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Scientists determine key factors of honeybee decline

Though a contributing factor, farmer-applied pesticides are not the primary cause of honeybee colony loss in Virginia, according to Virginia Tech scientists Richard Fell and Carlyle Brewster.bees

The scientists recently took wax, pollen, and bee samples from more than 110 hives across the state and have analyzed about half of them for pesticide residues.

“We did not find excessive amounts of agricultural pesticides in the hives, but we did find a significant amount of beekeeper-applied miticide,” said Fell, professor emeritus of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Intended to kill the invasive, parasitic varroa mite, miticides can also be damaging to bees. Fell urged beekeepers to sample their colonies to determine mite infestation levels before treating. If treatment is necessary, beekeepers should use a miticide that does not cause residue problems, such as formic acid.

As more information emerges on the spread of the Zika virus, Fell also encouraged the public to be mindful that mosquito pesticides are toxic to honeybees and should only be applied when absolutely necessary.

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Exploring genetics to combat malaria and Zika

The Zika virus has quickly become a major health threat, and researchers at Virginia Tech are looking for ways to curtail its spread.

Fralin Life Science Institute’s Vector-Borne Disease Research Group team members, from left: Zhijian “Jake” Tu, professor of biochemistry; Brantley Hall, biochemistry graduate student; Atashi Sharma, entomology graduate student; and Igor Sharakhov, associate professor of entomology

Fralin Life Science Institute’s Vector-Borne Disease Research Group team members, from left: Zhijian “Jake” Tu, professor of biochemistry; Brantley Hall, biochemistry graduate student; Atashi Sharma, entomology graduate student; and Igor Sharakhov, associate professor of entomology

The virus, which is primarily spread to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito, has been passed on to a growing number of Americans since early 2016, and the World Health Organization has declared it a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Biochemist Zhijian “Jake”  Tu is one of several Virginia Tech researchers zeroing in on the Zika virus. Tu is studying genes that turn biting female mosquitoes into males, and he is exploring genetic strategies to stop the transmission of the Zika virus by reducing the number of female mosquitoes. Male mosquitoes do not bite and are harmless to humans, while female mosquitoes bite humans to get the blood they need for egg production.

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Extension is ahead of the curve on new food safety rules

Adrianna Vargo, director of grower services at Charlottesville’s Local Food Hub, has collaborated with Virginia Cooperative Extension to get critical information to growers regarding the Food and Drug Administration’s new Food Safety Modernization Act. Its aim is to make the food supply safer by shifting the focus from responding to food contamination problems to preventing them from occurring. The policy is the most sweeping reform of U.S. food safety laws for both human and animal foods in 70 years.

As part of its grower services program, the Local Food Hub’s Adrianna Vargo conducts a mock audit of Singing Earth Farm in Augusta County.

As part of its grower services program, the Local Food Hub’s Adrianna Vargo conducts a mock audit of Singing Earth Farm in Augusta County.

Vargo and Extension have acted as boots-on-the-ground liaisons for more than 60 growers throughout Virginia and in North Carolina by providing critical workshops to ensure producers will be able to comply with FSMA legislation.

“One of the aspects of this legislation that has been a huge concern for growers is water testing. FSMA requires so many more water tests throughout the growing season,” Vargo said. “Extension has been an invaluable resource for training. They have been very inclusive and responsive to growers’ needs.”

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Sky is the limit for using drones in land management

Virginia Tech has another tool in its arsenal for managing land resources that can be used to do everything from inventorying forests and identifying land-use changes to assessing soil erosion and water runoff on agriculture lands.

What is this powerful tool? A 1.5-pound unmanned aircraft, or drone.

Adam Downing, Virginia Cooperative Extension forestry agent for the Northern District, is pictured with the eBee at Clermont Farm in Clarke County. Clermont will install a silvopasture demonstration and research project in collaboration with Virginia Tech. The eBee was used to establish detailed baseline land-cover data and historical resources.

Adam Downing, Virginia Cooperative Extension forestry agent for the Northern District, is pictured with the eBee at Clermont Farm in Clarke County. Clermont will install a silvopasture demonstration and research project in collaboration with Virginia Tech. The eBee was used to establish detailed baseline land-cover data and historical resources.

“Our drone, a fixed-wing eBee, carried two different sensors — true color and infrared — that gathered land-use and land-cover data to support inventory mapping,” said John McGee, professor and Virginia Cooperative Extension geospatial specialist in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.

The eBee’s sensors capture data that will enable researchers to measure vegetative vigor — places in which chlorophyll activity differs drastically across the terrain. If the ground vegetation is stressed in a confined area, it might indicate that a structure, perhaps a foundation, is buried underground.

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Freshwater shrimp become a big deal

As the freshwater shrimp in his ponds continued to grow and multiply, Charles Carter knew he had a good product to sell.

Dan Kauffman (left) is helping shrimp producers expand their markets through shrimp boils.

Dan Kauffman (left) is helping shrimp producers expand their markets through shrimp boils.

In his second year of production, Carter wanted to create product buzz in order to sell a portion of his production to local consumers. Carter was already selling his product wholesale as a member of the Virginia Aqua-Farmers Network Cooperative, but he also wanted to market retail.

And he knew just where to look for assistance — Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Enter Dan Kauffman, Extension seafood marketing specialist at the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Hampton.

Kauffman had been helping freshwater shrimp producers get their products to market, which also involved another part of his résumé — his fondness for shrimp boils.

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