Environment Research
Nature Canada is currently leading a project investigating swallow populations along the Southern Great Lakes.
Published in Organic production
Pollinator gardens are most beneficial to pollinators when they contain a greater variety of plants, according to research from the University of Georgia.
Published in Research
“Samurai Wasps vs. Stink Bugs” is not the title of the latest Avengers film. But it does describe new efforts by Cornell scientists to control a household nuisance and agricultural pest.
Published in Insects
Over the last decade, Lake Erie has been struggling with high phosphorus levels. Farming is one of the leading land uses in the Lake Erie watershed, giving agriculture a critical role to play in improving water quality in the lake.
Published in Provinces
CABI scientists have made the first discovery of the Asian samurai wasp Trissolcus japonicus – a natural enemy that kills the eggs of the invasive fruit and nut pest brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) – in Europe.
Published in Research
Join us Tue, Apr 24, 2018 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM EDT for an interactive webinar on Climate Change - Impact on Fruit and Vegetable Crops.
Published in Webinars
Iowa State University researchers are conducting experiments to determine what advantages may arise from integrating chickens into vegetable production systems. The researchers must balance a range of concerns, including environmental sustainability, costs and food and animal safety. But Ajay Nair, an associate professor of horticulture and a vegetable production specialist for ISU Extension and Outreach, said finding ways to integrate vegetable and animal production may lead to greater efficiency and healthier soils.

The experiments, currently in their second year, take place at the ISU Horticulture Research Station just north of Ames. The researchers are testing what happens when a flock of broiler chickens lives on a vegetable field for part of the year.

The chickens forage on the plant matter left behind after the vegetables are harvested and fertilize the soil with manure. This integrated approach could reduce off-farm inputs and also provide producers with sustainable crop rotation options.

The researchers are testing three different systems on a half acre of land at the research farm. The first system involves a vegetable crop – one of several varieties of lettuce or broccoli – early in the growing season, followed by the chickens, which are then followed by a cover crop later in the year.

The second system involves the vegetable crop, followed by two months of a cover crop, with the chickens foraging on the land later in the year. The third system is vegetables followed by cover crops, with no chickens.

The experiment involves roughly 40 chickens, which live in four mobile coops that the researchers move every day. Moving the coops around ensures the chickens have access to fresh forage and keeps their manure from concentrating any particular part of the field. An electric fence surrounds the field to keep out predators.

Moriah Bilenky, a graduate assistant in horticulture, checks on the chickens every morning to make sure they have food and water. She also weighs them periodically to collect data on how efficiently they convert food into body mass. The researchers designed the trial to uphold animal health, and Bilenky said she keeps a detailed log on how foraging in the fields impacts the birds’ health and performance.

Nair said the researchers are looking at several facets associated with sustainability. Nitrogen and phosphorous deposited in the soil from the chicken manure could alleviate some of the need for fertilizer application, while working cover crops into the system can prevent the loss of nutrients into waterways. Economics must also factor into the research, he said.

“We might come up with results that really help the soil, but if the system is not economically stable, I doubt growers will be willing to adopt it because it has to work for their bottom line as well,” he said.

The trials also adhere to food safety regulations. For instance, all vegetables are harvested before the chickens are introduced to the fields, ensuring none of the produce is contaminated. The researchers consulted food safety and animal science experts at Iowa State while designing their experiments, and the work undergoes regular IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee) inspection and documentation, he said.

The trials remain ongoing, so the researchers aren’t drawing any conclusions yet about the success of their integrated system. The project is currently supported through a SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) grant. Nair said he’s seeking additional funding to investigate the animal health and integrated pest management aspects of this research.

So why did the chicken cross the road? It’s too early to tell, but maybe so it could get into the lettuce and pepper fields.
Published in Research
Songbirds and coffee farms in Central America. Ladybugs and soybean fields in the Midwest. These are well-known, win-win stories that demonstrate how conserving natural habitat can benefit farmers.

But an international team of authors, including Megan O’Rourke, assistant professor in the Virginia Tech School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, found that natural habitat surrounding farm fields is not always an effective pest-control tool for farmers worldwide. The team’s analysis was published Aug. 2 in the journal PNAS.

“For the last 20 years, many scientists have suggested that you will have fewer insect pests on your farm if the farm is surrounded by natural habitats, such as forests,” O’Rourke said.

To test that assumption, lead authors Daniel Karp, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, and Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer, of the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University, organized an international team of ecologists, economists, and practitioners at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center.

Together, they compiled the largest pest-control dataset of its kind, encompassing 132 studies from more than 6,700 sites in 31 countries worldwide — from California farmlands to tropical cacao plantations and European wheat fields.

Surprisingly, the results were highly variable across the globe. While many of the studies showed surrounding natural habitat does indeed help farmers control pests, just as many showed negative effects on crop yields. The analysis indicates that there are no one-size-fits-all recommendations for growers about natural habitat and pests.

“Natural habitats support many services that can help farmers and society, such as pollination and wildlife conservation, but we want to be clear about when farmers should or should not expect the land around their farms to affect pest management,” said O’Rourke, who works within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Fralin Life Science Institute. “Diverse landscapes are not a silver bullet for pest control but should be considered as part of a holistic and sustainable pest management plan.”

Critically, Karp and his team of 153 co-authors have made their pest-control database publicly available, opening the door for further scientific insights. Karp hopes the database will grow over time and help inform predictive models about when surrounding habitat helps control pests and when it does not.

The research was supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center and the National Science Foundation.
Published in Research
If you were going to tank mix chemical pesticides, you would of course read the label to check for compatibility before mixing products.

The same concept applies when using living organisms for pest control. Whether you are using parasitoid wasps, predatory mites, microorganisms, or nematodes, you need to know whether your biocontrols are compatible with each other and any other pest management products you plan to use.

For example, a biocontrol fungus might be killed if you tank mix it with (or apply it just before) a chemical fungicide. Insecticides (whether or not they are biological) could be harmful to natural enemy insects and mites. Even some beneficial insects are not compatible with each other because they may eat each other instead of (or in addition to) the pest. | READ MORE 
Published in Insects
August 2, 2017, Ottawa, Ont. - Domestic subsidies in many countries encourage production increases that result in considerable surpluses and lower prices on global markets, according to a new study released today by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI).

The study also found these production increases fuel highly unsustainable production practices and the misallocation of natural resources.

The comprehensive study, Understanding Agricultural Support, was prepared by Al Mussell, Douglas Hedley, Kamal Karunagoda, and Brenda Dyack of Agri-Food Economic Systems, with support from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. The report seeks a better understanding of the impacts of domestic income support programs in key markets and competitors on the competitiveness of Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector.
Published in Research
July 27, 2017, Vineland, Ont – It’s been 10 years since a new horticultural research facility in Niagara Region was launched as the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland).

Since then, Vineland has been turning heads across Canada and internationally with its needs-based innovations. The organization reflects the entire horticulture value chain from farmers to consumers, and they’re not afraid to take big steps to help the industry solve problems.

“We started by understanding what needed to be done and how we needed to work to make a difference, which is real results with real impact from acres in the field to shelf space in the store,” says Vineland’s CEO, Dr. Jim Brandle.

Addressing the labour intensive nature of horticultural production was a need identified early on. Today, machines designed in Vineland’s robotics program and built in Ontario are coming into use in fruit and vegetable greenhouses, which Brandle says will go a long way in helping to keep growers competitive, as well as boost the local manufacturing and automation sector.
Sweet potatoes, okra and Asian eggplant are offering new market opportunities for growers and consumers eager to eat more locally produced food.

And Vineland’s rose breeding program made a big splash earlier this year when its Canadian Shield rose – a trademarked low-maintenance and winter hardy variety bred in Canada – was named Flower of the Year at Canada Blooms.

Another significant milestone was the construction of the largest, most modern horticultural research greenhouse in North America with commercial-scale height and growing rooms dedicated to horticulture, which opened in 2016 and was built around the needs of Canada’s greenhouse vegetable and flower growers.“Today, we’re commercializing innovations, from the Canadian Shield rose to new apple and pear varieties,” Brandle says. “We are having the kind of impact that we sought in those early days.”

Natural ways to control greenhouse pests – called biocontrols – are making a real difference to flower growers and a new technology that can identify genetic variants for traits in all plants has just been spun-off into a for-profit company.

“We’re creating a reputation and that alone is an achievement because we’re the new kid on the block,” he says. “We have a ton of good people with and around the organization and on our board who are making this happen.”Vineland is an important partner to the horticulture industry, according to Jan VanderHout, a greenhouse vegetable grower and Chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association.

“They are very good at asking us what we want and taking a whole value chain approach to research and innovation,” VanderHout says. “You need the right facilities and expertise and Vineland fills that need to the benefit of the industry as a whole.”

Looking to the future, both Brandle and VanderHout predict that cap and trade pressure and high energy costs will result in more work around energy use and carbon footprint reduction.And Vineland’s consumer-focused approaches will continue to drive new innovation, from high flavour greenhouse tomatoes to Ontario-grown apple varieties.

“We will further lever consumer-driven plant breeding and work with the intent around pleasing consumers and trying to understand what they want so we can build that into our selection criteria,” Brandle says.
Published in Profiles
July 24, 2017 - St. John's - The Government of Canada is committed to working with agricultural industry partners and the private sector to develop new risk management tools that help farmers to be resilient and grow their businesses.

Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lawrence MacAulay, announced a $365,291 investment for the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture (NLFA) to develop a comprehensive consultation process to identify all the risks associated with farming in the province, potentially including production, financial, labour, market, transportation and climate change risks.

Once completed, the risk assessment will form the basis for future programs and initiatives that will improve the resilience and growth of the Newfoundland and Labrador agriculture sector.
Published in Federal
May 24, 2017 Westminster, CO- A recent survey conducted by the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA) ranks Palmer amaranth as the most troublesome and difficult to control weed in 12 categories of broadleaf crops, fruits and vegetables, while common lambsquarters ranks as the weed most commonly found.

Almost 200 weed scientists across the U.S. and Canada participated in the 2016 survey, the second conducted by WSSA.

A 2015 baseline survey explored the most common and troublesome weeds in 26 different crops and noncrop areas.

The current survey ranks the following weeds as the most troublesome or the most common among broadleaf crops, fruits and vegetables:


Most Troublesome
  1. Palmer amaranth
  2. Common lambsquarters
  3. Horseweed (marestail)
  4. Morningglory (ivyleaf, pitted, tall)
  5. Waterhemp (tall, common)
  6. Nutsedge (yellow, purple)
  7. Kochia
  8. Common ragweed
  9. Giant ragweed
  10. Nightshade (eastern black, hairy)
Most Common
  1. Common lambsquarters
  2. Foxtail (giant, green, yellow)
  3. Morningglory (ivyleaf, pitted, tall)
  4. Palmer amaranth
  5. Redroot pigweed
  6. Waterhemp (tall, common)
  7. Horseweed (marestail)
  8. Common ragweed
  9. Barnyardgrass
  10. Velvetleaf
Six weed species appeared on both the “most troublesome” and “most common” lists, including Palmer amaranth, common lambsquarters, horseweed, morningglory, waterhemp and common ragweed.

“Weed scientists have confirmed multiple cases of herbicide resistance in all six of these weed species, except for the morningglories where there is suspected resistance to glyphosate,” says Lee Van Wychen, Ph.D., science policy director for WSSA. “While each of these species has evolved traits that make them widespread and tough competitors in broadleaf crops like soybeans and cotton, there is no question that their difficulty to control with herbicides has pushed them to the top of the list in this survey.”

WSSA also sorted the survey data to produce the following crop-specific results, shown below by crop, most troublesome weed and most common weed, respectively:
  • Alfalfa: Canada thistle; dandelion
  • Canola: kochia; wild oat
  • Cotton: Palmer amaranth; morningglory (ivyleaf, pitted, tall)
  • Fruits & nuts: field bindweed; horseweed (marestail)
  • Peanuts: nutsedge (yellow, purple); Palmer amaranth
  • Pulse crops: common lambsquarters; common lambsquarters
  • Soybeans: horseweed, waterhemp (tall, common); waterhemp (tall, common)
  • Sugar beets: common lambsquarters; common lambsquarters
  • Vegetables: nutsedge (yellow, purple); common lambsquarters
Although listed as the most troublesome weed in cotton only, Palmer amaranth was ranked first in the overall survey based on the number of respondents who cited it as a problem.

Common lambsquarters is widely distributed across the northern half of the United States and southern Canada. It is not surprising that it ranked as the most common weed in sugar beets, vegetable crops and pulse crops, such as dry edible beans, lentils and chickpeas.

WSSA plans to conduct habitat-specific weed surveys annually. The 2017 survey will focus on weeds in grass crops, pasture and turf, while the 2018 survey will focus on weeds in aquatic environments, natural areas and other noncrop settings.

The 2016 survey data is posted online at http://wssa.net/wssa/weed/surveys.

For more information specific to herbicide-resistant weeds, see the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds, available at http://weedscience.com.
Published in Research
May 17, 2017, Ottawa, Ont. – Fertilizer Canada has released a 4R Nutrient Stewardship Sustainability Report. The document is a comprehensive overview of the associations 2016 milestones through several initiatives pertaining to agriculture sustainability.

The report can be found at:4R Nutrient Stewardship Sustainability Report
For more information, visit: http://fertilizercanada.ca/
Published in Companies
May 10, 2017, Chatham, Ont. - AGRIS Co-operative, Wanstead Farmers Co-operative and Haggerty Creek Ltd. announced an aggressive expansion of its web based weather service, the "AGGrower Daily Dashboard" across southwestern Ontario.

This collaborative effort will see the current compliment of 80 automated weather stations across southwestern Ontario expand to a goal of more than 400 reporting locations when completed. Producers who sign up for the AGGrower Daily Dashboard will have the ability to have field specific climate information delivered directly to their laptop, cellular phone or tablet.

"Our web based weather service will assist producers in managing their crops by providing real time precipitation, relative humidity, wind speed, growth models on individual fields and notifications of critical stages during the growth cycle," says Dale Cowan, senior agronomist and sales manager for AGRIS Co-operative and Wanstead Farmers Co-operative. "The AGGrower Daily Dashboard will also assist in timely do it yourself crop scouting using integrated pest management principles," added Cowan.

To supplement the web based weather reporting network, Cowan is now recruiting dedicated "citizen scientists" to join the Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow network, (CoCoRahs).

"These volunteers would be part of a larger community of like-minded people that would help support our automated weather stations with additional rainfall data to support our new initiative of the AGGrower Daily Dashboard program," says Cowan.

Volunteer "citizen scientists" must live in Essex, Chatham-Kent, Lambton, West Middlesex or Elgin Counties, have a keen interest and dedication to collecting rainfall and a smart phone.

Installation and training on the use of the special rain gauge is provided at no charge to those participating. For more information on how you can become a "citizen scientist" contact Paul deNijs at 226-626-1048.

This project is funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.
Published in Equipment

Although Canada is home to internationally award-winning wines, the cold winters and short growing season are a constant challenge. Photo by Dr. Mehdi Sharifi, Trent University.

August 16, 2016 - Although Canada is home to internationally award-winning wines, the cold winters and short growing season are a constant challenge. The solution is one that has never been tried with wine grapes before until now: moving production indoors.

That’s what Dr. Mehdi Sharifi, a Canada Research Chair in sustainable agriculture and professor at Trent University’s School of the Environment, has been working on.

And it could change the entire future of Canada’s wine industry, including dramatically expanding organic wine production.

“Winter injury and low yields are the two main challenges for the wine industry in central and eastern Canada,” he explains.

Winter injury is freezing damage to the wood and bud tissues of the grape vine caused by cold temperatures or erratic temperature swings. It results in significant direct losses in grape production and even greater losses in wine production, and prevents some grape varieties, like the popular Shiraz, from being grown in Canada.

In the case of severe winter injury, vines need to be replaced but it takes newly planted vines three to five years to become productive. That’s an expensive wait without income for grape growers, who face annual costs of $10,000 – 15,000 an acre to maintain grape vines.

Sharifi’s indoor grape growing work began when he was approached by Canadian Distribution Channel Inc., a company interested in building an agritourism venture by growing popular Australian, South American and European grape varieties inside.

He began by developing a specially formulated growing media that would allow the grapes to grow quickly indoors.

“You can’t use field or potting soil indoors for growing grapes. Growing media for perennial plants such as grapes need a balance of chemical, physical and biological conditions and nutrients for best growth,” says Sharifi.

“We’ve created and tested a formula that works great and supplies nutrients to the grapes for a long period of time,” he added.

The formula’s natural ingredients could open new possibilities for organic grape production too, with the protected indoor conditions making organic growing easier.

As Sharifi’s work progressed, he also discovered that the stable temperatures and environment of indoor production can simulate a natural growing season year round and shorten the amount of time new vines need to come into production.

“We found that vines can grow two to three times as fast as they can grow outdoors. We can also simulate the equivalent of two to three growing seasons per year, so we can bring new vines into production in only one to two years,” he explains. “This doubles or even triples yearly yields, which will compensate for the extra cost of the greenhouse needed for indoor production.”

Sharifi is optimistic about his results to date. The grapes he has grown indoors have a higher than required sugar standard and their pH and acidity levels are suitable for wine production, but he cautions that more work remains to be done before his discovery can be implemented commercially.

Down the road he sees potential for producing wines with higher antioxidants or health-boosting phenolic compounds, but it’s the widespread application of his innovation that bears the most promise for Canada’s wine producers.

“This can work for any grape variety, and the interest of the industry lies with being able to grow varieties that we currently can’t in Canada because of our climate,” he says.

Sharifi’s work has received support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

Published in Research


The water quality around Ontario’s Holland Marsh is getting better and better, in large part due to the Holland Marsh Growers’ Association Water Project (HMGA WP).

The project is now in its third year and is funded by Environment Canada’s “Lake Simcoe Georgian Bay Clean-Up Fund.” It aims to both promote whole-farm water quality improvement and evaluate new water treatment technologies, with the focus on Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay through the Nottawasaga Valley, Severn Sound and Lake Simcoe watersheds.

“Specifically, we are identifying levels and types of contaminants, whether they are nutrients or sediments, in discharge water from horticultural use,” says HMGA WP manager Charlie Lalonde. “We’re also testing innovative and alternative treatment technologies, and management strategies focusing on water use and treatment. Along with that comes sharing the findings with the broader horticultural industry.”

The project includes greenhouse operations and farms with field vegetables, livestock, potatoes and nursery crops. Treatment systems under evaluation are new and must be retrofitted into already-existing systems.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Environment Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs are major governance partners, contributing funding and staff time and expertise to the HMGA WP. Individual growers are contributing ideas and practical feedback, test sites and financial support. Staff at the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change are providing advice about regulatory compliance. Research project participants include the University of Guelph, SRG Soil Research Group, McMaster and Western Universities, Flowers Canada, Farm & Food Care and the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association. Companies taking part are Bishop Technologies, Newterra, Voltea, ProMinent Fluid Controls, various engineering firms (for treatment system design) and GroPak Farms.

When asked what broad lessons have become clear over the last three years, Lalonde says: “We’ve learned the first step in a wash water treatment system is most critical. Many technologies work well after a significant amount of soil has been removed, so we have to improve de-dirting of root vegetables to reduce soil load prior to washing. Muck soils are most difficult to remove from water due to particle size and particle density, so physical separation does not work.”

Lalonde believes participating growers appreciate the water project because their involvement has allowed them to address their individual situations. For other growers, Lalonde and other HMGA WP staff conduct outreach every year through workshops and other industry events. Workshop materials are also available on the HMGA WP website, along with articles, fact sheets and a blog.

“Water project staff are on grower farm sites every week to discuss treatment system options and performance,” Lalonde adds. “I think one of the most important aspects of this project is the way it has broadened the support infrastructure for the sector through introduction of new technologies, engineering firms, research partners and so on. It’s very much about continuously connecting the dots between growers and support services to make sure those offering services understand the challenges.”

The federal government is about to announce phosphorus loading targets for Lake Erie, to be met by 2018 under the bi-national “Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.” While Lalonde notes that Lake Simcoe is its own watershed system, he sees Great Lakes’ water concerns as similar and the targets relevant.

“Growers welcome targets as they allow for better planning,” he says. “However, in each of these water bodies, the source of nutrients can be different so site-specific analysis is required.”

Lalonde believes the Great Lakes and other bodies of water such as Lake Simcoe will continue to receive lots of attention and require improvements as urban pressure intensifies.

“Although agriculture is not the major contributor to water quality, these bodies of water in both regions experience some agricultural runoff of phosphorus and nitrogen,” he says. “We are pleased that this project has produced tangible results and has created options for growers. Through continuous improvement, the environmental profile will continue to change.”

For more information on the project, visit hmgawater.ca.




Published in Fruit


Over the past few years, the global agricultural industry – including Canada – has been abuzz with discussion about the use of pesticides on crops and the health of honeybees. Various hypotheses regarding colony collapse disorder (CCD) and the decline of honeybee colonies have been suggested and tested, leading to the banning of some classes of pesticides.

But, according to the latest research from Europe, one pesticide may not be the only culprit.

Researchers with the department of zoology at the University of Otago in New Zealand recently published a study in the journal Ecology examining what effect the organophosphate chlorpyrifos can have on honeybees. Insects were gathered from 17 sites around the Otago area. While levels of the pesticide in the bees were found to be well below the L50 point – the lethal dose for 50 per cent of the animals tested – “the formation and retrieval of appetitive olfactory memories was severely affected,” the researchers found.

“As learning and memory play a central role in the behavioural ecology and communication of foraging bees, chlorpyrifos, even in sublethal doses, may threaten the success and survival of this important insect pollinator,” they concluded.

In a study published recently in the Journal of Chromatography A, researchers with the National Veterinary Research Institute in Poland have discovered that European honeybees are being poisoned by up to 57 different pesticides.

“Bee health is a matter of public concern – bees are considered critically important for the environment and agriculture by pollinating more than 80 per cent of crops and wild plants in Europe,” said Tomasz Kiljanek, lead author of the study. “We wanted to develop a test for a large number of pesticides currently approved for use in the European Union to see what is poisoning the bees.”

Kiljanek and his team used a testing method called QuEChERS, typically used to look for pesticide residue on food, to analyze bees from 70 different poisoning incidents. They were able to test for 200 different pesticides simultaneously – about 98 per cent approved for use in the EU – plus additional compounds created when the pesticides break down.

Their results – 57 different pesticides were present in the bees. According to the study’s conclusions, “it is the broadest spectrum of pesticides and their metabolites, till now, detected in honeybees.”

“This is just the beginning of our research on the impact of pesticides on honeybee health,” said Kiljanek. “Honeybee poisoning incidents are the tip of the iceberg. Even at low levels, pesticides can weaken bees’ defense systems, allowing parasites or viruses to kill the colony. Our results will help expand our knowledge about the influence of pesticides on honeybee health and will provide important information for other researchers to better assess the risk connected with the mix of current pesticides.”

While the outcome of the project was to develop a new tool for studying which pesticides may actually be having a negative effect on honeybees, it has also shown that improving bee health isn’t as simple as banning one pesticide. The issue appears to be a bit more complicated than that.




Published in Research

February 4, 2014 – Syngenta Canada Inc. and Dalhousie University, together with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, are partnering on an innovative research project to increase bee populations and blueberry yields in the Maritime provinces.

Canada is the world’s largest producer of wild blueberries and most are grown in Quebec and in the Atlantic provinces. They are important economically and are part of our cultural identity.

“An increase in the demand for blueberries has resulted in the expansion of blueberry operations. Bee populations have not, however, increased in tandem,” says Dr. Paul Hoekstra, stewardship manager with Syngenta Canada Inc.

Bees and blueberries are an important combination and over the past two years declines in blueberry yields have caused concerns.

“An inadequate supply of bees required to pollinate a healthy blueberry crop has been identified as an important problem,” says Dr. Chris Cutler, associate professor, Dalhousie University, Faculty of Agriculture. “This research project hopes to address a couple of the factors that may be part of the problem – nesting habitat limitations and a lack of food resources.”

The research will involve planting of bee-attractive forage plants and creation of bee nesting sites. Impacts of these habitat amendments on bee populations and blueberry pollination will be analyzed over two years.

“We’re planting annual buckwheat, which is particularly attractive to bees, along the edge of blueberry fields,” explains researcher Robyn McCallum. “We’re also examining the use of nesting blocks that can be used by certain cavity nesting bees, and how nesting block design, placement, and management affects the number of bees in a field and, as a result, pollination rates.”

Originally from Tabusintac, New Brunswick, the Dalhousie Master of Science student is hopeful that the blueberry sector will benefit from her research.

“We think the research will demonstrate the benefits of these practical methods to boost native bee populations.”

Syngenta Canada is supporting the research through their Operation Pollinator program. The program includes support for research and other initiatives that contribute to enhanced biodiversity and habitat in support of healthy pollinator populations.


Published in Research
Concern has been growing across Canada this summer about the future of the honeybee.

I first reported on the problem of the steep rise in bee mortalities back in the March 2013 issue of Fruit and Vegetable Magazine in an editorial entitled “The buzz about bees and neonicotinoids.” I described what actions were being taken in the European Union regarding the use of neonicotinoids and highlighted a conference presentation made by B.C.’s provincial apiculturist on the issue.

Over the summer, more action has been taken to protect bees.

Back in July, the Ontario government announced the formation of an industry working group with a mandate of providing advice on how to prevent bee mortalities. The group comprises beekeepers, farmers, agri-business representatives plus federal and government officials.

At the time of the group’s formation, the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association spoke in favour of the move but
stressed that a ban on neonicotinoid use needed to be put in place before the 2014 planting season.

“Our industry simply cannot sustain these losses,” said Dan Davidson, president of the OBA, in a press release. “Allowing the status quo to remain would spell tragedy for the bees that pollinate our fruits and vegetables.”

In early September, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) of Health Canada released a Notice of Intent – Action to Protect Bees from Exposure to Neonicotinoid Pesticides – and invited interested parties to comment on it over the next 90 days. The deadline for written comments is Dec. 12, 2013.

“Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency has determined that current agricultural practices related to the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed are affecting the environment due to their impacts on bees and other pollinators,” the document states.

According to the PMRA, a “significant” number of reports involving the death of bees were received in 2012 from corn growing regions in Ontario and Quebec. When tested, about 70 per cent of the dead bees tested positive for residues of neonicotinoid insecticides. That “significant” number of reports continued in 2013.

“Consequently, we have concluded that current agricultural practices related to the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed are not sustainable.”

The PMRA recommends for the 2014 planting season that the following protective measures for corn and soybean production be put in place:

  • the use of safer, dust-reducing seed flow lubricants
  • adherence to safer seed planting practices
  • new pesticide and seed package labels with enhanced warnings
  • the provision of updated value information to support the continued need for neonicotinoid treatment on up to 100 per cent of the corn seed and 50 per cent of the soybean seed
Some beekeepers don’t think this goes far enough, according to media reports.Meanwhile, Ontario Premier and Minister of Agriculture and Food Kathleen Wynne released a statement on the progress being made by the province’s bee health working group.

“Based on the group’s early discussions, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food is working with seed trade and grain farmer organizations to raise farmers’ awareness of their options to plant non-insecticide treated corn and soybean seed,” she said, adding, “We need the federal government to take definitive action and make bee health and pesticide use a top priority.”

To help address the issues facing bees, Bayer CropScience has opened a North American Bee Care Center in North Carolina to complement the company’s existing bee centre in Germany.

“Our scientists are working to help solve some of the most pressing honeybee health problems, as their importance to the global food supply cannot be overstated,” said Jim Blome, president and CEO of Bayer CropScience.

Muddying the issue even more are recent research findings from a study out of the University of California showing that selenium – which can occur naturally in plants – can also be toxic to bees.

The value of honeybees to the pollination of crops is estimated at $2 billion annually.

It is reassuring to see the numerous actions being taken by industry, science and government to address the health of Canada’s bee population. It’s a complicated and contentious issue but all continue to work together to find a solution, a reflection of its importance.
Published in Research
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