You’ve heard of honeybees, but have you ever heard of leafcutter bees? As their name implies, leafcutter bees use cut leaf fragments to construct their nest cells. They’re docile and have a mild sting compared to honeybees and wasps.
Across North America, leafcutter bees are commonly used to help pollinate alfalfa crops. In fact, the use of leafcutter bees increases alfalfa seed production by more than 50 percent. They can also pollinate crops like birdsfoot, trefoil, lowbush blueberries, and hybrid canola.
Leafcutter bees are better than honeybees at alfalfa pollination. Alfalfa flowers have a tripping mechanism that requires bees to press their heads against the petal to access the nectar and pollinate the crop. The North American honeybees have evolved to insert their tongues between the petals and access the nectar without tripping the flower, thus preventing pollination.
While native to northeastern Europe, leafcutter bees were introduced to North America in the 1930s. They were brought in to counter a drop in alfalfa seed production due to their unique pollinating method.
3 ways to reduce water consumption on the farm
Water conservation has always been a concern for farmers in drought-prone regions. However, the worsening impacts of climate change have exacerbated the problem worldwide. Here are three ways to reduce water consumption on your farm.
1. Soil management
Incorporating proper soil management techniques can drastically conserve water on your farm. For example, practicing zero tilling, using mulch, and planting cover crops can all help the soil retain more moisture.
2. Water recycling
Many parts of North America see a lot of rain in the springtime, which can cause significant water drainage from fields. A drainage water recycling system will capture this excess water in a pond or reservoir. The system will store it temporarily until it’s needed to water crops later in the growing season.
3. Drip irrigation
If you already irrigate your crops, you may want to consider investing in drip irrigation. These systems reduce runoff and evaporation, saving up to 80 percent more water than traditional spray systems. This type of watering allows moisture to penetrate deeply into the soil, leading to better growth.
Ultimately, incorporating water conservation into your agricultural practices is one of the most critical tools available to ensure a safe and reliable food supply.
4 regenerative agriculture practices
Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles that aims to keep soil in as good or better health than when you started farming. Here are four standard practices.
1. Conservative tilling. Over time, aggressive tilling can cause soil erosion and release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Low and no-till practices reduce soil disturbance, allowing for a healthy and resilient soil environment.
2. Diversify crops. Different plants release different carbohydrates through their roots and, in turn, return different nutrients back into the soil. Therefore, increased plant diversity helps create a rich, varied, nutrient-dense soil that produces higher yields.
3. Cover crops. Planting crops like wheat, barley, and peas in fields that would otherwise be bare significantly reduces soil erosion and agricultural runoff from rainstorms and irrigation. Cover crops also help smother weeds and control pests and disease.
4. Minimal pesticide use. Pesticides can linger in the soil for years or decades after they are applied, continuing to harm soil health. Keeping pesticide use to a minimum allows microorganisms to thrive and protect plants against pathogens and ot¬her threats.
Rotating crops across many fields rather than planting the same crop in one location year after year also encourages a healthy soil ecosystem.
The pros and cons of GMO crops
You may have heard about GMO crops but not know precisely what that means. GMO stands for a genetically modified organism. This term refers to crops that have been artificially manipulated in a laboratory. Here’s what you need to know.
Many GMO crops have been altered to be less vulnerable to insects and other pests. That means farmers don’t have to use as many harmful pesticides.
Certain GMO crops have been bred to resist disease and survive stressful conditions like drought. This adaptation allows farmers to produce the same yields under harsher conditions, helping lower the price of food.
Many GMO crops are designed to be nutrient-dense, which is helpful in regions where people suffer from nutritional deficiencies.
Although current research suggests that GMO foods are safe, one of the biggest concerns is that they can cause allergic reactions. GMOs contain DNA from other organisms, which may be allergenic for some people.
Similarly, there’s a common concern that GMO foods cause cancer. Cancers are caused by DNA mutations, so some people fear that eating foods with added genes could affect their DNA. However, no research has tied eating GMO foods to cancer.
You can rest assured that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors GMO foods to ensure they’re safe for consumption.
Crop scouting: aerial imagery
Aerial imagery is a crop scouting technique that helps farmers manage their fields and detect stress and disease in their crops. Here’s an overview of the three main types of aerial imagery used in agriculture.
1. Drones or unpiloted aerial vehicles (UAVs) deliver clear image resolution because they’re equipped with high-quality cameras that can fly at very low altitudes. For instance, drones can capture the fine details of individual rows and plants. Some drones provide a live video feed so you can immediately take corrective action if necessary. One of the most significant disadvantages of using a drone is its limited battery life, which can impact productivity.
2. Human-crewed aircraft provide high-quality aerial imagery without the time commitment or overhead costs of owning a drone. However, this method involves a lot of preparation, making it difficult to capture images in certain weather conditions or specific times of the day. It often takes a few days to receive the aerial photos, which could be detrimental to your crop if there’s a pressing need to be addressed.
3. Satellite imagery is the most affordable aerial imagery on the market and covers the most expansive field of view. However, it offers the lowest resolution. One of satellite imagery’s most significant drawbacks is that weather and cloud cover often hinder it. For example, suppose there are several overcast days in a row; you might miss a desirable image of your crop at a specific growth stage.
Be sure to consider your crop scouting needs and the type of information you want to gather before choosing an imagery source.
How to manage animal waste
Animal waste contains many useful and recyclable components. However, if incorrectly stored, it can negatively impact soil, water, and air quality. Here are a couple of the most common animal waste management strategies.
Dry stacking animal waste involves piling solid manure and soiled livestock bedding in a covered storage bin with a concrete bottom. Farmers must ensure the pile is compacted, covered, and sealed to prevent manure nutrients from leaching into the soil. Dry-stacked manure can be treated with additives such as lime to help reduce unpleasant smells and deter pests.
Composting manure involves turning over a pile of animal waste several times until it breaks down into a stable organic form. Composted manure is dense in nutrients and free of parasites and weed seeds. Many farmers use composted manure on field crops to improve the soil’s water-holding capacity and significantly reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers.
Farms can also hire a certified manure hauler to come and remove animal waste from their property. Haulers either take the manure to a centralized composting facility or spread it on farmland.
Natural service vs artificial insemination
Natural service (NS) and artificial insemination (AI) are the two most popular breeding programs used by cattle breeders and producers worldwide. Here’s an overview of these methods.
• Natural service is used by most cattle breeders and producers. It’s the natural breeding method where the cow and bull are allowed to mate without technological intervention. In other words, the bull and cow mate as they naturally show heat.
Although the bulls must be fed and taken care of all year, this method is relatively hands-off and doesn’t require special equipment.
• Artificial insemination is reproduction achieved by human intervention. It involves collecting sperm cells from a bull and manually depositing them directly into a cow’s reproductive tract.
This breeding method is labor-intensive and requires farmers to invest in expensive facilities, equipment, and estrous synchronization drugs. However, it often results in improved reproductive performance and herd genetics. In addition, AI reduces the risk of disease transmission.
Some farmers use a combination of both methods to improve the health of their herds.