Monthly Archives: July 2014

Wheat School: Being Proactive with Cereal Leaf Beetle

Cereal leaf beetle was first discovered in Alberta in 2005, with Saskatchewan and Manitoba finding populations shortly thereafter. As its name suggests, the insect prefers to feed on cereals, though it may extend its host range to grasses, even occasionally feeding on corn. Both adults and larvae feed on the leaves in strips between veins, causing a window-pane appearance. Thus far, Tetrastichus julis, a parasitic wasp has been able to keep populations of cereal leaf beetle low, but growers are encouraged to continue to monitor fields for the pest and to report any populations outside of main infestation areas.

Related: Helping Beneficial Insects Feel at Home

In this Wheat School, John Gavloski, entomologist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD), provides a short description of the cereal leaf beetle, talks about the appearance of cereal leaf beetle in new areas and what MAFRD is doing to get ahead of population expansion.

Find this video on JW or download the audio from Soundcloud.

The post Wheat School: Being Proactive with Cereal Leaf Beetle appeared first on Real Agriculture.

Gaining Ground: Managing On-Farm Fly Populations

The persistent buzz and tickle of tiny feet on my face early this morning as the sun rose reminded me that fly season has reached our part of the country once again. Hopefully, most of you will have started your fly management activities months ago, but for those a little slow off the bat, or everyone looking for extra tips and information, let’s look at where to prioritize your investments of time and money.

Clean and Dry!

This has been said and written so often, it’s practically a cliché. But there are still some farmers spending precious time and money seeking magic bullet solutions while ignoring the fundamental fact that flies require moist organic matter in order to reproduce and multiply: the less habitat available, the lower the fly population.

Of course, it is practically impossible to eliminate all possible breeding areas, but targeting expenditures on this area will provide the greatest return on investment, especially over the long term. Generally speaking, farmers who report success using other control methods are those who have first invested in keeping the environment as clean and dry as possible.

  • Clean up spilled feed and rotting piles of waste hay or bedding
  • Mow vegetation around the barn to reduce resting and breeding areas
  • Clean out box stalls and bedding packs well in advance of fly season (spreading this manure or windrowing it in a field away from the barn will help further, as will spreading lime in the empty stalls)
  • Relocate and clean dairy calf hutches onto a smooth, level surface
  • Empty manure pits and spreading stacker piles in the spring
  • Grade barnyards and corrals for proper drainage
  • Keep livestock clean and dry: flies are attracted to dirty, sweaty animals
  • Provide good air flow, a cow brush, shade; trim long tails
  • Consider dusting cows with field-grade limestone (adds calcium to your pastures, too!)

Environmental Modification

Obviously, keeping things clean and dry is the primary environmental modification, but other measures can make the farm less attractive or less conducive to fly populations.

  • Sprinkle hydrated lime in wet areas will kill fly larva
  • Lime, rock phosphate, or diatomaceous earth in bedding can alter the pH and help keep things drier; anecdotal reports suggest that rock phosphate reduces the odours which attract flies to manure; switching away from straw as bedding can also reduce fly populations
  • Include some dry hay in the ration (or “grazing tall”) can reduce protein levels in the manure; farmers observe that this makes the manure less attractive to flies, and firmer manure obviously makes it easier to keep everything cleaner
  • Increase air flow in the barn and/or around calf housing makes the environment less friendly to flies
  • Turn or disturb manure/compost piles to interrupt the larval stage of development (this usually takes 7 to 10 days for house flies, and up to 21 days for stable flies)
  • Harrow pastures to spread and dry out manure pats (especially important for horn fly control, as they only lay eggs in manure less than 10 minutes old)
  • Rotating pastures to keep cows away from old manure pats which are hatching new flies

Direct Attack

Once you’ve done everything possible to keep flies from breeding and loitering in the barn and pastures, it’s time to go after the remaining (and hopefully much reduced) population. Predators, traps, repellents, and killing sprays are all options.

  • Predators can include poultry like chickens and ducks (Muscovy ducks are the breed of choice); in addition to eating flies and larva, they will also break apart and spread out manure pats on pastures (if you’re a dairy farmer, just be sure not to run “a-fowl” of your milk inspector!).
  • Parasitic wasps are tiny predators that attack fly larva. Start using them early in the year (April) to build up their populations in advance of the flies. Experience indicates that they perform best in relatively confined areas like calf-raising areas, and their effectiveness increases over the first few years of use – don’t give up after just one year.
  • Traps vary depending on the type of fly you want to control. Sticky traps (paper or tapes) in the barn offer one of the most popular methods of fly control. Research conducted by the Alfred Campus of University of Guelph demonstrated that the sticky roll offered the most cost effective method of controlling flies in the barn. For best results, farmers suggest stringing the tape above the pipeline (often the warmest spot in the barn and therefore where flies will congregate), and replacing it with a fresh length often – as often as once or even twice a day during peak fly season and in dusty conditions.

Variety of Traps

Attractant traps utilizing a scented liquid and some type of bottle or bag are effective at trapping house flies, but not other species. The “Epps” and “Horse Pal” traps are designed to trap stable, house, deer, and horse flies by mimicking the size and shape of an animal: these traps are effective, but they are also relatively expensive and require routine maintenance. Alsynite traps are cylinders of clear fiberglass covered in a clear sticky paper that refract light in a way that is attractive to stable flies; they are cheap and easy to install and move but require regular monitoring to replace the sticky paper.

Walk-through traps are the only mechanical option for the control of horn flies. They have been shown to reduce horn fly populations by 40 to 70% over time, and although the initial investment is high, they are durable, moveable, and reusable. Detailed plans for one can be found on the University of Missouri website at for those interested in building their own.

  • Repellents are becoming more popular. Some farmers report that using Ecoscent (formerly Ecophyte) in a backpack sprayer is effective at ridding cows, heifers, and calves of flies in the barn. In the summer of 2012, the Alfred Campus did an experiment that showed significant benefits (fewer flies, less defensive behaviour, more grazing, less walking) using a mixture of essential oils of lemongrass and geranium as a repellent while the cows were on pasture. (A 50/50 mixture of the essential oils was sprayed on the cows at a 5% concentration).
  • Sprays can offer “mechanical” control. Dairy farmers report that spraying the cows with soy or mineral oil as they enter the barn will knock down flies. In addition to synthetic fly sprays, there are also natural insecticidal sprays commercially available. One farmer reported very good results with “Safer’s End All II” concentrate (at a 2% concentration), cautioning that the product had to contact the flies directly, and that it was used later in the season, in conjunction with good sanitation and parasitic wasps. This product is a mix of natural pyrethrins and insecticidal soap. “Pyganic” is another pyrethrin-based product that is approved for organic use. Before resorting to these sprays, keep in mind that they are broad-spectrum sprays – resistance and impact on non-target insects (like mature parasitic wasps) must be considered (organic farmers must also seek approval from their certification bodies).
  • Clever applications. One producer has even purchased a battery-operated paint sprayer that he can carry to the pasture to spray his dry cows and heifers. The recommended model is the “Graco Truecoat Plus Cordless Sprayer” because it looks like a cordless drill with an added paint can and runs off the same type of 18V rechargeable battery.

Flies are not a “Fact of Life”

High fly populations and the stress and annoyance they cause to humans and livestock alike don’t need to be accepted as a “fact of life” during summer on farms. Good management and a multi-pronged approach can make a big difference – a difference that will show up in happier people and happier, more productive animals!

Essential oil repellent used by researchers at the Alfred Campus organic dairy research centre:

  • 25 ml lemongrass essential oil
  • 25 ml geranium essential oil
  • 950 ml sunflower oil

This will make enough spray to cover about 10 cows (Alfred used 120ml/cow). The sunflower oil could be replaced with either soybean oil or white mineral oil.

Essential oils can be purchased at health food stores or online. A list of Ontario-based companies selling wholesale essential oils can be found at http://bit.ly/1dIGtLb.

Producers have noted that mineral oil tends to collect less dust and dirt than soybean oil, leaving the cows cleaner and perhaps cooler.

The post Gaining Ground: Managing On-Farm Fly Populations appeared first on Real Agriculture.

Corn School West: Scouting Tips for Corn Borer (Yes, Even in Resistant Varieties)

Corn borer eggs

Corn borer eggs overlap and look like fish scales

The corn borer is a relatively low-level pest in much of the corn crop in Western Canada, but it certainly poses a risk. What’s more, just because you planted a corn borer-resistant variety doesn’t mean you get out of scouting — every farmer who grows corn should be scouting for the pest, says John Gavloski, provincial entomologist for Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.

Related: Why resistance built in to plants requires conservation

In this Corn School episode filmed in late July, Gavloski outlines why corn borer requires scouting, where you’re most likely to find eggs and the tell-tale signs that the eggs you find are corn borer. What’s more, Gavloski explains the life cycle of the borer, and at what stage the larvae enter the plant stem (that’s when control of them would be fruitless). He also explains why it’s important not to assume broken stalks in the fall are corn borer — which means you can even add fall scouting to your list.

If you cannot see the embedded video, click here.

Want more corn production information? This link takes you to the Corn School library!

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A Ban on Bans — Should Farmers Fight to Enshrine, in Law, Access To Tech?

Consumers are farmers’ customers…eventually. But in between the farmer and the consumer is an entire supply chain, from processor, to transporter, to wholesaler and retailer, each taking their pound of flesh. Yet, if consumers demand certain items, production systems or products, it’s largely farmers, not the entire supply chain, that must adapt and shoulder much of the cost to delivering on these demands. It’s also farmers, then, that take the most risk in losing access to ways and means of producing food and food ingredients.

When consumers’ tastes change, when their value systems shift or their fortunes reverse, we see evidence of it at the grocery store. Wealthy baby boomers want health in a package, ready-made or half-way prepared. They want perceived nutritional benefits above and beyond basic food, and they’ve got the funds to support it.

Young families and urban dwellers have a new interest in food production — as evidenced by the push for backyard chicken flocks, the rise of community supported agriculture and the cropping up of organic everything.

Consumer segments are free to demand whatever it is they wish, giving farmers the choice to adapt and deliver on the demand, or stay the course and service the more general markets.

Do farmers have the same right to NOT deliver on these demands, though? If how you operate your farm business is a personal choice, it’s within farmers’ rights to access technology, to have the freedom to operate efficiently and use products already regulated and deemed safe for use and consumption. It would seem that our regulatory process in Canada is no longer enough for the discerning consumer.

Does this mean that the days of farmers operating under so-called “social license” are numbered?

Farmers are part of a supply chain and choose to be so — if consumers are the customer, the customer is always right, right? The flip side, however, is that all of us need farmers to create the raw product of our food system, but not all of us are putting increasingly stringent demands on how that food is produced. Farmers need to be profitable to continue their commitment to the career, full stop. And we know that consumer trends are not based on science or efficiency, they’re based on perception, belief systems and wants.

If enough consumers want products that flow from a very specific production system, they’ll get it — that’s supply and demand. But if enough consumers want products banned or technology eliminated from alternative production systems, is that acceptable? If consumers can choose organic food or conventional, shouldn’t farmers be able to choose the same?

The technology farmers use — especially when it concerns pesticides or biotechnology — is only accessible because it has gone through an extensive regulatory process. You can “believe” one production system is safer and better and tastier, but our regulatory process deems them equivalent, in terms of safety. So, then, if consumers have a beef with a product or technology, why can they simply ignore or circumvent the regulatory process and have it banned anyway?

In an environment of increasing pressure to ban that which offends (even if it’s only one part of the food production puzzle), “consumer demands” has become the trump card for every reason for change, regardless of how unreasonable or seemingly simplistic the change may seem (a ban or removal of access to a technology does not occur in a vacuum). The reach of that change is increasingly leaking outside of a certified production system and into farming at large.

Have we allowed consumer sentiment — based on belief, feelings and an ideal, not science, economics or production realities — too much weight? At what point do farmers stand up and say, “You have your choice of production system, but my choice is valid, too.”

At what point do farmers need to enshrine their right to access and use technology? Or are we already there?

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Canola School: A Prairie Swede Midge Update

Since being found in Ontario in 2000, swede midge has had a rather hasty spread, with adults being found as early as 2007 in some areas in Saskatchewan. Until the past couple of years, however, western Canadian farmers reported finding few symptoms of swede midge damage, which can include anything from fused flower petals to a “witch’s broom” appearance of the main stem. The severity of yield loss depends largely on insect numbers and what stage the crop is at when affected. Swede midge can be devastating to pre-bolting canola, but cause little damage to crops in full flower. Areas in Ontario under high pressure of the midge have essentially stopped growing canola because of this pest.

Learn More: Scouting, life cycle and control of swede midge

This year, pheromone traps are providing surveillance across the western provinces and in this video, Julie Soroka, research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, provides an update on the numbers of swede midge being found in these traps. Soroka also discusses ways to manage crops to avoid swede midge damage, adding that the surveillance project will continue into next year.

Check this video out as a larger version or download the audio from Soundcloud!

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Hive Health Requires Management & Surveillance — Why Bees Are Thriving in the West

Bees, pollinators and honey-makers alike, are enjoying some much deserved attention right now. There was a time not too long ago when many consumers had no inkling of the importance of pollinators in our food supply. Unfortunately, much of the added attention stems from recent bee deaths, the mysterious colony collapse disorder (CCD) and controversy over the use of neonicotinoid insecticide seed treatments on corn and soy crops.

Flying directly in the face of all the doom and gloom, however, is an increasingly vocal group of commercial beekeepers. In Western Canada at least, the bees are all right. The honey industry is healthy, profitable and the bees are thriving. Yet Western Canada is also home to over 18 million acres of canola (sometimes more), a crop often treated with neonicotinoids and heavily favoured by bees, and a region known for long, cold winters. If neonics are the only reason bees are dying, why isn’t the West a giant bee graveyard?

Lee Townsend, a commercial beekeeper with TPLR Honey Farms at Stony Plain, Alta., has a rather reasonable theory — management. In the interview below, Townsend discusses Alberta’s own brush with low hive success in 2006 and the path the province took to bring health back to the hives. Townsend also covers the recent wintering losses survey put out by the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA), where all provinces but Ontario  showed average wintering losses, and what could be at play there, taking into account that Ontario recently announced funding to “rebuild hive numbers”.

Townsend lays out the myriad of factors that go in to a healthy hive, from minimizing beekeeper-placed pesticide residues left in boxes, to the importance of surveillance, to the treatment of diseases and pests within the hives.  That’s not to say there aren’t risks to bee health with neonicotinoid use, but as Townsend outlines in this discussion, banning the product is nothing more than a Band-Aid solution to a much more complex problem.

If you can’t see the embedded interview, click here to hear this interview.

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