Pesticide Potpourri (Sweet Corn)

Scientists are reporting for the first time that the use of weed killers in farmers’ fields boosts the nutritional value of an important crop. Application of two common herbicides to several varieties of sweet corn significantly increased the amount of key nutrients termed carotenoids in the corn kernels, according to a study scheduled for publication in the July 22 issue of ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Farmers grow about 240,000 acres of sweet corn in the United States each year, making it an important food crop. Corn is among only a few vegetable crops that are good sources of zeaxanthin carotenoids. The scientists exposed several varieties of sweet corn plants to the herbicide mesotrione or a combination of mesotrione and atrazine, another commonly used weed killer, and harvested mature corn 45 days later. Herbicide applications made the corn an even-better source of carotenoids, boosting levels in the mature kernels of some varieties by up to 15 percent. It specifically increased levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, the major carotenoids in sweet corn kernels. (American Chemical Society, 7/8/09).

The 1/16-inch long mite parasite, Varroa destructor, is a top pest of honey bees nationwide, hindering the beneficial insects’ ability to pollinate almond, blueberry, apple, zucchini and many other flowering crops. At the USDA ARS Chemistry Research Unit in Gainesville, research leader Peter Teal and colleagues are testing a bait-and-kill approach using sticky boards and natural chemical attractants called semiochemicals. In nature, Varroa mites rely on these semiochemicals to locate - and then feed on - the bloodlike hemolymph of both adult honey bees and their brood. Severe infestations can decimate an affected hive within several months and rob the beekeeper of profits from honey or pollinating services. But in this case, the mites encounter a more heady bouquet of honey bee odors that lure the parasites away from their intended hosts and onto the sticky boards, where they starve. In preliminary tests, 35 to 50 percent of mites dropped off the bees when exposed to the attractants. Free-roving mites found the semiochemicals even more attractive, according to Teal. Moreover, the extra dose of semiochemicals wafting through hives didn't appear to significantly interfere with the honey bees’ normal behavior or activity. The team hopes ARS’ patenting of the Varroa mite attractants will encourage an industrial partner to develop the technology further. (USDA ARS News Service, 7/9/09).

Food Technology Service Inc. has been licensed by Florida’s Division of Aquaculture to use irradiation to produce safer oyster products. The Mulberry business is the first facility in the nation to be formally recognized to use this process since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued approval for radiation use in 2005. The process has been validated in trials, including analytical procedures conducted by the University of Florida’s Food Science and Human Nutrition Department. Irradiation reduces potentially harmful bacteria without altering the flavor or appearance of live raw oysters. Prepackaged oysters are exposed to a very specific and controlled amount of radiation that selectively kills certain types and amounts of bacteria. (Tampa Bay Business Journal, 6/12/09).

The Canada Organic Product Regulation went into effect at the end of June, and U.S. producers won’t have to go to extra lengths to meet any differing requirements. A certified organic product in the U.S. is also certified in Canada. Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, made the announcement at the All Things Organic conference and trade show in Chicago in June. (The Packer, 6/17/09).

Lilliputian cattle that stand just three feet tall, eat a fraction of what their larger cousins do and produce tiny, naturally tender steaks and roasts, are increasingly the beast of choice among Canadian beef farmers grappling with the tough, gristly times of the economic downturn. It wasn’t long ago that these smaller breeds didn’t get a lot of respect, referred to as “mini-cows,” says Adrian Hykaway, who raises one breed, the Dexter, in northern Alberta. “They chuckle and say, ‘Dexter - that’s just a little toy thing.’” Richard Gradwohl, of the International Miniature Cattle Breeds Society and Registry, in Covington, WA has seen a 25 percent increase worldwide in miniature cattle year over year during the past 15 years. Alberta is the center of the movement in Canada, with perhaps half of the country’s Dexter population and the first restaurant to serve exclusively Dexter beef - Apples, in Bashaw. Mini-cow breeds weigh between 500 and 700 pounds, about half the size of regular breeds, and are either bred down from Hereford, Holstein, Jersey or Angus lines or, like the dual-purpose Dexter breed—good for both milk and beef—are naturally tiny. A recent explosion in small hobby farms catering to niche markets helped boost their appeal even prior to the economic downturn, as did growing concern over food safety, sustainability and the environmental footprint of beef. Fans of raw milk are turning to mini-cows to produce their own. The efficiency can be startling: a Holstein-Jersey miniature cross will eat a third of what a larger dairy cow will but produce two-thirds the milk. In the U.S., mini-cows are more and more popular as pets, particularly among women. [Macleans (CA), 6/19/09)].


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