Statement by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Retirement of Agricultural Research Service Administrator Edward B. Knipling

WASHINGTON, August 30, 2013— United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the following statement on the retirement of Agricultural Research Service Administrator Edward B. Knipling:

"Dr. Edward B. Knipling retires today with 46 years of service to the American people through the advancement of science. In a prestigious career devoted to the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he has held positions throughout the agency, serving as ARS Administrator since 2004.

Dr. Knipling has guided nearly 2,000 scientists with a focus on ARS as the working arm of USDA science and an organization of national responsibility. In 1997, he helped spearhead the National Research Programs that provide organizational structure to approximately 800 ongoing research projects. He has created an environment in which science can flourish and researchers can innovate to address the nation's most pressing issues.

Under his leadership, ARS has developed a globally recognized program of breeding and genetics for plants and animals. Crops improved by ARS for disease resistance—against the devastating wheat disease, Ug99, for example—and genetic markers developed for animal selection have advanced U.S. agriculture and improved lives worldwide. Responding to modern health concerns, Dr. Knipling has heightened the focus of ARS science on nutrition and childhood obesity.

Dr. Knipling's retirement brings to a close about eight decades of Knipling family service to ARS and USDA. His father, famed ARS entomologist Dr. Edward F. Knipling, made vast contributions to U.S. agriculture – including development of the technology that led to the eradication of the screwworm from the United States, Mexico, and Central America.

On behalf of USDA, I am deeply grateful to Dr. Knipling for his service and leadership, and for the contributions of the Knipling family to the science that stands behind the progress of American agriculture and the well-being of our citizens."

Forget the plight of the polar bear for a moment and consider the coming collapse of the $30 billion honey bee economy in the US.

Since 2006 honey bees responsible for pollinating more than 100 crops—from apples to zucchini—have been dying by the tens of millions. As a new report from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) details, scientists are still struggling to pinpoint the cause of so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and time is running out.

“Currently, the survivorship of honey bee colonies is too low for us to be confident in our ability to meet the pollination demands of U.S. agricultural crops,” the report states.

Some signs of beemageddon: CCD has wiped out some 10 million bee hives worth $2 billion over the past six years. The death rate for colonies has hit 30% annually in recent years and there are now about 2.5 million honey bee colonies in the US, down from 6 million in 1947 and 3 million in 1990. That downward spiral leaves “virtually no cushion of bees for pollination,” the report’s authors write.

If that sounds scary, it is. Take almonds. California harvests more than 80% of the world’s almonds. But you can’t grow the nut without honey bees and it takes 60% of the US’s remaining colonies just to pollinate that one $4 billion cash crop.

If the death toll continues at the present rate, that means there will soon be barely enough bees to pollinate almonds, let alone avocadoes, blueberries, pears or plums. “We are one poor weather event or high winter bee loss away from a pollination disaster,” USDA scientist Jeff Pettis said in the report.

In recent years, agricultural pesticides have become a leading suspect in bee deaths. Attention has focused on a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids. Last month the European Commission imposed a two-year ban on neonicotinoids as global concern grows over the bee population crash, which has affected several European countries too.

But scientists increasingly believe several interacting factors—from disease-carrying parasites to poor nutrition to pesticides—are responsible for the mass die-off. For instance, the report says, studies have shown that exposure to even non-fatal levels of neonicotinoids may make bees more susceptible to disease.

And as agriculture becomes ever more industrial and natural habitats that formerly bordered farmland are destroyed, bees are being starved of the food they need to help produce food for humans. “Undernourished or malnourished bees appear to be more susceptible to pathogens, parasites, and other stressors, including toxins,” said the report.

So how to save the bees? One answer: Breed better bees. The report recommends stepping up efforts to identify genetic traits in particular bees that make them resistance to suspected causes of CCD. Some honey bees, it turns out, take “suicidal risks” when infected with disease to prevent spreading the contagion to the colony.

The report also suggests importing Russian honey bees and other “Old World” bees to diversify bee breeding stock and build up CCD resistance. Scientists already have begun to stockpile bee semen and germplasm in case the worst comes to pass.

MAY 7, 2013

Weather Summary

Temperatures cooled from the previous week’s record highs, but still averaged a few degrees above normal.  Las Vegas had a high of 99 degrees and Ely had a low of 14 degrees.  The West and the South had weather permitting forage and crop growth, but the North and East remained too cold.  Light rains fell across the middle of the State amidst breezy conditions.  Reno was the only station recording measurable precipitation and that was only .01 inch.  Mountain snow packs continued to recede and some streams and ponds were drying up. 

Field Crops Summary

Days suitable for fieldwork: 7.  Spring grain planting continued and irrigation was underway on crops in the West and South.  Onion seeding continued and corn planting was beginning in warmer regions.  The outlook for irrigation water supplies, particularly surface supplies, was dour.  Lovelock Valleys are expecting only a small fraction of normal water allotments and the Smith and Mason valleys are anticipating fewer cuttings of alfalfa hay.  Calving and lambing were well along.  Livestock producers continued to supply supplemental hay to eastern herds and some stock movement to springs and summer ranges was beginning in the West.  Main farm and ranch activities included field preparation, spring planting, irrigating, fertilizing, weed control and working livestock.


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