Farm Food Facts

Ep 37 Julie Shapiro, Ben King, Agriculture Outlook

August 13, 2019
Farm Food Facts
Ep 37 Julie Shapiro, Ben King, Agriculture Outlook
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Ep 37 Julie Shapiro, Ben King, Agriculture Outlook
Aug 13, 2019
USFRA
Show Notes Transcript

This week's thought leader is Julie Shapiro, Facilitator for Honey Bee Health Coalition.

The stories you need to know:
•  U.S. Vertical Farms are rising and Producing More
• The Agricultural Outlook for the Coming Decade

Today's Farmer is Ben King Owner of Pacific Gold Agriculture



Phil Lempert:
0:01
Farm, Food, Facts where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to Farm, Food, Facts for Wednesday, August 14th. I'm your host, Phil Lempert. We have some exciting news: starting tomorrow, August 15th, be sure to watch the new short film from U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, 30 Harvests, to see how farmers provide a source of healthy food while addressing environmental concerns for current and future generations. Go to usfarmersandranchers.org to watch a short film launching tomorrow.
Phil Lempert:
0:37
Today's episode is all about the honeybee. Later in the podcast we'll talk with Ben King, owner of Pacific Gold Agriculture, a farmer who grows almonds and is dependent on honeybees. But first, as a senior policy director in Keystone Policy Center, Julie Shapiro creates, facilitates, and sustains strategic partnership and collaboration and heads up their honeybee initiative. She enables common understanding and forges shared solutions to complex problems for people, land, water, and wildlife. Julie, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Julie Shapiro:
1:11
Thanks so much. Happy to be here.
Phil Lempert:
1:13
Honeybees support more than $20 billion in the U.S. and Canadian agriculture every year. Faced with recent declines in honeybee health, The Keystone Policy Center brought together representatives of bee keepers, growers, researchers, government agencies, agribusiness, conservation groups, manufacturers and brands, and other key partners. Officially convened in 2014, the Honey Bee Health Coalition is working to help to improve honeybee hive management, increased forage and nutrition for bees, control crop pests while safeguarding pollinator health, and enhanced public private outreach communications and education. Keystone's work has been essential in helping the Coalition's diverse members find collaborative strategies to substantially improve honeybee health in North America. Julie, give us an update. Where are we today when it comes to the health and wellness of our honeybees?
Julie Shapiro:
2:08
It's a great question. And one of the ways that honeybee health is tracked - in the United States at least - is through annual loss surveys and winter loss surveys that look at what beekeepers at various scales are reporting as the number or percentage of colonies that they lose over the winter or over the course of an entire year. Unfortunately, the most recent colony loss data from the Bee Informed Partnership suggests that the trends aren't great. From April, 2018 to April 2019 beekeepers across the U.S. reported losing about 40%, almost 41% of their honeybee colonies. The results for winter losses were just shy of 38%, which was the highest winter loss report since the Bee Informed Partnerships started tracking this data about 13 years ago. It's about nine points higher than the survey average over that time period for winter losses. So, the challenges to beekeepers remain really high.
Julie Shapiro:
3:11
The good news is that beekeepers tend to be quite resilient. So, even though we're losing these colonies every year and every winter, beekeepers are replacing them. So, it's not that the total population of honeybees is going down, but the beekeepers that are working with these colonies - commercially as well as at other scales - are having to split their hives, get new queen bees, replaced their colonies, and do a lot of work to keep up with those trends. Honeybees in the United States, they're not native. I should point that out. They are an introduced species and they're not necessarily endangered. But beekeepers themselves and commercial beekeeping in particular that as an industry is somewhat of a challenge and perhaps even an endangered industry because of these losses.
Phil Lempert:
4:01
So, why has this happened? What is it that created this loss that just keeps on happening year after year?
Julie Shapiro:
4:10
Yeah, there is a number of factors that often combine to bring challenges for honeybee health. So, at the Honey Bee Health Coalition, we focus on the three big ones. One is pests and pathogens within the hives. So, honeybees face enemies like the Varroa Mite, which is really common in colonies across the country and requires a lot of monitoring and treatment. The Varroa mite brings with it other diseases. And then there are also a number of other pests, pathogens, and diseases that honeybees face and that beekeepers have to deal with. So that's one category. Another category of, of challenges for honeybees is poor forage and nutrition. And so, that is a challenge created by the fact that there are limited floral resources on the landscape for bees to go out and forage on. This is a challenge for native bees and other native pollinators as well.
Julie Shapiro:
5:13
And we're seeing losses of those native wildflowers and prairie lands. So, that's a challenge. In addition to that, beekeepers that are working at commercial scales and moving their bees across the country have to find ways to keep up nutrition, not just throughout the year, but also across a lot of different geographies. And so, that's a challenge. And then the third big category is pesticide exposures. We know that farmers need crop protection products to help protect their crops and their livelihood at times. And in some cases those products can be hazardous for bees, particularly if you're not following the label or following other practices that can help minimize drift and exposure that can create acute incidence for bees and other persistent issues for bees as well. So, those are the three P's: pests and pathogens, poor nutrition, and pesticide exposure. And those are the challenges with the Honey Bee Health Coalition really tries to work on both individually and collectively.
Phil Lempert:
6:21
So, you talk about resiliency of the beekeepers. One of the things that I'm always fascinated by is how some of these beekeepers actually are trucking to your point, just a moment ago, trucking bees from different farms, different farms, especially almond farms in California that they have these huge beehives in the trucks. Explain that to us a little bit.
Julie Shapiro:
6:48
Yeah, there's about 2.7 million managed colonies in the United States. And the vast majority of those around 2 million give or take go to almonds in California every year. Almonds are completely dependent on honeybees for pollination as are a number of other fruits and vegetables throughout the country. But even though there's any number of beekeepers of all scales across the country who may not be moving their bees when it comes to commercial pollination, which actually represents the vast majority of the hives or the colonies, those are all ending up in California. From California, they go to other places, whether it's the Pacific Northwest or back to the East Coast or other places throughout the country to pollinate other fruits and vegetables. It's a big undertaking. And it is a challenge for beekeepers, both logistically and also just from the perspective of the business models that they need to create to be present for elements during that brief time of year for pollination. And then also put together their pollination and honey production plans throughout the rest of the year as well.
Phil Lempert:
8:08
So Julie, what would you like food retailers, the people who run supermarketsm, to understand about honeybee health and what they should and could be doing?
Julie Shapiro:
8:19
Honeybee health is a sustainability issue. I think that's what I want to emphasize more than anything else. Pollinator health more broadly is also a sustainability issue and we know that food retailers are really interested in the sustainability of their supply chains and are actively engaged in efforts to create pull and momentum throughout their supply chains to ensure that sustainable practices are being utilized. Sustainability is just kind of a bottom line need for anyone, right, who wants to think about operations into the future and ensuring that the foods that customers want are there and are being produced in a way that is good for the people producing them as well as the environment. And so, as you think about honeybee health as a sustainability issue, I'd really encourage folks across the supply chain to think about how best practices for pollinators can fit into their own goals and also their own activities.
Julie Shapiro:
9:23
We know that a lot of folks are focused, for example, on water quality or on soil health. And there are a lot of ways to stack benefits and encourage planting the pollinator habitat, for example, or following best practices for crop pest management and stewardship. That dovetails really nicely with other goals, other objectives. And so, at first think about this as a sustainability issue. Next, look at how pollinator health and honeybee health as a sustainability issue intersects with the things that you might already be doing and be focused on. And so then third, check out the Honey Bee Health Coalition. We have a lot of great resources for crop producers as well as for beekeepers and for those who might be working, for example, with corn or soybean or canola growers across the country. We've got best practices that speak to crop pest control and management. We've got resources that talk about planting forage and how to do that and how to find the right local resources to help you do that. If we can start incorporating thinking around bee health and, and pollinators more broadly into that sustainability program that a lot of folks in the supply chain are already working on, I think it would go a long way to creating awareness as well as creating really positive impacts on the ground.
Phil Lempert:
10:47
Well Julie, as always, a great wealth of knowledge. Thank you so much for joining us today on Farm, Food, Facts.
Julie Shapiro:
10:52
Thanks so much for having me.
Phil Lempert:
10:59
And now, the news you need to know. U.S. vertical farms are rising and producing more. Several top U.S. indoor farms, stacked with plants from floor to ceiling, told Reuters that they're boosting production to a level where they'll have the capacity to supply hundreds of grocery stores. Plenty, Bowery, Aerofarms. And 80 Acres Farms are among the young companies that see a future in salad greens and other produce grown in their vertical farms, which utilize robotics, artificial intelligence, and LED lights. The early versions of modern vertical farms first appeared about 10 years ago, but now comes the introduction of automation and data tracking in order to regulate light and water. And now, they're scaling up. Plenty and others say their customized, controlled lighting makes for tastier plants compared to sun-grown leaves, and that they use 95% less water than farms. They also do not require much land space, and they use no pesticides, making them competitive with organic farms. And because these vertical farms primarily exist in windowless buildings that can be located in urban areas, produce doesn't have to travel far to reach grocery stores. Plenty said it's new farm, which they've named Tigris, can produce enough leafy greens to supply over a hundred stores in comparison to his previous farm, that only supplied three stores and a couple of restaurants. But former vertical farm CEO Matt Matros isn't convinced that sunless farms make economic sense, saying the issue with indoor farming was that you could really only grow a couple things efficiently, namely basil and microgreens. But the problem is the world just doesn't need that much basil or microgreens. However, 80 Acres Farms in Cincinnati says it's already growing and selling both tomatoes and cucumbers, and Plenty is currently testing cherry tomatoes and strawberries in the lab. What grocers need to know is go visit these vertical farms and see how these operations, along with traditional outdoor farms, will be shaping the future of farming. It'll be interesting to see how vertical farms can increase the breadth of their crop offerings.
Phil Lempert:
13:09
In the meantim, here's the ag forecast for 2019-2028. The agriculture outlook for the coming decades. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recently released joint predictions on the ag outlook for the coming decade. The report predicts that global demand for agriculture products will increase by 15% by 2028, while ag productivity growth is expected to increase a bit faster, causing the prices of the major agriculture commodities to remain at or below their current levels for the next 10 years. Alongside risks to the world ag market such as climate change and trade tensions, these static prices will benefit low-income consumers but could put pressure on farm incomes. Another key message from the report says that farmers - in particular here in the U.S. - will need to increase production to feed a growing population, because regions experiencing rapid population growth are not those where food production can be increased sustainably. What grocers need to know is that now's the time to forge long-term relationship with farmers to ensure a stable supply for your store.
Phil Lempert:
14:22
Ben grows 350 acres of almonds on farmland which has been in his family since 1860. His brother was a California beekeeper in the 1970s. And in addition to almonds, Ben grows 850 acres of pecans and 200 acres of row crops. Ben, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Ben King:
14:43
Thank you, Phil. It's nice to be here.
Phil Lempert:
14:43
So Ben, as a California farmer, you've had many weather challenges over the past few years to say the least. What's the state of agriculture there now?
Ben King:
14:52
Well, overall I think it's generally good. I think the big issue in California is the tariffs and how it's affecting speciality crops in the Pacific: almonds and the other tree nuts and other crops. The weather issues that we've experienced more recently was probably because more due to the wet spring and how that affected pollination of our almonds.
Phil Lempert:
15:18
So honeybee populations in particular have been dramatically reduced, dropping by 89% between 2007 and 2016. Here in the U.S., 40% of honeybee colonies were lost last year alone. The reality is that bees play a critical role in feeding the world by pollinating the crops that feed 90% of the global population. These are said to be involved in the production of one out of every three bites of food that we take. Growing almonds depends on bees and bees depend on almonds. Ben, can you explain what that relationship is all about?
Ben King:
15:55
Yeah, so almond trees do not self-pollinate, so they need to be pollinated by another tree. And you either need some type of insect to pollinate the tree, and that can be used a native bee or honeybees. Honeybees are the large part of what was needed for pollination. If we don't have pollinators, whether or not they'll be native or honeybees, we won't have almonds in the United States. Basically, three quarters of all of the bees in the United States come to California during pollinations or an almond pollination.
Phil Lempert:
16:34
And what I've seen pictures of - have never seen up close - but there's actually these 40 foot tractor trailers that shuttle the bees to California.
Ben King:
16:46
Yes, yes. There was actually an Auburn University, Brittney Goodrich, who's an associate professor at the Auburn University, has done an economic outlook for the 2019 almond pollination. And she asked me, that in 2019 there were 2 million colonies of honeybees that came to California for pollination, which I mentioned is about three quarters of the total pollination. And that is likely to be about, of the 2 million colonies total, about 1.8 million comes from outside of California. The biggest portion of those bees actually come from the Dakotas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Idaho, but they come from as far as Florida.
Phil Lempert:
17:31
So, I've also heard that after the almond harvest, the beehives are actually stronger than before the pollination. Why is that?
Ben King:
17:40
Well, it's not their harvest, but actually the bloom. Basically, bees get that their nutrition from either pollen or nectar and it's tied to the annual season of blooming. And spring comes earliest in California. In California, we're blessed with this Mediterranean climate, which is only about 10% of the world. We have very nice weather. We have early bloom of all types of crops, all types of flowers, predominantly almonds. And almonds bloom February 15th, and that's the start of the bloom and it goes all the way through March. And if you can imagine, the bees as they gear up every year, they need a source of food. Almonds are a great source of food for bees. And since there's over about 1.2 million acres of almonds in California, that's a great set of source of food. So, as soon as you go into the year, bees have come out of dormancy, come through the winter. They may have been moved to California during the winter or they come right before pollen, but they're actually relatively weak because they haven't had a chance to have the nectar and the pollen from the flowers because we in North America, the winter time is when it's harvest time and not the bloom. So, the bees are allowed to come to California and get their first source of nutrition, mostly from almonds. And then during that period of time, the hive strength just increases because they're getting this nutrition from almonds and to some extent cover crops and other flowers. But within that period of time, this dramatic increase of beehive weight and hive stirring.
Phil Lempert:
19:39
So Ben, what is the coming almond crop this spring look like?
Ben King:
19:43
This year we're going to have a very large crop. Whether or not it'll be a record or not, we don't know. There was expectations until July that the crop was going to be a 2.5 billion pounds. And that was based off of a subjective estimate. And then in July of each year, they do objective estimate and that was done by the USDA NAS Service and that was downsized 2.2 billion pounds. So the expectations initially, and maybe the objective statement, is a 2.2 billion pound estimate is on the low side, but we should expect somewhere between the 2.2 and 2.6 billion pounds. If it's more than 2.3 billion, we'll be at record production.
Phil Lempert:
20:33
That's great. So, I know that you're very concerned about sustainability and sustainable tree crop production in California. What are almond farmers doing to improve soil health?
Ben King:
20:44
Yeah, so you should know that each almond grower pays an assessment - it's either three to four cents for one pound - and that goes to the California Almond Board, which I believe is actually probably one of the most successful agriculturally weighted farm associations. So, a big part of their budget is for research. And the Almond Board has a whole sustainability initiative on everything from carbon capture to soil health to air quality. And we have several initiatives in place, but they are working closely with UC Davis and working on measuring how to improve soil health and almond orchards in particular. And, we actually are working with UC Davis Social Science Department and working with a Ph.D. student who's doing his Harvard doctorial study and looking at how using cover crops within an almond orchard actually can improve your organic matter of soil. So, this is a long process, but the Almond Board is making significant investments in several sustainability initiatives and has that future focus for sustainability.
Phil Lempert:
22:12
Very impressive. Well, Ben, thank you for joining us today on Farm, Food, Facts. For more information on all things food and agriculture, and to listen to our archives, please visit fooddialogues.com under the Programs and Media tab, and visit us on Facebook at U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, or on Twitter at USFRA. Until next time.
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