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Bees are becoming scarce

Call it a sign of the times. As I drive around Fresno and Clovis, in the heart of the world’s No. 1 ag county, I see homemade signs posted on power polls and street signs with stark, bright red lettering imploring: “BEE SWARMS WANTED CALL ASAP."

The recent dwindling of honey bees has been well documented in the news over the past few months. Media reports ponder the possibilities that bee die-off may be due to a fungus that killed bee colonies in Asian and Europe or that a parasite is to blame. In compiling their stories, reporters frequently go to UC Davis Cooperative Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen for comment.

“If we eventually lose enough of our honey bees, then we will not be going to be able to pollinate the crops,” Mussen is quoted on the Web site of Seattle TV station KIRO.

“No one knows why this is happening, but we don't have a bee shortage yet," he told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Bee keepers worried by the perplexing bee deaths got a boost yesterday when UC Davis announced the addition of an accomplished bee breeder and geneticist to the university’s bee biology laboratory. A news release by Pat Bailey of UC Davis news service said the program was once a powerhouse in bee biology research, but declined during the 1990s due to budget shortages and faculty retirements. The new researcher, Susan Cobey, will collaborate with Mussen as she focuses on strengthening ties between university research and the honey-bee industry.

Posted on Monday, May 14, 2007 at 10:01 AM

Biodynamic farming is in the news

Biodynamic farming takes organic agriculture one step further. In addition to rejecting synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, the practice involves adding soil and plant amendment "preparations" and even evoking astrological inspiration. As such, the system is considered poppycock to some, indespensible to adherents. Recently, biodynamic agriculture has been in the news. Insidebayarea.com food writer Jolene Thym published a story yesterday about biodynamic farmer Mike Benzinger of Benzinger Family Vineyards in Glenn Ellen.

"In commercial farming, you push nature out to the borders," Benzinger is quoted in the article. "Here, we have invited it in to set up shop; to integrate with everything that we do here."

The same day, Joan Obra, the food editor for the Fresno Bee, wrote about Fresno biodynamic farmer Gina Nonini. Obra quotes Nonini:

"You start looking at planetary influences and the cosmic world. It's even more fluid and alive than organics."

UC Cooperative Extension is in on the conversation. Mendocino County farm advisor Glenn McGourty was part of a team that compared biodynamically and organically managed vineyards. Their results showed measurable differences in the grapes that were harvested. Look for a press release with details on the study's methodology and results later this month on the UC ANR News Web Site.

Posted on Thursday, May 10, 2007 at 11:55 AM

Marin Independent Journal cites UCCE expert

The director of the UC Cooperative Extension Sea Grant Extension Program, Paul Olin, was cited in a story published today by the Marin Independent Journal. His expertise was sought about a decision made by the Marin County Board of Supervisors to ask Sen. Dianne Feinstein to help one of the county's largest oyster farms stay in business.

National Park officials say the oyster beds threaten an important habitat for harbor seals and shorebirds and damage the growth of native eelgrass.

According to the article, written by Rob Rogers, Olin downplayed the effects of the oyster company on native eelgrass.

"Every farm has impacts, but it also has benefits," Olin said. "In this case, those benefits include food and maintaining the water quality of the estuary. There are approximately 700 acres in the estuary, and the farm only takes up 12 acres."

Click here for the complete article.

Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2007 at 12:42 PM

UC IPM funds project to help fight invasive weeds

The UC Exotic/Invasive Pests and Diseases Research Program funded a project in which USDA scientists developed a new and faster way to raise natural enemies of exotic weed species, according to a news release written by UC IPM communications specialist Stephanie Klunk.

The process involves the use of an artificial diet that was invented to raise a type of weevil. The USDA scientists found that the same diet is useful when researchers travel to foreign lands to find natural enemies of exotic weeds. They can put larvae found feeding on the plant into vials that contain the diet, where the insect will develop to the adult stage.

For example, scientists were able to use the substance to rear root crown weevil larvae that had been pulled out of yellow starthistle plants in Turkey.

"The fact that this diet works for flies as well as weevils, and that it works for insects from at least three species of plants and two plant families, suggests that this method can have widespread use to accelerate the discovery of new internal-feeding biological control agents," said USDA scientist Lincoln Smith.

Click here for the full news release.

 

 

Posted on Tuesday, May 8, 2007 at 12:09 PM

UC scientist works with USDA in developing environmentally friendly lettuce

The USDA-Agricultural Research Service news service reported last week that its scientists teamed up with UC Davis plant pathologist Krishna Subbarao to produce lettuce resistant to verticillium wilt, a soil-borne fungus that destroys the plant.

More than a half-dozen companies that produce lettuce seeds have requested seed samples, according to Ryan Hayes, ARS research plant geneticist in Salinas, Calif., the principle investigator of the project.

"Breeding lettuce with natural resistance (to disease) remains the most environmentally friendly, economical and sustainable option for combating the fungus," according to the news release, written by Marcia Wood. In the release, she reported that verticillium wilt first showed up in coastal California lettuce fields in 1995.

Click here for the complete release.

Posted on Monday, May 7, 2007 at 11:36 AM

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