Thursday, June 17, 2010

Training can reduce overuse of pesticides

Spring rains and summertime heat have sparked insects and lawn diseases across the state. That may send some landscape lovers looking for someone to apply a few chemicals to protect their interests.
Before asking landscaping companies to apply pesticides, homeowners need to ask them if they’re properly certified, said Paul Guillebeau, an entomologist with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Companies don’t have to hold a certificate to mow lawns or trim hedges, but they do have to be certified to apply chemicals.

“Whether they’re applying ant bait or Roundup, they have to have a license so they know how to use chemicals safely,” he said. “Too much pesticide or chemicals used in the wrong place, it all could cause problems.”

Georgia law

To purchase and apply pesticides on another person’s property and collect a fee for it, the business the pesticide applicator works for needs a commercial pesticide applicator’s license, according to Georgia law.

The fee for applying pesticides without a license is up to $1,000 per violation.

Private pesticide licenses are available through county UGA Extension offices. This license is limited to farmers and allows them to apply restricted-use pesticides on their land. The key difference between a private and commercial license is that private license holders can’t apply pesticide for money.

Toxic conditions

People who are not licensed pesticide applicators don’t have access to restricted chemicals, but they do have access to many products available at home improvement stores.

“It just seems to be a real human tendency to use more instead of less,” Guillebeau said about pesticides. “And if they’re a landscape company, they probably want to make sure the homeowners don’t see any insects out there.”

Even private homeowners can go overboard. Guillebeau remembers one caller who had a bird lice problem. A nest outside his front door was home to more than just birds, and he and his family were getting bit by hungry lice.

“He ended up spraying so much pesticide that he and his wife could not stay there,” Guillebeau said, “all because he didn’t know.”

Too many chemicals can make any environment toxic.

“If they’re applying pesticides around where kids are, you do want to know they know what they’re doing,” he said.

While pesticides are designed to killharmful insects or plant diseases, they can also be bad for humans and pets.

Pesticide training

Pesticide certification exams are available at Georgia technical colleges through the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Instead of requiring each person applying pesticides to be certified, the license covers an entire business.

UGA offers training for the pesticide licensing exams through study guides and county Extension offices. Local Extension offices can provide information on exam locations.

UGA Extension also offers a training program for pesticide applicators who work for a business, but are not themselves required to have a license. The Georgia Competent Applicator of Pesticides Program, or GCAPP, is a voluntary program.

The GCAPP program is available at county Extension offices throughout the state. Participants view a PowerPoint lesson and take a 37-question test. Twenty-six correct answers results in the student being awarded a GCAPP certificate that is good for five years. They also gain knowledge that will help them apply pesticides in ways that won’t harm themselves or those around them.

“I would like for anybody using pesticides to go through the program,” Guillebeau said, “especially if they’re working at a school or a park. They may not be trying to put anybody at harm, but they may not know.”

For more information on the GCAPP program, call 706-542-9031 or e-mail Guillebeau at bugman@uga.edu.

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

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Saturday, June 05, 2010

New farm bill must chart a new course, not go with the flow

World population is swelling like a slow-moving tidal wave. In the past decade, the world’s population increased by almost 1 billion. Within the next four decades, experts expect the wave to grow by 50 percent, increasing to 9.4 billion people.

At the same time, food prices have risen, investment in food production has fallen and available land for growing food has dwindled. The wave of population growth and the ebb in available food has eaten away at food security, stirring concern for how we will meet future demand.

Last year, 1 billion people across the globe went hungry. The United Nations projects an additional 100 million will go hungry this year. Population growth is on track to outpace food production, if we don’t stem the tide.

And, we can. We have.

Between 1970 and 1990, the number of our neighbors going hungry decreased in large part due to U.S.-driven innovations in food production, particularly those put in place in Southeast Asia and Africa.

Visionary policy needed

We can turn the storm if we ramp up food production now. The southeastern U.S. is the ideal place to chart a brighter, secure future. But we must have visionary policy in the 2012 Farm Bill.

The five-year federal farm policy laid out in a farm bill influences areas of agriculture including farm payments, supplemental nutrition assistance programs (food stamps), international trade, conservation programs, rural community development, food safety and agricultural research.

Improving federal investment is more important to the survival of the nation’s agricultural research and education system as state support is quickly evaporating. As we explore new ways to increase food production, ensure safety and improve storage and delivery, investment in the proven U.S. system of agricultural innovation is as important as your next meal.

Many areas of the world simply will be unable to respond to this challenge.

Asia has poor soils and limited rainfall and will be hard-pressed to increase food production. Africa remains hopeful, but until political instability is resolved, the continent will never be able to feed itself.

South and Central America, while blessed with good soils and rainfall, will not likely cut down rainforests for enhanced production. And Europe, also with good soil and rainfall, will likely produce less food due to a variety of social policies that are causing the continent to stagnate.

This leaves North America as the world’s hope for expanded food production. But even here, production patterns are changing. Available water in the West is declining. A decade from now there will be less food produced west of the Rockies than is produced there today. In the northern U.S., temperature and sunlight limit the amount of new food that will be produced.

Southeast in perfect position

U.S. food production must increase, and the Southeast can lead the way. It’s an obligation and opportunity. In 2009, the U.S. imported $72 billion of agricultural products while we exported $98 billion of the same. We can widen the surplus even more.

But past federal policies haven’t always focused on agriculture in the Southeast. This farm bill should.
Congress is now holding listening sessions for the new farm bill that will see us through the next five years. Federal farm policy can either promote production in the Southeast, meeting the need, or limit production, putting more of the world’s poor in peril. We must explore every avenue for increasing production to keep more people fed.

The only way the Southeast can increase food production to the region’s full potential is through science and technology. They aren’t making any more land. We must efficiently use what we have. U.S. agriculture is largely dependent on federal funding for research, development and training that leads to higher production. Yet, many agriculture funding streams are shrinking or drying up.

More research needed

More research is needed to find ways to reduce production costs and increase farm profitability. While some research is generated from private companies, the private sector has no incentive to reduce inputs, which reduces their profits. No private business will invest in technologies that have limited economic return, but are vital to increasing food production.

Reduced pesticide and fertilizer use, integrated pest management, water-use efficiency and natural resource conservation are important for the public good. We need these research and outreach programs. Only local, state and federal governments will support them.

The land-grant university system was established to fill this void. Our federal, state and local partnership is the envy of the world. Many studies credit much of the success in American agriculture to the land-grant system.

Our country has come a long way since the Great Depression, when nearly four out of every 10 Americans worked in food production. Today, less than 2 percent of the country’s population works on the farm.

In the U.S. today, we spend much less on food than when 40 percent of Americans worked on farms. Many of the improvements that help farmers produce abundant, affordable food for exponentially more people came through technology developed at land-grant institutions.

The land-grant system is ready to meet the challenges ahead. But the system requires commitment and funding to continue research into new technologies and to get them into the marketplace to improve the livelihoods of farmers around the world and to produce enough food to alleviate hunger.

U.S. agriculture has a bright future. Strategic security needs for the U.S., pressing economic need for a positive trade balance and the humanitarian need to feed the world are coming together in a way that makes agriculture more important today than ever. Policies set forth in the next farm bill will dictate the direction we take.

By J Scott Angle
University of Georgia

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Dealing with wet gardens and landscapes

Most gardeners view rainfall as a good thing. But too much of a good thing, namely rain, can be bad.
Disease is always an issue when there is abundant moisture and plants don’t have time to dry out. Many ornamentals, particularly annuals and tender perennials, suffer in the form of leaf spots and root rot. If annuals are not planted on raised beds, too much rainfall can cause them to die.

Pale, yellow coloring is a result of wet roots and leached nitrogen from the soil. Light applications of fertilizer will sometimes help perk up annuals, provided the rainfall levels off.

Leaf spots and other fungal diseases can be controlled through sanitation and occasional use of fungicides. Picking off infected leaves and removing heavily diseased plants will help to curtail the problem.

Some plants and vegetables have been affected by strong winds in combination with the wet soils. This has caused many plants to lean over. As long as the root system has not detached, the plants can be gently stood back up by hand. Then, lightly step on the opposite side of the plant root ball.

In some cases, it may be necessary to use a temporary staking system and guy wires to encourage a plant to grow back in the right direction. If you use wires, protect the plant with some form of a rubber collar such as an old water hose.

Small plants may be stood back up with the help of a single stake or even tomato cages. Corn that has blown over will often stand itself up in a few days and still produce decent ears.

Vegetable gardens also need attention. Weeds seem to love the wet conditions and most likely are thriving. Control weeds through light tilling and hand pulling. Weeds pull nutrients from the soil and will stunt vegetable plants if left unchecked.

As the summer progresses, keep an eye on your tomatoes. If the rains continue, tomato plants will be especially vulnerable.

Prune off diseased foliage to encourage new growth. Many tomatoes will exhibit growth cracks near the top of the fruit as a result of too much rain.

While they may not look pretty, these tomatoes are still perfectly fine to eat. Varieties that put out one or two big harvests should be removed after production to avoid buildup of diseases or insects.

It seems as though it is difficult to have a summer that has the right amount of rainfall. We either get too little or too much all at once. By paying close attention to landscapes and gardens during times of stressful conditions, you can help your plants survive.

By Robert Westerfield
University of Georgia

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

DNR Researchers Use Low-cost Sonar to Map Stream Habitat

It’s a question every researcher who studies fish or other aquatic life eventually faces:

What exactly is beneath the surface of that murky stream?

Or as DNR aquatic resources biologist Adam Kaeser said, talking about detailed landscape maps, “Once you get to the edge of the water … you come to the edge of the information.”

Not for long. That lack of information is giving way to advances Kaeser and DNR GIS specialist Thom Litts have made translating imagery from a blue-collar, side-imaging sonar unit into a GIS layer that probes the underwater side of streams.

Kaeser and Litts have published their findings in American Fisheries Society journals (December 2008 and April 2010), trained some 200 people in using the sonar and scaled their methods to suit the most common level of ArcGIS. They are also providing software tools needed to process the sonar imagery for free. Results from the habitat mapping initiative offer biologists with limited training a low-cost, relatively fast way to document wood, substrate and other habitat in navigable streams.

“It would be extremely difficult to map large, muddy streams any other way,” Litts said. “I think we’ll see some good things come of this.”

The side-scan sonar method is already being used to explore habitat preferences of state-listed Barbour’s map turtles in southwest Georgia’s Ichawaynochaway Creek, search out spawning sites for the rare robust redhorse in the Ocmulgee River and study habitat relationships between three bass species in the upper Flint River. For the Auburn University bass study on the Flint, Kaeser and Litts covered nearly 15 miles of river in one day and produced the map in a week. Traditional methods – measuring habitat along transects and extrapolating findings to the entire area – would have taken several weeks, or longer.

Using side-scan sonar was once the realm of deep-water marine research with tow-behind-the-boat units worth tens of thousands of dollars. But Litts and Kaeser use a Humminbird 900-series Side Imaging system priced at less than $2,000. They motor along the middle of a stream at 5 mph, taking depth readings and sonar “snapshots” that reach from bank to bank.

Computer programs piece together the digital images, a process Litts wrote tools for and smoothed out the remaining kinks. It takes time to interpret the imagery, which looks like a moonscape, with boulders as bumps and logs as lines. Accuracy is confirmed through field spot-checks. The images taken by sound instead of light are rich in detail.

“We’re on our third or fourth generation of refinement,” Litts said.

But they are definitely on to something.

Kaeser envisions a biologist on a blackwater stream pulling up the data on his smartphone. “I think you’re going to see an explosion” in use, Kaeser said.

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