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Latest USDA survey indicates honey bee losses are declining

WILLMAR -- According to the annual survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Bee Informed Partnership and the Apiary Inspectors of America, total losses of managed honey bee colonies this last winter were 21.9 percent nationwide. This represents a substantial drop in mortality compared to the previous five years, when winter losses of around 30 percent had been reported.

The unusually warm winter could be one possible contributing factor to the decline in colony losses, although no direct scientific investigation of the weather connection has been conducted. This January was the fourth warmest in U.S. history.

Researchers assume that a warm winter means less stress on bee colonies, which may help them be more resistant to pathogens, parasites and other problems.

Among beekeepers who reported losing colonies from any cause, 37 percent said they lost at least some of their colonies without finding any dead bees -- one of the defining symptoms of colony collapse disorder, a serious problem that beekeepers have dealt with since 2006.

Almost half of responding beekeepers reported losses greater than 13.6 percent, the level of loss that beekeepers have stated would be acceptable for their operations. Continued losses above that level threaten the economic sustainability of commercial beekeeping.

A total of 5,543 beekeepers responded to the survey. The respondents manage nearly 15 percent of the nation's estimated 2.49 million colonies.

U.S. and European Union ease trading of organic products

Under a new equivalency partnership agreement, as of June 1, organic products certified in the United States or the European Union may be sold as organic in either market.

Previously, producers and companies wanting to trade products on both sides of the Atlantic had to obtain separate certifications to two standards, which resulted in a double set of fees, inspections and paperwork. The new partnership eliminates these barriers, which will be especially helpful for small and medium-sized organic farmers.

Although there are slight differences in the organic standards of the U.S. and the European Union, both parties individually determined that their programs were equivalent, thereby allowing the agreement which opened trading of organic products between the two.

The U.S. signed a similar partnership agreement with Canada in July 2009, with additional equivalency arrangements now being sought with South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

Estimates show the market for U.S. organic sales to the European Union could grow substantially within the first few years of this agreement.

Today, more than two-thirds of U.S. consumers buy organic products at least occasionally, and 28 percent buy organic products weekly.

CRP participants must control noxious weeds

Conservation Reserve Program participants are reminded that their contracts with the USDA's Farm Service Agency require them to comply with Minnesota's noxious weed law.

During the month of July, program participants should be carefully inspecting their acres for weeds. If noxious weeds are present, corrective action must be taken before the weeds go to seed.

Failure to comply with Minnesota's noxious weed law could result in a reduction in the participant's annual rental rate, or even contract cancellation for serious violations.

Before performing any weed control measures, program participants must request and receive permission from their Farm Service Agency office. Requesting and receiving prior approval is especially important during the primary nesting season.

The primary nesting season for Kandiyohi County and most surrounding counties began May 15 and will continue through Aug. 1. During this period, the established cover crop should not be disturbed except for necessary weed control measures and only with prior approval from the Farm Service Agency.

In the interest of protecting nesting habitat, treatment should be limited to the areas infested with weeds.

Since many fields enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program border farmland devoted to crop production, participants should make every effort to be a "good neighbor" by assuring that any noxious weeds on CRP acres don't spread to adjacent cropland.

Minnesota hay supplies up from last year

According to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, the supply of hay on Minnesota farms totaled 900,000 tons on May 1, up from the 810,000 million tons of one year ago.

Nationwide, hay supplies totaled 21.3 million tons on May 1, down from 22.2 million tons on May 1 of last year.

Latest farm worker survey results released

According to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, there were 57,000 hired workers on farms in the Lake Region (Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin) during the week of April 8-14.

During the survey week, farm operators paid their hired workers an average wage of $12.55 per hour, up from the $11.83 per hour average during last October's survey week.

The number of hours worked averaged 35.6 during the April survey week. Last October, the average during the survey week was 40.8 work hours.

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