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Latest USDA survey indicates honey bee losses of 30 percent

WILLMAR -- According to the annual nationwide survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Apiary Inspectors of America, total losses of 30 percent were reported for managed honey bee colonies during the winter of 2010-2011.

This amount is similar to the total losses reported in surveys conducted in the four previous years. Loss amounts reported in those years were: 34 percent for the 2009-2010 winter; 29 percent for 2008-2009; 36 percent for 2007-2008; and 32 percent for 2006-2007.

Since the percentage of loss is holding relatively steady, the latest survey results are somewhat encouraging for beekeepers. However, the amount of loss continues to pressure the economic sustainability of commercial beekeeping.

The average colony loss for an individual beekeeper's operation was 38.4 percent. This compares to an average loss of 42.2 percent in 2009-2010.

Among surveyed beekeepers that lost colonies, 31 percent reported losing at least some of their colonies without finding any dead bees -- one of the symptoms of Colony Collapse Disorder, the cause of which is still unknown.

The beekeepers who reported colony losses with no dead bees present also reported average colony losses of 61 percent, compared to a 34 percent colony loss for those that did not report the absence of dead bees.

A total of 5,572 beekeepers, who manage more than 15 percent of our nation's 2.68 million estimated bee colonies, responded to the survey. The survey results were for the period of October 2010 to April 2011.

SmartStax 5 percent refuge-product qualifies for insurance discount

The USDA's Risk Management Agency has approved SmartStax 5 percent refuge-in-a-bag hybrids as qualifying for the Pilot Biotechnology Endorsement program, beginning with the 2011 crop year.

SmartStax 5 percent refuge-in-a-bag is comprised of a blend of SmartStax hybrid and a non-insect-resistant hybrid in the same bag. The SmartStax multi-event technology was developed by Monsanto Company and Dow AgroSciences.

The Pilot Biotechnology Endorsement program reduces premium rates for corn producers who meet program eligibility requirements and plant qualifying hybrids.

States in the pilot program include Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

USDA lowers recommended cooking temperature for whole cuts of pork

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is lowering the recommended safe cooking temperature for whole cuts of pork from 160 degrees Fahrenheit, to 145 degrees, but adding a three-minute rest time. The recommended temperature is to be measured with a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat.

The safe temperature for cuts of beef, veal and lamb remains unchanged at 145 degrees, but USDA is adding a three-minute rest time as part of its cooking recommendations.

According to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, cooking raw pork, steaks, roasts and chops to 145 degrees, with the three-minute rest time, will result in a product that is both microbiologically safe and at its best quality.

A "rest time" is defined as the amount of time the product remains at the final temperature, after it has been removed from a grill, oven or other heat source.

This change does not apply to ground meats, including ground beef, veal, lamb and pork, which should be cooked to 160 degrees with no rest time required.

The safe cooking temperature for all poultry products, including ground chicken and turkey, remains at 165 degrees.

The new cooking recommendations clarify a common misconception about cooking pork. Historically, consumers have believed the color pink in pork to be a sign of undercooked meat. If raw pork is cooked to 145 degrees and allowed to rest for three minutes, it may still be pink but safe to eat.

Caution recommended when around poultry

Since any contact with live poultry can be a source of human salmonella infections, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health recommends thorough hand washing to help prevent infection. Children under 5 years of age, elderly people or those with weakened immune systems should avoid handling or touching live poultry.

Chicks, ducklings and other live poultry can carry salmonella germs, even while appearing healthy and clean. The germs are shed through droppings and can easily contaminate anything that comes in contact with poultry.

Infections of salmonella in people can range from mild to severe or even life-threatening.

Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County.