October 5, 2015

Bumble bee may become first added to endangered species list

Rusty patched bumble bee, photo by Sarina Jepsen

Rusty patched bumble bee, photo by Sarina Jepsen

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to declare the rusty patched bumble bee an endangered species. The bee once flourished in Nebraska and would be the first bee to make the list and gain federal protection.

Sarina Jepsen, endangered species program director for The Xerces Society, says this type of bee has vanished from 87% of its historic range and where it still exists, its populations are as much as 95% smaller than they were just a few decades ago.

“Protecting this bee could take a wide variety of forms, from restoring habitat for the species to protecting it from diseases,” Jepsen says. “One of the concerns about this species in particular is that the cause of its decline may be from diseases from commercial bumble bees or rather, managed pollinators.”

There are as many as 4,000 species of native bees in the United States and many of them are threatened. Jepsen says many people don’t realize how important bees are to our food supply and to the economy of an agricultural state like Nebraska.

“Together, all of our pollinators provide pollination services to agriculture that are estimated to be worth $3-billion annually,” Jepsen says. “That, of course, includes our managed honey bees that we’re very familiar with as well as many other species of native bumble bees.”

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the decline in monarch butterfly populations and Nebraskans are being urged to plant certain plants, like milkweeds, to help that insect, which is also a vital pollinator.

“Planting hedgerows and flowering plants that bloom all throughout the year is a great thing to do for monarchs as well as bumble bees,” Jepsen says. “Avoiding using insecticides or being very careful about what types you use and how much you use will also help this bee.”

Earlier this year, the White House released a strategy to protect native bees, honey bees and monarch butterflies. Jepsen says the national attention being given to pollinators has been great for native pollinator conservation.

The National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators is focused on protecting, restoring and enhancing their habitat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has launched a year-long review to determine if an Endangered Species Act listing is warranted for the rusty patched bumble bee. A decision is expected in September of 2016.

The Xerces Society is a non-profit conservation group, based in Portland, Oregon.


Harvest beginning in Nebraska as farmers worry about crop prices

Photo by Ken Anderson, Brownfield Ag News

Photo by Ken Anderson, Brownfield Ag News

Combines are beginning to roll across Nebraska, with the harvest starting in the southeastern corner of the state.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Educator Paul Hay in Gage County says the corn harvest is underway. Hay says farmers hope the weather cooperates for soybeans planted late due to the wet spring.

“We need to kind of keep the sunny days coming and not that frost, yet. Probably another couple of weeks to get kind of through that,” Hay tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KWBE. “Corn is starting to ripen; a lot of dryland fields, we’re in to those. We’re in to some irrigated corn now.”

Hay says a number of corn fields suffered damage from storms that moved through the southeastern portion of Nebraska over the Labor Day weekend. Many farmers are letting cattle into fields that simply won’t be very easy to harvest. Hay cautions to make sure there isn’t too much corn left in the fields for cattle to safely consume.

While it was wet early in southeastern Nebraska, it has been wet late in northeastern Nebraska.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Educator Keith Jarvi of Dixon County says farmers need some sunny, dry days to get harvest in full swing in the northeastern region of Nebraska.

Jarvi says farmers, in general, are optimistic about their crop yields, just wary of the prices they’ll get.

“They’re feeling pretty good about what’s out there, it’s just what they’re going to get for it, that’s the big issue right now,” Jarvi says.

The latest reports show 10% of the corn crop has been harvested in Nebraska and about 13% of the soybeans have been harvested across the state.

Dave Niedfeldt, KWBE, contributed to this report.

UNL leads $13.5M research project into use of sorghum to make ethanol

UNL Center for Biotechnology Director Daniel Schachtman with samples of sorghum

UNL Center for Biotechnology Director Daniel Schachtman with samples of sorghum

University of Nebraska researchers will lead a major research effort to improve sorghum as a new source for ethanol.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman made the announcement.

“Please to announce today that the U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a $13.5 million grant to a partnership of nine U.S. institutions, led by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to improve sorghum as a sustainable source of biofuels production,” Perlman told an audience gathered at the Beadle Center Atrium on the Lincoln campus.

The Department of Energy has awarded the five-year grant to fund a comprehensive approach to better understand how plants and microbes interact to determine what sorghum varieties grow best with less water and nitrogen.

Varieties of sorghum

Varieties of sorghum

UNL leads a team of scientists at Danforth Plant Science Center, Washington State University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Boyce Thompson Institute, Clemson University, Iowa State University, Colorado State University, and the DOE-Joint Genome Institute.

Most ethanol is made from corn. Sorghum holds promise to create more biomass for cellulosic ethanol. Sorghum also can grow on marginal land. Cellulosic ethanol also doesn’t compete with food crops. The research seeks to increase plant biomass and to increase the efficient use of water and nutrients.

UNL Center for Biotechnology Director Daniel Schachtman, professor of agronomy and horticulture, is the project leader.

Schachtman says sorghum grown for biofuels could fit well into Nebraska agriculture.

“There is sorghum grown in the state and there is a small industry here right now for sorghum that this energy sorghum work could quickly plug into,” according to Schachman.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Combines are ready to roll on a promising harvest

harvest sceneHarvest progress is picking up across the country and in Nebraska.

The latest USDA report says the soybean harvest is 21% done nationally, compared to the 16% average for this date.

In Nebraska, 13% of soybeans have been harvested, in line with the normal pace.

Mike Hingst farms near Allen and says his beans are ten days from being ready, but he’s expecting better yields than last year.

“I’m hoping for 60, 65,” Hingst says. “We bounced off 60 last year and I think they look better than they did last year and the weather was definitely better.”

Corn harvest in Nebraska slowed a bit with rain last week and sits at 10% harvested, which is 6% behind average. Hingst is optimistic about a record yield on his corn this year due to mild pollination weather and lots of rain.

“The corn’s looking awesome,” he says. “I’m anxious to get out there and see what it is. I’ve been out there counting kernals all late summer long so it’ll be fun to get out there and just see what’s out there.”

Hingst says the corn could go over 200 bushels an acre this fall.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


Lt. Gov. Foley sees great opportunity for Nebraska in Japan (AUDIO)

Lt. Gov. Mike Foley speaks with Kathleen Lodl of Nebraska Extension at recent UNL event

Lt. Gov. Mike Foley speaks with Kathleen Lodl of Nebraska Extension at recent UNL event

Lt. Governor Mike Foley says his recent trade mission to Japan convinces him that one of the state’s best trading partners could prove even more lucrative for Nebraska.

Japan buys a billion dollars in agricultural goods from Nebraska each year.

It would likely buy more if it weren’t for an incident in 2003 when the first case of BSE was discovered in the United States. BSE is short for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as mad cow disease. A handful of cases have arisen here and there since. None of the livestock confirmed with BSE entered the food chain.

The USDA and American agricultural groups have been quick to respond that its beef industry is safe, but concerns linger.

“They were buying a lot of beef from us, then that one mad cow got into the food chain,” Foley tells Nebraska Radio Network. “It never was exported to Japan, but anyway, they said, ‘Enough is enough. We’re not buying anymore. We’re done.’ And that was a real blow to the beef industry here in Nebraska.”

Foley led a delegation of 20 agricultural leaders during the trade mission to Japan. He says that allowed him to step out of the way and let actual beef producers discuss their operations.

Foley says that had two positive results: it reassured Japanese importers about the safety of Nebraska meat and it corrected misconceptions that American agricultural operates on an industrial level.

Safety is one thing. Money is another.

Foley says Japan buys a lot of grass-fed beef from Australia, simply because the tariffs are lower. He holds out hope that ratification of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement will lower tariffs on American goods flowing to the Pacific Rim and make Nebraska products more competitive.

Foley points out that while the typical diet of a typical Japanese person once consisted of fish and rice that no longer is the case. Higher personal incomes have led to more diversified diets and Foley says that changing diet opens the door for Nebraska corn-fed beef.

“We’re convinced that the trend that they’re on right now to buy and consume more meat is a very, very positive trend in terms of what we sell.”