Category Archives: Climate

Culinary guide gives bees something to buzz about

 

Sweat bee on Echinacea purpureaBy ERIC FREEDMAN

Capital News Service

LANSING – If you were a honeybee in Michigan, hairy mountain mint and common milkweed might be your top menu choices.

If you were a Michigan bumblebee, you’d prefer chowing down on bee balm and shrubby St. John’s wort.

And if you belonged to one of the state’s 465-plus species of wild bees, roundleaf ragwort and gray goldenrod may whet your appetite.

Discovering what bees like to eat has important ramifications for growers and farmers whose apples, cherries, blueberries, squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, pears and other flowering fruits and vegetables depend on bees for pollination, said Logan Rowe, a co-author of a recently published study examining Michigan bees’ feeding preferences.

The research can help farmers and growers decide what native plants to grow near their orchards and fields, said Rowe, a zoologist with Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan Natural Features Inventory.

The study said, “Since bees obtain nearly all their nutritional requirements from pollen and nectar provided by flowering plants, the availability of these resources within bees’ flight range is crucial to their survival. Flower plantings have been shown to increase the yield of adjacent pollinator-dependent crops.”

Rowe said, “We already encourage growers to incorporate native plants,” and the findings will help them more accurately select the best seed mixtures to attract bees.

The research comes at a time of growing concern about the nation’s bees.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that insect pollinators, mainly honey bees, increase the value of crops in the country by more than $15 billion a year.

However, the agency said, “Critical honey bee and wild bee populations in the United States have been declining in recent years, creating concern about the future security of pollination services for agricultural crops.”

Reasons for the decline include pests, pesticides, colony collapse disorder and diseases, as well as “shifting landscapes” in the Midwest where cropland is expanding at the expense of “crucial native grasslands and conservation lands that have historically provided abundant flowers for honey bees and native pollinators,” the Geological Survey said.

Scientists conducted the Michigan study in the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center in Leelanau County, the Clarksville Research Center in Ionia County and the Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center in Berrien County.

They planted 51 species of drought-tolerant native prairie plants and two non-native species, then observed more than 3,500 honey bees, wild bees and bumblebees as they visited the flowers.

“We were seeing which were most supportive of pollinators,” Rowe said. There’s been little prior research about what types of flowering plants in Michigan’s prairie-type habitat appeal best to different types of bees.

One surprise finding is that bees in different regions of the state have different dietary preferences, he said.

Bees aren’t the only beneficiaries of targeted plantings, the study said. They also provide habitat for threatened wildlife.

The study by researchers at MSU and the University of Manitoba appeared in the journal “Environmental Entomology.”

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Changing climate challenges potato growers, chip makers

POTATOCHIPSPHOTO

By Eric Freedman

Capital News Service

Michigan is the nation’s largest grower of potatoes for chips – about one in four bags sold in the U.S. is made from Michigan potatoes.

Can climate change jeopardize the state’s dominance? Maybe, a new study warns.

Continue reading Changing climate challenges potato growers, chip makers

Corn Yield Higher As Temperatures Warm

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By Eric Freedman

Capital News Service

A changing climate has contributed to higher maize yields in Michigan and other Corn Belt states, a new study has found.

It attributes more than one-quarter – 28 percent – of the region’s higher crop yield since 1981 to trends toward overall warmer conditions, cooling of the hottest growing-season temperatures and farmers’ climate-related earlier planting and choice of longer-maturing varieties.

The climate trend accounts for 15 percent of the total yield gain, said lead author Ethan Butler of the University of Minnesota Department of Forest Resources.

Maize is “an important food, feed and fuel crop in the Midwest that is both highly productive and strongly influenced by temperature,” according to the study. It includes corn used as grain for processed food, sweeteners and alcohol, animal feed and ethanol but not sweet corn.

“Recognition that historical improvements in climate suggests that sustaining positive yield trends depends more on climate than previously appreciated,” the study said.

Butler and researchers at the University of California Irvine and Harvard examined U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data for 1981 through 2017 for 12 Corn Belt states, including six in the Great Lakes Basin – Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Illinois. The others are Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Butler, a climate ecologist, said it’s the first such study involving the U.S. maize crop

The figures varied among the states, climate and trends in how farmers manage the timing of when their crop is planted and how long it takes to mature.  Combined, they accounted for an average 28-percent increase in yield across the Midwest, according to the study, “Peculiarly Pleasant Weather for U.S. Maize.”

Perhaps the study’s most surprising finding is that the hottest temperatures “have actually cooled” during the past 36 years in the Corn Belt, unlike in other parts of the country, Butler said. That means fewer “killing degree days” in which the crop is exposed to damaging high heat.

Lenawee County is Michigan’s leader in corn production, USDA data shows. Other counties in the top 10 include St. Joseph, Ionia, Allegan and Montcalm.

Overall, the state’s crop is worth more than $1 billion a year, with annual production of about 300 million bushels, according to the Michigan Corn Growers Association.

However, Jim Zook, the association’s executive director, cautioned that the study should be taken “with a grain of salt” because yield has steadily increased since 1936 in the state.

Zook attributes the higher yield primarily to improved technology in the seeds – the kernels –that “protects and enhances” traits that increase yield, as well as to advances in the precision of machinery that farmers use in the field.

And he questioned the study’s assessment that changing temperatures play an important role in higher yields. “We can only plant when ground conditions get over 50 degrees,” he said.

Butler agreed that the majority of the increase is due to non-climatic factors such as better agricultural technology, improved genetic stock and better crop management techniques.

Butler said, “Across the Corn Belt, what farmers have been doing has worked out really well.”

While yield has improved in Michigan, total annual production is down because the state’s farmers have been planting fewer acres since the peak of almost 356 million bushels in 2014, according to the Corn Growers Association website.

The reason is economics, Zook said. When maize prices are low, farmers shift their land to more profitable crops such as wheat, soybeans and dry beans.

The study published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” said continued improvements in yield “are critical to meeting the demands of a growing and more affluent world population.”

But it warned that there’s no guarantee that “beneficial climate trends” will continue and Butler emphasized that the research team’s historical analysis doesn’t speculate about the future. Climate scientists say that a warming climate leads to more frequent extreme weather events.

As the study put it, “Whether historical patterns of adaptation will prove successful under future climate is also unclear. If droughts like those in 1988 and 2012 grow more frequent or intense, they could overwhelm the benefits of planting longer-maturing varieties

 

Researcher unlocks plant secrets that could better feed the world

Photo: Derrick Turner, MSU Photography Services.
Brad Day in his lab. Photo: Derrick Turner, MSU Photography Services.

The world’s population grows by more than two hundred thousand daily. That’s tens of millions of people annually. To feed them, food production must nearly double by 2050.

That’s a task.

Doing that in the face of climate change and the scarcity of land and water presents one of the world’s greatest challenges. Plants are stressed by drought, disease and non-native competitors. But people need to eat, no matter where they are.

In this episode, Michigan State University researcher Brad Day describes the tools he is creating to unlock the secrets of plants to better feed the world. His research could produce more resilient, stress-tolerant crops that use water and nutrients more efficiently.

Listen to the interview here