Record crop losses cost the United States $17.3B last year

iStock_000007228944LargeOver $17 billion was spent in 2012 on farm insurance claims for destroyed crops in the U.S., up from an average of $4.1 billion per year from 2001 until 2011. This record-breaking jump in insurance pay-outs was in large part due to extreme weather conditions over the past growing season. Drought, heat and hot wind accounted for 97 percent of destruction in Iowa alone, with the third largest agricultural GDP in the U.S. These figure come from a report published by the National Research Defense Council (NRDC) which argues that destructive conditions such as these are expected to become only more common, and action will have to be taken to restructure the insurance and pay-out system within the U.S. The question is whether these decisions will echo through emerging farm insurance markets abroad.

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Need to control rodents on your crops? Use birds of prey!

The great horned owl is one bird of prey that can be used to control rodents on farmland © Abigail Rumsey

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel is encouraging farmers to use barn owls (Tyto alba) to control rodent pests on their crops. They aim to attract barn owls by constructing nest boxes; so far 2,000 have been distributed to farmers. As barn owls only hunt at night, day-hunting kestrels are also being provided for to ensure a more effective rodent-targetting system. Although it has taken a while to persuade farmers in neighbouring Jordan to take up the use of barn owls in their fields, success has also been had controlling rodent populations there.

It isn’t just farmers from the Middle East that have found birds of prey to be beneficial when dealing with rodent pests. All around the world, farmers have found that this natural solution can be cheaper and less harmful to the environment than using poisons or traps. Here are some case studies of using birds of prey in agriculture: Continue reading

Amino acid stops citrus industry going sour

Lime Swallowtail by Tarique Sani,
SANIsoft, Bugwood.org

The citrus industry is of significant economic importance to the US, so when any potential pest appears on the horizon there is cause for concern. When the lime swallowtail (Papilio demoleus) was found in the Caribbean in 2006, scientists realised that it may only be a matter of time before these strong fliers appear in America. To try and keep one flight ahead of this zesty pest, scientists have come up with a rather neat solution.

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Anti-Terror Measures Allow Pest Explosion

Since 9/11 the number of invasive pests and plant diseases managing to slip into the USA has risen dramatically. Border checkpoints normally act as a first line of defence against these pests and diseases, however the increased emphasis on anti-terrorism measures has led to agricultural issues being ignored. This costs the USA a staggering $120 billion (approximately £75 billion) per year and is threatening some of the country’s most productive agricultural regions.

Homeland Security checking food imports (Eric Risberg/AP)

The increase in the number of invasive pests and plant diseases was triggered by an increased focus on anti-terrorism measures at the expense of agricultural protection. The biggest problem was the reassignment of hundreds of agricultural scientists to the newly-formed Homeland Security department after 9/11. This meant that instead of stopping invasive species at the border they were now involved in anti-terrorism duties. Many of the scientists resigned or retired and those that remained were replaced in the chain of command by officials with little knowledge of agricultural science.

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