nodulation is the process of forming nodules on the roots of legume plants. Nodules are root structures that legumes make to house bacteria capable of using nitrogen gas from the air to form fertilizer that the plant can use to grow.

The team conducted a controlled environment study to compare the impact of environmental and management factors on guar nodulation and crop nitrogen uptake, Adams said.

Guar is grown in semi-arid regions and produces a seed containing galactomannan gum, which is a product used in a variety of food and industrial applications as a lubricant, binder, thickener or hardener, he said.

“As a legume, Rhizobium bacteria in the soil will associate with guar roots and potentially develop nodules where the bacteria converts atmospheric nitrogen into fertilizer for the plant and soil,” he said, adding that “the plant is also drought tolerant and uses relatively little water.”

Thapa said guar is unfamiliar to most people, but it is a part of their lives nonetheless.

 “Guar gum is a common ingredient in the food we eat every day,” he said. “It is used extensively in oil and gas exploration, and in so many other ways.”

The majority of the world’s guar is grown in India and Pakistan, and the U.S. has had variable and relatively low acreage over time, Trostle said. In the U.S., guar is mostly grown across the Southern Great Plains region where the climate is suitable.

“Guar being a legume and adapted to a semi-arid region’s dryland agriculture is important,” Trostle said. “There are few legumes that would be adapted in this type of environment. That is why this work is especially important, to get potential nitrogen fixation in a legume rotational crop where it doesn’t rain a lot.”

Adams said despite the potential nitrogen benefits of the crop, there is a worldwide perception that guar does not nodulate effectively.

“So, we tested the effects of contrasting soils, a sandy loam and a clay loam, and Rhizobium inoculants on nodulation and plant growth in two guar varieties,” he said.

Although Rhizobia bacteria often occur naturally in soils, Rhizobium inoculants are crop-specific bacterial cultures prepared in the lab and applied to the seed or in-furrow at planting to increase the likelihood of root nodulation, Adams said.

He said because guar acreage is not large in the U.S., there is a lack of inoculant products specific to guar.

“In our study, we tested one commercially available inoculant and a custom inoculant prepared by a microbiologist colleague, both containing bacterial strains thought to create nodules on guar roots that fix nitrogen,” he said.

Wildfire burning at night NeilLockhart-iStock-Thinkstock
Many times, saving livetstock and homes is benefited by thinking ahead and planning, say wildfire survivors.

Survivors share ideas to survive wildfire

Preparing to avoid wildfire damage is best done ahead of the emergency, for homestead and livestock.

Home preparation is well defined in a number of locations and from several sources. You can read more at this good site, which defines your home's "defensible space" in two stages, totaling a circumference of 100 feet.

Three Kansas ranchers shared their learning from experiences dealing with wildfire in recent years. They share some common recommendations, but rather than try to summarize their experiences or eliminate duplication, the editor chose to let the repetitions stand as extra warning.

Bill Barby of Protection, Kansas, saw his entire B bar B Ranch burn last year in the Starbuck fire. Barby and his wife live in Protection, so their home was not at risk. However, his corrals and some equipment were at risk on the ranch. Working alone and leading cattle with his pickup, Barby managed to save that and all his cattle, which were in two herds. Later he gave us this bulleted list of ideas for preparations:

- Use prescribed burns to give a safe haven to place cattle if wildfire approaches.

- Have a sprayer accessible and a drip torch to back burn if needed for protection.

- Know your escape routes.

- Move cattle, people and equipment Use cool-season annuals such as wheat pasture to.

- Use natural landscape for safe havens like prairie dog towns or where grass is short next to water sources.

- Use rotation or mob grazing to be able to gather herd and move to safety quickly.

- Form a local prescribed burn association (PBA) to help do prescribed burns and help with wildfires. Two neighbors from our local PBA successfully put out the southeast corner of the largest wildfire in Kansas history, the Starbuck wildfire. They also saved both of their homes in doing so. They said their experience with PBA helped them have knowledge of how to put fire out.

Mark Lohrding, also from near Protection, Kansas, lost more than half of his grassland to the Starbuck wildfire last year but no livestock.

After the fact, he wrote to us: "One of the most important things that I did was sit down and write a list of where each group of cattle were and whether they should be moved and if so where to."

Here is his short list of preparations and thoughts.

1. Green wheat and alfalfa fields are your best friends when it comes to a fire know where they’re at and if you can reasonably get to them. Your neighbors will understand if you need to move cattle on to their alfalfa or wheat -- ours did.

2. Human life is most important. Don’t put you or your family at risk.

3. Even no-till operations need a disc that is in usable condition to use to make firebreaks

4. Avoid having lots of fuel next to your home and equipment. Plan to graze short the lots around your homestead and other facilities.

5. Evaluate whether your operation needs a fire vehicle, be it a small truck or trailer or other option. This is not a criticism of the fire department at all: There is a lot of ground out here to cover.

Brian Alexander, who ranches west of Medicine Lodge in Kansas, has seen the ranch he runs with his father, Ted, burned in two wildfires in recent years -- the Anderson Creek fire two years ago and one unnamed fire several years earlier.

Cows in times of stress will respond best to the moving/gathering/calling technique they are most comfortable with. Lots of cattle are trained to respond to a siren (yelp or wail) in this area. That's not ideal, but you rarely hear rural fire department trucks running anything more than lights. Horses and cattle should treat a cut fence just like a gate I would think.

I'm not going to say the Starbuck fire was unique in how fast it moved, but I will say that it rarely happens on this scale, or is as well observed. My theory about the difference in livestock loss between the two is we saw less death in the Anderson Creek wildfire due to more broken (uneven) fuel load. The cattle had more places to hide, plus the fire was moving more slowly.

When you see mass amounts of deer overtaken by fire and dead, there's nothing that could have gotten out of the way.

"Cows with calves are always going to move slowly," he adds. "Beyond that, they will try to run downwind as far and fast as possible, as far as I know. It's my understanding that cattle generally have an awareness of whether they are in mortal peril from fire. I've seen cattle on short grass or wheat pasture just as mellow as could be, grazing while hell rages a couple hundred yards away."

As for saving buildings and homes, he says, "Most of the homes lost that I saw had evidence of nearby cedars; that's the first thing."

Further, he says to evaluate materials used in your home. Such as, do you have asphalt shingles or siding that's flammable? He recommends studying the "defensible space" material mentioned earlier.

"If there's a fire on a red flag day anywhere within 30 miles you should be prepared to activate your last ditch defenses and run. For last ditch defense, I'd say turn on as many sprinklers as you can in your yard, as far upwind as practical, wet down everything else."

Walnuts

Investment in walnut research paying dividends

The month of January marked a milestone for the California walnut industry, as University of California researchers, farm advisors, and specialists met with the Production Research Committee of the California Walnut Board for the 50th anniversary Walnut Research Conference.

The annual meeting, organized by the UC Walnut Work Group, includes reports on current research projects funded by the CWB, and proposals for new and continuing research aimed at improving California walnut production.

Members of the committee evaluate the proposals, and with recommendations from UC, allocate funding. About $2 million in funding is available each year for research projects in genetic improvement, orchard management, pest management, and plant pathology.

Funding comes from assessments of walnut handlers. The assessment for 2017-18 and going forward is $0.0400 per pound of kernels of assessable walnuts.

Joe Grant, research director with CWB, says research to improve California walnut production goes back to the 1940s and ‘50s, but continuing efforts at the annual conference have had significant impacts on crop production and profitability. Collaboration between UC researchers and growers to solve challenges in walnut production have produced results that continue to benefit the industry.

NEW VARIETIES

Both Grant and former CWB research director Dave Ramos agree that UC research and development of improved walnut varieties have had a significant impact on California walnut production. Field trials and comparisons of walnut varieties play an important role in bringing new varieties to growers.

Ramos says the UC walnut breeding program has basically revolutionized the industry. Prior to the release of new varieties in the 1960s, growers were dealing with walnut varieties that were limited in production areas and had challenges with diseases and pests.

The release in 1968 of the Chandler variety was a huge benefit to growers, he says. Proof of the value of Chandler is in the total acreage now in production and its contribution of 50 percent of the annual walnut tonnage.

Improvements in rootstocks also have elevated production potential for walnut growers, Grant says. Historically, the industry was based on imported seedling trees, but development of Paradox rootstock by the renowned horticulturalist Luther Burbank added years to tree health and production. This hybrid of a native walnut and English walnut was resistant to nematodes and could withstand high soil moisture conditions.

BIOCONTROL FOR PESTS

UC research projects in walnuts were also some of the first to use biocontrol practices. The walnut aphid was an early pest, Grant says, with infestations leaving trees covered in black sooty mold. UC Riverside researchers were successful in finding and bringing in a parasitoid from Iran to control the walnut aphid. Unlike earlier biocontrol efforts, the parasitoid became established in the Central Valley and increasing populations brought the aphid population under control.

Understanding diseases and how they affect walnut production has also been a large part of the UC research over the last 50 years. Grant says walnut black line disease was a significant problem for growers, who saw their 15-year-old trees meet early deaths. UC Davis Plant Pathologist John Mircetich determined that the disease was caused by a graft-transmitted virus.

Studies in orchard management have also led to changes in tree spacing, as well as canopy management to improve walnut yields.

Recent research approved by the Production Research Committee includes genetic improvements. Gene analysis is helping researchers better understand which genes control which parts of production, including nut maturity, pellicle color, and tree structure.

New research is looking at genes responsible for resistance to soil pathogens, as well as identifying disease resistance genes for walnut diseases, including crown gall, Phytopthora, and root diseases — all with the goal of saving growers the costs of fumigants, fungicides, and pesticides.

Cautious optimism for sufficient bee colonies

Cautious optimism for sufficient bee colonies

As California’s producing almond acreage continues to grow, so does the demand for pollination services. USDA Pollination Survey figures suggest 1.9 million honey bee colonies — about three-quarters of the nation’s colonies — will be needed for almond pollination this year.

American Beekeeping Federation President Gene Brandi, who is also a longtime Central Valley beekeeper, says he is hearing that bee supplies could be short, or that hive strength could be compromised. Hives from out of state providers have been arriving in California in recent weeks, and are already being moved into orchards as weather allows.

California beekeepers are reporting at least a 20 percent loss of hives, Brandi says, with some reporting losses as high as 50 percent. Consensus, he says, is that there is no single cause for the losses, but rather a combination of mite infestations and pesticides.

Bee broker Joe Traynor, in Kern County, says there is a lot of uncertainty about the coming pollination season. He cites major bee losses over the past year, up to and including this January. In addition, two of his major suppliers cancelled out last month on over 2,000 colonies, and he says, other bee suppliers have reduced their hive commitments.

Traynor and Brandi cite a number of reasons for the strong hive shortage. Natural disasters in other parts of the nation have affected colony numbers. Although California did have better forage supplies for bees last summer, wildfires during the fall reduced foraging.

MITES BECOMING RESISTANT

Traynor says the consensus among beekeepers and researchers is that the parasitic varroa mite, and the viruses it spreads, are primary contributors to bee losses. The mites are also developing resistance to control chemicals.

With pollination season fast approaching, almond growers should already have pollination contracts in place, Brandi says. Those who don’t could come up short this year. It could also be a challenge for beekeepers to fulfill high frame count contracts due to winter losses.

There were 1 million producing acres of almonds in California last year, according to the USDA. The agency’s Cost of Pollination Survey shows that 1.7 million colonies were used for almond pollination in 2016, at an average of 1.9 colonies per acre.

Self-fertile varieties of almonds, which represent less than 3 percent of total acreage, are not expected to impact hive demand, as at least one colony per acre is recommended to achieve desired yields.

According to the Almond Board of California’s 2017 Sustainability Report, the number of U.S. honey bee hives is at a 20-year high. The report also notes that beekeepers still experience significant in-season losses and work hard to maintain healthy apiaries.

CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM

Bees are still moving into California for the pollination season, many from indoor overwintering sites, says Bob Curtis, director of agricultural affairs for Almond Board of California.

Curtis, who administers the board’s production research program, says the industry is aware of the damage many southeastern beekeepers sustained last year during two major hurricanes. In California, beekeepers lost hives and bee forage due to wildfires.

In the last few years, even as almond acreage has increased, there has been a sufficient supply of bees for pollination, Curtis says. In spite of health issues with apiaries, beekeepers have stepped up to supply enough hives for pollination.

Weather during pollination is another factor. Most pollination contracts call for two eight-frame hives per acre as an insurance policy against inclement weather during pollination.

“We’re cautious with the increase in acreage and bee health issues,” Curtis says, “but we have always had sufficient bees to produce record crops.”

pistachio stock photo sodapix sodapix/Thinkstock

Pistachio splits ‘Achilles heel’ for mycotoxins

With the pistachio industry completing the 2017 harvest with 2 percent average navel orangeworm (NOW) damage, industry leaders say action is necessary to protect lucrative export markets, as well as domestic markets.

California Pistachio Research Board Manager Bob Klein, speaking at the annual University of California-hosted Pistachio Day, said the increase in navel orangeworm feeding damage in pistachios has increased levels of aflatoxin in overseas shipments.  Exceeding established tolerances for this mycotoxin would mean shipment rejections.

Aflatoxins, the most common type of mycotoxin, are known carcinogens. They are produced by molds, primarily of the Aspergillus genus. Mold spores in the soil and dust can be transferred to split pistachio nuts by navel orangeworm feeding.

NOW damage levels over about 0.5 percent make meeting aflatoxin tolerances in some markets difficult, Klein says. Countries that have regulations against aflatoxin-contaminated imports — and enforce them with stringent testing or rejection of shipments — cost the industry.

In addition to losing consumer confidence, a rejected shipment carries a $30,000 price tag. If hand sorting is required to keep infected nuts out of shipments, that will further add to processing costs.

TESTING NO GUARANTEE

Exporting processors do test for aflatoxin levels prior to shipment, Klein says, but that does not guarantee the shipment will be accepted. The samples are not averaged, and if one tests positive for aflatoxin above the tolerance level, the entire lot is rejected.

Iranian pistachios were banned from EU markets in 1996, he says, due to high aflatoxin contamination levels. U.S.-produced pistachios gained markets in the EU at that time, but consumer confidence was lost, and it was 10 years before market demand returned to previous levels. 

In 2008, rejections of U.S pistachio imports led to a higher sampling rate. The number of rejected lots fell for a time, then climbed, leading to a mandatory 20 percent testing level, which was later dropped to 10 percent.

U.S. pistachio industry aflatoxin controls were audited by the EU last fall, Klein says, and through the Administrative Committee for Pistachios, the industry will be developing a formal voluntary aflatoxin testing and reporting program. This will lead to increased marketing costs, he says, but the hope is that the program will further reduce mandatory testing levels. The long-term solution, he says, is to produce pistachios with lower levels of insect damage.

ACHILLES HEEL

Early split nuts are the main source of aflatoxin contamination in the field. This “Achilles heel” of pistachios provides an ideal environment for NOW infestation, and an opening for aflatoxins.  

Growers can reduce the percentage of early split nuts with irrigation management and avoiding tree stress. Early harvest also helps cut down on NOW damage. Using a rootstock that minimizes early split nuts, and careful use of dormancy-breaking chemicals can also prevent early splits.

Processors can reduce aflatoxin levels by drying nuts as soon as possible after arrival. Hand sorting can remove contaminated in-shell nuts, based on shell discoloration, shell size, or presence of insect frass. Storage at proper moisture levels and avoiding post-harvest rehydration will also prevent contamination.

There is another mycotoxin that regulators in the EU are now targeting, Klein says. Ochratoxin, produced by fungi related to those that produce aflatoxin, is causing concern in some export markets. This mycotoxin has not been a concern in the past, and little is known about it.

It’s likely, Klein says, that the conditions that cause aflatoxin also increase OTA, but there is no current research. The EU is not testing pistachios for this mycotoxin, but importers in The Netherlands are testing for it, and have set a 10 parts per billion tolerance for OTA.