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National Program 305: Crop Production
Action Plan
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Introduction

Background

In the United States more than 325 million acres are planted in field crops, grain and sugar crops,  fruits and nuts, and vegetables.  In addition, floral, ornamental and nursery crops, as well as some vegetables, are grown in controlled environment structures throughout the United States.  In 1997, the value of all crop production was more than $110 billion.  Sustaining and/or enhancing the economic production of food, fiber, and other crops in the United States is a continuing challenge.  Inputs for production of crops are expensive, relative to profits, and must be managed judiciously for sustained profitability.

Likewise, acres used for crop culture must be managed for maximum sustainable production for each producer unit and commodity segment to remain viable, and so that the food and fiber production capacity of the Nation remains strong.  Concurrently, this acreage must be managed so that its use does not adversely impact surrounding areas, which often are competing for and using the same scarce resources.  This means that inputs used in crop production must be economical for the producer and applied in a way that is nonintrusive to the viability or sustainability of surrounding ecosystems.  Development of sustainable systems for crop production must include consideration of producer profit; integrated pest control, including effects on non-pest species such as bees; effects of inputs on environmental ecosystems, including soil, air, water, and protected areas; pollination and pollinators; control-agent application systems that are environmentally sound; mechanization systems for labor reduction; and compatibility of inputs with worker safety and food quality requirements.

These concerns will govern the ongoing development of new technology to provide economically viable and environmentally sustainable crop production systems, while meeting the increased world demand for food and fiber.  All inputs used in production agriculture constantly are being scrutinized for safety and environmental effects.  The development of improved systems for production of food and fiber must consider levels of chemical and biological inputs, as well as continued production increases that conserve natural resources.  New mechanization technology must promote a safe work environment, a more efficient system of production, and the production and processing of a higher quality product.

To accomplish these objectives, the Crop Production National Program has three major program components with more specifically focused problem areas.

  • The Integrated Production Systems Component addresses problems in the areas of  Models and Decision Aids, Integrated Pest Management, Sustainable Cropping Systems and Economic Evaluation
  • The Agroengineering, Agrochemical, and Related Technologies Component addresses problems in the areas of Automation and Mechanization to Improve Labor Productivity, Application Technology, Agrochemical and Bioproducts,  Sensor and Sensing Technology, Controlled-Environment Production Systems, and Worker Safety and Ergonomics.
  • The Bees and Pollination Component addresses problems in the areas of Pest Management and Bee Management and Pollination.

Key issues for each program component are provided below.

Integrated Production Systems. 
Modern cropping systems are complex and consist of highly integrated management components pertaining to crop protection, resource management, and mechanization that form the basis for U.S. agriculture.  Environmental priorities such as global climate change, ground water quality, and nutrient management, as well as food safety and quality, and impacts from invasive species, greatly influence production and profitability.  Pest control systems, cover crops, rotations, tillage systems, buffers and borders, and integration and coordination of inputs for single or multiple crops require optimization for future utility in production systems.  In addition, these elements must be combined in new ways to address the needs of small, intermediate, and large-scale farms, organic production, and production in controlled environments (e.g., greenhouses).  New and/or upgraded technology that enhances a sustainable and profitable environment for production agriculture is needed.  This new technology should address the need for lower-cost, higher efficiency inputs that foster conservation of energy and natural resources, while enhancing the environment surrounding agricultural enterprises.  New production systems are needed that focus on not only traditional crops, but also new crops; availability and implementation of improved models and decision aids; cropping systems that sustain productivity with lower-cost inputs; production methods that foster conservation of natural resources; efficient and integrated control strategies for multiple pests; improved methods, principles, and systems for irrigation; and reduced inputs while sustaining or increasing production.  These are high priority areas for ARS and its customers and will be a major focus for the Agency.

Agroengineering, Agrochemical, and Related Technologies.
  Agricultural enterprises need new and improved technology that will improve productivity and protect the environment and worker safety and health.  To counter rising labor costs and a shrinking workforce production system, fruit, nuts, vegetable, and ornamental and horticultural enterprises need new knowledge, techniques, and mechanized equipment in order to remain competitive in a global marketplace.  Technology to ensure precise delivery of agrochemicals and bioproducts is essential to achieve the desired biological effect and to minimize adverse impacts on the environment, adjacent land areas, and worker health.  Another need in all phases of crop production is agriculture-specific sensors to provide information on which to base management decisions about such matters as application of inputs, optimum time for harvest, product storage and processing, as well as many others.  The demand for greenhouse-grown crops is increasing and with it, producers'' needs for research and information on problems not encountered in traditional field production.  Worker safety is another area of concern to U.S. agriculture;  technology is needed to increase productivity, while reducing agricultural worker exposure to risk of injury and illness.  These are also high priority areas for ARS.

Bees and Pollination.
  Managed bees are vital to the pollination and subsequent production of more than 90 crops in U.S. agriculture. With an annual added value of more than $14 billion.  Thus, the health and viability of bee pollinators is vital to crop production in the United States.  The most versatile commercial pollinator is the honey bee, which also produces honey.  Two parasitic mites have devastated beekeeping operations, subsequently driving production costs higher and reducing the availability of honey bees for pollination.  Between 1993 and 1997, numbers of bee colonies and yield of honey per colony declined in the United States.  Managed bee colonies and their pollination activities can survive only if this trend is reversed.  A variety of native and non-native bee species could be used to enhance pollination efforts in specific crops and greenhouses if they could be produced effectively in large numbers and managed for health and availability.  For crops to be pollinated more effectively and to ensure the viability and profitability of pollination and honey production, pollination mechanisms must be better understood, bee management methods must be improved, and methods for cost-effective integrated management of bee pests and diseases must be forthcoming.  ARS will continue to address these issues in order to provide to its customers'' solutions to the bee industry''s problems.

Vision
Sustained and/or enhanced economical crop production

Mission
Develop and transfer sound, research-derived knowledge that will result in the economical production of food and fiber crops, products that are safe for consumption and use, and the preservation of environmental quality during crop production.

Planning Process and Plan Development
Two workshops were held to solicit customer input pertaining to needs for ARS research in the crop production area.  The first was held on November 19-20, 1999, in Beltsville, Maryland, to solicit customer input on research issues for the Bees and Pollination Component of the Crop Production National Program.  Customers and stakeholders from national, regional, and state beekeeping organizations, state departments of agriculture, pesticide companies, university scientists and extension personnel, individual beekeepers including producers and users of other than Apis (honey bee) pollinators, and others involved in agribusiness met to provide input to ARS concerning their needs and concerns.  Those unable to attend the workshop had the opportunity to submit written comments that were included in a briefing book provided to all attendees.  The priority needs identified by customers have been incorporated into the two Problem Areas within the Bees and Pollination Component.

The second workshop was held on October 30-November 2, 2000, in San Diego, California to obtain customer input on all aspects of crop production, over and beyond bees and pollination.  Attending customers were broken out into eight commodity groups:  citrus, tropical/subtropical fruit and sugar crops; small fruits; tree fruit and tree nuts; ornamentals and turf; vegetables, two groups; grain and forage; and fiber, oilseed, and oil crops.  A second session was also provided to the attendees which focused on special issues that included:  sustainable agriculture; economics of production; greenhouse crops; organic farming; integrated pest management; small farms; and regulatory mandates and environmental issues.  Approximately 200 attendees from commodity groups, individual  producers, university departments, state departments of agriculture, Federal research and regulatory agencies, and grower coalitions attended the meeting and provided input concerning their needs relating to problems of crop production.

Writing teams composed of ARS scientists and members of the ARS National Program Staff were formed at each of the workshops.  The first function of each team was to identify problem area topics for inclusion in the National Program Action Plan.  Following this, individual members of each team were assigned as principal authors for each identified problem area.  Writing teams and individual writers used input from the workshops, their own knowledge of the subject matter, and input from other ARS scientists and cooperators to identify research goals and activities to develop this action plan.

Many ARS projects are associated with more than one National Program because their objectives are broad enough to encompass more than one area, and because National Programs overlap in order to address problems of U.S. agriculture.  Individual research projects associated with this National Program are listed at the end of each component.  After a public comment period this planning document will be revised, and the implementation phase of the process will begin.    During the implementation phase, specific research areas will be identified, locations and projects involved will be determined, anticipated products or information generated by the research will be identified, and time lines and milestones for measuring progress toward achieving the goals will be developed.  This approach will result in coordinated, multi-location research projects, conducted by ARS scientists and their cooperators, to address high priority regional and national research needs.  All projects associated with the Crop Production Program will be evaluated for scientific quality by an external peer panel in 2003.


Component I: Integrated Production Systems

PART I:       INTRODUCTION

Crop production, which is undergoing radical and rapid change to develop sustainability, is a complex system involving the integration of multiple scientific disciplines and personal philosophies, as well as sociological, economic, and cultural concerns.  Environmental priorities, such as global climate change, ground water quality, nutrient management, food safety and quality, and impacts of invasive species greatly influence production.  The ARS client base has specifically requested additional research on pest control systems, mechanization, cover crops, rotations, tillage, buffers and borders, and systems for organic and new crop production.  Producers of all crops expressed concern that regulations and requirements are forcing costs on them that are not globally competitive.  For U.S. agricultural production to remain viable, economical production systems must be developed.

The ARS goal is to develop technology that enhances a stable and productive agriculture for an increasingly urban U.S. population.  This new technology should result in low-cost, high-efficiency inputs that conserve energy and natural resources, while enhancing the environment.  This goal will be achieved through research that provides producers with greater capability to manage environmental constraints and with technology that increases production and reduces production risks and product losses. 

Research in this component will primarily concentrate on models and decision aids; integrated pest management (multipest as opposed to a key target pest); sustainable cropping systems that make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrates, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; and economic evaluation.

PART II:     PROBLEMS TO BE ADDRESSED

A.  Models and Decision Aids

Problem Statement
Rationale.
  The production of crops in any system or operation involves making decisions on a continuing basis.  These decisions result in expenditure of monies and involve the commitment of resources and inputs.  The concept of solving problems for customers of ARS assumes that knowledge is transferred in a consolidated, usable fashion to users.  Decisions regarding inputs for producing a commodity are based on a body of knowledge whose components are not always integrated into a system of production.  In decisions involving inputs, a number of alternatives are available.  However, information is not always available or current for comparing optional inputs to determine the most productive and cost-effective methods or for predicting output from individually or collectively applied inputs.  Application of any input or set of inputs or commitment of resources to a production system has ramifications that may not be fully known or understood.  To make the most intelligent choices, producers need models and decision aids that will accurately predict the results of inputs.

What is known.   Many models and decision aids are used in production agriculture.  They may be complex models, such as those that predict plant development from planting to harvest, or less complex decision aids that assist in the selection of a particular component of an integrated production system.  Some of the agricultural technology developed since the advent of the personal computer appears to best be transferred to end users in the form of computer software (an irrigation scheduler, for example), or website question-and-answer decision aids (for selection of an herbicide or crop variety, for example).  These products are assumed to be directly usable by the intended audience.

In the course of virtually all research, some sort of model is created.  In some cases, these are only conceptual models.  In other cases, they are statistical- or computer-based models that eventually will be released to customers and the public.  Properly verified models have proven invaluable in some segments of production agriculture.

Gaps.  With advances in technology for crop production and the increased interest in a systems approach to agriculture, consolidation of information into concise products is needed.  These products may take the form of models or decision aids.  However, the task of consolidating diverse and sometimes disparate items of technology into these products is often not addressed because it involves commitment of time and resources beyond the development of individual pieces of technology.  When models that are intended for producers, policymakers or the public are developed and released, they often involve interfaces and requirements for maintenance that need to be addressed. 

Goals 

  • Develop/update user-friendly crop production models that can be used to predict crop performance in defined environments.
  • Develop/update decision aids that will consolidate emerging new scientific information into a form that can help producers decide on a course of action.
  • Develop models/decision aids that will consolidate new technology into a form that is usable by producers to determine cost-effective inputs for a crop enterprise or whole-farm operation.
  • Develop models/decision aids that will predict long-term benefits or negative results from the application of inputs to a given enterprise or operation

Approach
Interdisciplinary resources and user input will be utilized to determine model parameters, input sources, output requirements, and optimal form(s) of release to users.  Similarly, these resources will be utilized to ensure that models and decision aids are supported and updated appropriately through mechanisms that support new types of information release, incorporate new knowledge, and respond to changing conditions.

Outcomes

  • More timely assessment and/or determination of the biological, economic, and environmental soundness of alternative inputs for crop production and management
  • Increased efficiency of labor, processing, and energy use

Impact
Integrated, profitable, and environmentally-friendly production systems aided by models and decision aids that conserve natural resources

Linkages to Other ARS National Programs
Air Quality (203)
Crop Protection and Quarantine (304)
Food Animal Production (101)
Global Change (204)
Integrated Agricultural Systems (207)
Manure and Byproduct Utilization (206)
Methyl Bromide Alternatives (308)
Plant Biological and Molecular Processes (302)
Plant Diseases (303)
Rangeland, Pasture, and Forages (205)
Soil Resource Management (202)
Water Quality and Management (201)

B.  Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

Problem Statement
Rationale.
  Economic losses of food and fiber caused by insects, mites, weeds, and diseases cost U.S. producers and consumers billions of dollars annually.  In addition to direct losses, pests may further reduce the quality and value of products, and/or increase cost of production.  Arthropods (e.g., insects and mites), weeds, and plant pathogens and nematodes often prevent crops from reaching their full yield potential.  Controlling these pests involves a significant financial investment in external inputs such as pesticides, cultural manipulations, biological and biological-based controls, and host-plant resistance systems, including transgenic plant varieties.  These techniques typically are not well coordinated.  Thus, the results of their separate or uncoordinated use, as well as the management of two different types of pests, may conflict with one another and with overall production goals.  Integrated pest management systems are needed that focus on multipest problems (arthropods, pathogens and nematodes, weeds) at the same time, as opposed to a key target pest.

What is known.  For many production systems, pest control strategies are known that involve understanding the development of pests, as well as their population biology and genetics, dispersal and distribution, adaptation and variability, and breeding systems in relation to climate, crop production management techniques, and crop development.  The fundamental life cycles and phenology (i.e., the relationship of periodic biological phenomena to climate) of major pests are understood in qualitative terms, but quantitative information to predict their population biology, impact, and control in cropping systems is often lacking.  Some alternative pest control measures that utilize cover crops, crop residue management, and biological control are known, but may perform erratically and may not be linked into holistic management systems.

Gaps.  Pest populations vary in space and time, especially across different crop production systems.  Consequently, pest densities and their responses to control measures frequently vary within seasons and from year-to-year, even at the same site.  In addition, little is known about the impact of one pest management strategy on a different type of pest (e.g., the effects of weed control on insect pest populations).  This quantitative and qualitative variation is often unpredictable and poorly understood in relation to weather and crop management practices.  Erratic performance of present control measures and the lack of their linkage into holistic management systems often limit the effectiveness of presently known and applied technologies and their adoption by producers.  This makes it difficult for producers to implement adequate control procedures that are both economical and effective.

Specific control methods such as host plant resistance, cultural and physical practices, pesticide application, biological control and their economic efficiency, often have been developed on an individual pest/host crop basis, but typically need better characterization and integration.  Consequently, information about multiple pest interactions and IPM technology are not adequately developed to provide producers with sustainable, holistic integrated pest control techniques.  Pest management strategies that were developed in isolation may not be based on sound economics; they are often implemented without adequate regard for pest population densities, action thresholds, or natural enemies; and have not been integrated across different pest groups.

Goals

  • Develop and implement sustainable, integrated approaches for the management of arthropod, weed, and disease pests through an integrated holistic system of biological physical, cultural, and chemical methodologies.
  • Reduce pest populations to economically acceptable levels while minimizing impacts on human health and the environment.
  • Develop alternative pest control measures and holistic management systems to help minimize crop damage while maximizing human safety, environmental compatibility, and economic returns.
  • Integrate new and commonly used pest management technology and knowledge into agricultural production systems.
  • Improve the effectiveness and predicted effect of different integrated control methods.
  • Demonstrate and transfer to customers multipest IPM systems.

Approach
In an integrated approach, explore pest biology and ecology and the interactions between multiple pests and various pest control measures.  Use tools such as precision farming, models and decision aids, image analysis, global positioning systems (GPS)/geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, novel chemicals, biological and biologically-based controls (herbivores, parasites, predators, and pathogens), cultural practices, and new techniques in molecular biology to develop multipest IPM strategies.  Use computer-based and expert systems to combine new technologies into holistic strategies that can be applied to farm-level or areawide pest suppression efforts.  With interdisciplinary teams of scientists, develop and test IPM practices for multiple pests (arthropods, pathogens, and weeds) on multiple scales (small, intermediate, or large-scale) in multiple agricultural landscapes (e.g., field orchards, greenhouse, etc.).  Develop automated databases, predictive models, site specific decision aids, and standardized methods and measurements to improve multipest IPM strategies.

Outcomes

  • IPM strategies, integrating new technologies and refined current tools, for more effective, economical, and environmentally-sound multipest control procedures
  • Adoption of holistic IPM systems approaches by end-users

Impact
Increased profitability, enhanced food safety and worker protection, and improved environmental quality as a result of multipest IPM systems approaches

Linkages to Other ARS National Programs
Arthropod Pests of Animals and Humans (104)
Crop Protection and Quarantine (304)
Integrated Agricultural Systems (207)
Methyl Bromide Alternatives (308)
Plant Diseases (303)
Rangeland, Pasture, and Forages (205)
Soil Resource Management (202)
Water Quality and Management (201)

C.  Sustainable Cropping Systems

Problem Statement
Rationale.
 
Modern cropping systems that form the basis for U.S. agriculture are complex and consist of highly integrated management components involving crop protection, crop genetics, resource management, and mechanization.  U.S. agriculture is found across fundamentally different ecological and climatic zones, each requiring unique cropping systems that efficiently utilize local and regional resources to produce food, nonfood, pharmaceutical, and fiber crops.  There is a continuing need for an integrated system of cropping production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long-term:  satisfy human food and fiber needs; enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the economy depends; make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.  This is sustainable agriculture.

What is known.  A great deal is known about various aspects of agricultural systems. The challenge is to integrate this continually expanding body of knowledge into economically and environmentally sustainable cropping systems.  Some of the existing knowledge and understanding from which we may draw is as follows:  soil management systems improve natural resource efficiency and reduce soil erosion, while increasing soil sustainability;  use of regionally adapted germplasm increases productivity in a particular region; plant protection and production are influenced by crop rotation, cover crops, agrochemicals, and introduction of superior cultivars; water and nutrient management practices reduce soil-borne diseases and nutrient leaching to groundwater, while increasing water use efficiency; moderating environmental stresses increases plant productivity and expands the geographical range of crop production while stabilizing output; growth regulators and agrochemicals decrease labor costs and improve product quality; development of organic production systems and systems for new and alternative crops will broaden the economic base of agriculture; and integration of multidisciplinary-derived technologies will enhance the sustainability of cropping systems.

Gaps.  It is uncertain which cropping systems will be sustainable without key agrochemicals (e.g., methyl bromide, organophosphates), and food quality and safety issues related to cropping systems are poorly understood.  Soil management systems need to be developed that maintain or increase soil productivity.  The response of current cultivars in new cropping systems is often unknown, and the adaptability and economics of genetically-engineered cultivars is unknown for new cropping systems.  Further, many cropping systems are not adapted to mechanization and automation.  The interactions of environment, soil-nutrient-water management, pest control and genotypes are not well understood in cropping systems.  Diagnostic and predictive models of cropping systems are incomplete.

Goals  

  • Improve understanding of the effects of management practices and their interaction on crop productivity and quality.
  • Understand the effects of integrating biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) factors as related to crop performance and production efficiency.
  • Integrate pest control, soil-water-nutrient management, and mechanization into economically and environmentally sound cropping systems.
  • Identify, evaluate, and effectively utilize new germplasm, including cover crops that are adapted to sustainable cropping systems.
  • Develop soil-water-nutrient management systems that make the most efficient use of natural resource and production inputs.
  • Increase crop productivity and quality in production systems in a sustainable manner.

Approach
An interdisciplinary approach will be used to bring emerging technological capabilities and sustainable management practices together to support short- and long-term strategies aimed at future crop production.  Systems of pest control, soil-nutrient-water management, crop production practices, adapted genotypes (including resistant and transgenic varieties), and rotations will be evaluated for long-term productivity and impact on the environment.

Outcomes

  • Increased knowledge base of the effects of new technology for sustainable cropping systems to optimize production efficiency and farm profitability and minimize negative environmental impacts
  • Better understanding of agroecosystem and integrated production management systems to improve crop productivity and quality

Impact
Enhanced development of a sustainable agriculture

Linkages to Other ARS National Programs
Crop Protection and Quarantine (304)
Integrated Agricultural Systems (207)
Methyl Bromide Alternatives (301)
Quality and Utilization of Agricultural Products (306)
Plant Biological and Molecular Processes (302)
Plant Diseases (303)
Plant, Microbial, and Insect Genetic Resources, Genomics and Genetic Improvement (301)Rangeland, Pasture, and Forages (205)

D.  Economic Evaluation

Problem Statement
Rationale.  A viable U.S. agricultural sector depends on consistent profitability for the producer.  Financially feasible inputs applied at the correct time and in the optimal amount can lead to profitable production if prices and yield are sufficient to cover input costs.  Costs of producing crops can be controlled based on an expected yield level, but producers have little direct control over commodity prices.  Similarly, producers have no control over weather and can alleviate some weather-related problems such as drought only by adding expensive inputs.

Inputs for production of crop commodities are associated with discrete annual variable and fixed costs.  The cumulative value of these costs results in the total cost for a year''''s production.  Profit results when the value of the produced commodity exceeds the value of the cumulative costs for production.  To maintain the economic viability of crop production, costs of inputs or adoption of technology must remain below the value of production.  Scientists will need to work more closely with economists during the various phases of developing agrotechnologies and systems approaches.

What is known.  Resource and technology inputs are available or are being developed for producing most crops.  Also, constant improvements in inputs and technology for producing most crops are forthcoming as a result of commercial, state, and federal research.  This has resulted in continuing yield and/or quality improvements for most commodities in the United States.  Costs associated with many of the inputs used in crop production are known from historical numbers (land values, for instance) or from marketplace values (equipment, seed and root stocks, labor, and pesticides).  Yield or value of commodities is generally known on a farm-to-farm basis or can be calculated easily.  Values for many inputs and produced commodities and prices for these items are generally available from Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) research and surveys.

Gaps.  New or improved production and management practices and the adoption of new technologies have associated costs.  These costs usually can be determined, but their relationship to improved profitability is not always known or may not be determined easily.  Continued improvements in production and management practices and in technology cause any production system incorporating these new technologies to be in continuous transition.  The economic risks associated with the adoption of new technology or new farming systems are usually unknown.

Constantly changing production systems require a constant updating of the economics of any individual system or enterprise and its relationship to the economics of a whole-farm system.  This will determine if improved profitability for an individual producer unit has resulted from adoption of new or improved technology.  This evaluation is not often done in current crop production research environments, which may stop at the yield or product quality level without assessing the economic effects.  Environmental benefits and costs associated with the adoption of new crop production technology are often unknown.

Goals

  • Improve profits and financial stability for individual producers of crops.
  • Develop economical integrated crop production practices.
  • Develop new and economical integrated crop production systems.
  • Improve use efficiency of crop production inputs.

Approach
An interdisciplinary approach will be used to assess the costs and benefits associated with adoption of new production technology and to assess the potential conflicts among profitability, economic risk, and environmental factors.  Profitability of new technology within an enterprise will be determined by consolidating analysis of crop production research results with economic assessment results.  Partial and whole budget economic analyses will be used to determine the economic feasibility of adopting new production strategies or concepts in terms of pest control, tillage, crop rotation, nutrient and water management in traditional and organic farming systems, including issues of food safety and quality and their associated economic inputs.  ERS and NASS statistics and Agricultural Experiment Station budget generators will be used to assess and update the economic viability of new or enhanced integrated cropping and pest management systems on a whole-farm basis. 

Outcomes

  • Reduced inputs associated with high economic risk
  • A continued supply of high quality, safe commodities is economical to produce and market with increased global competitiveness
  • Improved financial stability and subsequent sustainability of whole-farm and commodity sectors

Impact
Improved farm-level stability and commodity sector viability with increased global competitiveness

Linkages to Other ARS National Programs
Crop Protection and Quarantine (304)
Integrated Agricultural Systems (207)
Quality and Utilization of Agricultural Products (306)
Plant Diseases (303)
Rangeland, Pasture, and Forages (205)


Research Projects Associated with Component I

Research Projects Associated with Component I – Integrated Production Systems

 

Location/Lead Scientist

Research Project #

Research Project Title

Beltsville, Maryland

 

 

W. Turechek

1275-21000-175-00D

Small Fruit Crops in Sustainable Production Systems

Kearneysville, West Virginia

 

 

D. Swietlik

1931-21000-012-00D

Small Fruit Production Systems

D. Glenn

1931-21000-015-00D

Integrated Orchard Management and Automation for Deciduous Tree Fruit Crops

Wooster, Ohio

 

 

J. Locke

3607-21000-008-00D

Develop New or Improved Methods of Hydroponic and Greenhouse Production and Pest Protection

Morris, Minnesota

 

 

F. Forcella

3645-21220-003-00D

Biological and Management Strategies to Increase Cropping Efficiency in Short-Season and High-Stress Environments

Davis, California

 

 

C. Jian

5306-13210-001-00D

Sustainable Floriculture Production

Corvallis, Oregon

 

 

J. Tarara

5358-21000-034-00D

Production Systems to Promote Yield and Quality of Grapes in the Pacific Northwest

Lane, Oklahoma

 

 

V. Russo

6222-21220-002-00D

Yield and Quality of Vegetable Crops in Conventional and Organic Production Systems

Stoneville, Mississippi

 

 

L. Young

6402-21410-004-00D

Alternative Crops and Value-Added Products for Mississippi

New Orleans, Louisiana

 

 

R. Johnson

6435-21000-011-00D

New and Improved Cultural Practices for Sustainable Sugarcane Production

Byron, Georgia

 

 

B. Wood

6606-21220-009-00D

Pecan Cultivation and Disease Management

Florence, South Carolina

 

 

P. Bauer

6657-21000-005-00D

Enhancing the Sustainability of Cotton Production in the Southeast USA                                                       

 

 

Research Projects Contributing to Component I - Integrated Production Systems

 

Location/Lead Scientist

Research Project #

Research Project Title

Headquarters

 

 

R. Faust

0500-00044-001-00D

Areawide Management of Agricultural Pests

Stillwater, Oklahoma

 

 

N. Elliott

0500-00044-012-00D

Areawide Pest Management Program for Russian Wheat Aphid and Greenbug

Beltsville, Maryland

 

 

J. Teasdale

1265-12210-001-00D

Management of Cover Crops for Enhancement of High Value Cropping Systems

Davis, California

 

 

K. Baumgartner

5306-21220-003-00D

Sustainable Management of Grapevine Diseases and Weeds

Riverside, California

 

 

C. Grieve

5310-13210-008-00D

Salinity and Trace Element Management in Irrigated Agricultural Systems

Maricopa, Arizona

 

 

T. Coffelt

5347-21410-004-00D

Evaluation, Improvement, and Development of New/Alternative Industrial Crops

College Station, Texas

 

 

J. Westbrook

6202-22320-002-00D

Ecologically-Based Management of Boll Weevil and Post-Eradication Crop Pests

Stoneville, Mississippi

 

 

W. Meredith

6402-21000-028-00D

Genetic-Physiological Team Research to Improve Production, Fiber Quality, and Competitive Ability of Cotton

K. Vaughn

6402-21000-030-00D

Critical Biological Factors Determining Weediness

K. Reddy

6402-22000-042-00D

Weed Biology and Ecology and development of Sustainable Integrated Weed Management Systems for Cotton, Soybean, Corn

C. Koger

6402-21000-004-00D

Develop Soybean Genotypes and Management Systems for Early Season and Stress Environments

C. Boyette

6402-22000-056-00d

Augmentative Bioherbicide Strategies for Control of Invasive Weeds

Poplarville, Mississippi

 

 

J. Spiers

6404-21000-006-00D

Weed Biology and Ecology, and Development of Sustainable Integrated Weed Management Systems for Cotton, Soybean, Corn

New Orleans, Louisiana

 

 

W. White

6435-22000-012-00D

Developing Integrated Weed and Insect Pest Management Systems for Efficient and Sustainable Sugarcane Production

Tifton, Georgia

 

 

P. Tillman

6602-22000-036-00D

Sustainable Systems for Integrated Pest Management and Conservation and Enhancement of Natural Enemies

 


Component II: Agroengineering, Agrochemical, and Related Technologies

PART I:     INTRODUCTION

Production agriculture in the United States faces shortages of skilled workers and high production costs put it at a competitive disadvantage with international producers.  Mechanization of the harvest of some fruits and vegetables has increased productivity, but often not sufficiently to solve labor shortages.  Many crops, especially those produced for the fresh market, still rely almost totally on hand harvest.  Increasing world food needs, environmental concerns, and health risks dictate that agrochemicals and bioproducts be precisely applied by the most efficient and effective methods.  Most current application techniques involve movement of the material through the air between a machine and the target site, and therefore are subject to deposition in unwanted areas.  The variety of target locations and weather conditions means that no single application technology is suitable for all situations.  Worker safety is always a concern, either from exposure during application or to material residues after application.  Regulatory action designed to limit adverse impacts of agrochemicals and bioproducts places restrictions on application that requires either limited use, which could lower yields, or development of new, more effective and safer application technologies.  Effective management decisions require reliable and timely information.  The same is true for control of equipment used in crop production operations.  Sensors are needed to measure and provide required information to control automated operations and to allow managers to make correct decisions.  The quality and yield of many high-value crops is increased when the crops are grown under controlled environments, and a significant portion of agricultural income now comes from sales of crops grown in these conditions.  There is need for information on the design, retrofit, and use of controlled environment facilities for efficient production.  Agriculture ranks high among occupations in exposure to work-related injury and illness.  Concerns for worker well-being, along with regulatory restrictions, place an increased emphasis on worker protection, safety, and welfare.

PART II:     PROBLEMS TO BE ADDRESSED

A.  Automation and Mechanization to Improve Labor Productivity

Problem Statement
Rationale
The segments of production agriculture that rely on human labor are facing shortages of skilled workers to produce and harvest their crops.  Rising labor costs and a shrinking workforce place these U.S. industries at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace compared to producers outside the United States, who have adequate labor at substantially lower cost.

What is known.  Agricultural enterprises facing serious labor shortages and rising costs are fruit and vegetable production and floral nursery and greenhouse operations.  Mechanical systems for harvesting some fruit and vegetable crops used for processing have been developed and commercialized, but are still unavailable for many other U.S. crops. 

GapsNew knowledge and techniques are needed to increase labor productivity in producing and harvesting fruit and vegetable crops.  Mechanical systems for harvesting  fruit and vegetables for the fresh market are nearly nonexistent.  For both fruits and vegetables, new cultivars, cultural practices, growth regulators, and fruit releasing agents are needed that are compatible with more efficient and effective mechanization practices to produce and harvest them.  Efficient technologies and equipment systems are needed to produce, handle, and harvest most plants grown in nurseries and greenhouses, labor intensive operations for which alternatives have not been found.

Goals

  • Develop ergonomically correct and safe aids that significantly increase labor productivity and decrease task drudgery in producing and harvesting crops, especially for, but not limited to fruit, vegetable, greenhouse, and nursery crops.
  • Develop mechanical harvesting systems to greatly increase labor productivity, reduce costs, and maintain quality, especially for, but not limited to fruit, vegetable, greenhouse, and nursery crops.
  • Develop automated and robotic systems to improve labor productivity, reduce costs, and maintain quality in producing and harvesting crops, especially for, but not limited to fruit, vegetable, greenhouse, and floral and ornamental crops.

Approach
Efficient technologies, based on new equipment and systems, will be developed to improve labor productivity and reduce costs of producing and harvesting specific crops that are now at risk of losing a significant portion of their market share.  One approach will be to develop new labor aids that increase productivity and improve economics by simplifying tasks and reducing drudgery.  Mechanized systems will be developed that are compatible with plant and cultural practices for producing, handling, and harvesting crops.  The latest advances in sensor and automation technologies will be used to develop the most efficient and economical mechanized systems.  A multidisciplinary approach will be used to integrate plant-machine-worker-economic characteristics to develop optimized systems.

 Outcomes

  • New labor aids that increase productivity and reduce costs of producing and harvesting crops and that enhance worker safety
  • New equipment and mechanized systems that improve labor productivity and reduce costs of handling and harvesting crops
  • New automated and robotic systems that increase labor productivity; reduce costs of producing and harvesting; and provide the required product quality

Impact
Enhanced competitiveness of U.S. growers in global markets

Linkages to Other ARS National Programs
Integrated Agricultural Systems (207)
Plant, Microbial, and Insect Genetic Resources, Genomics, and Genetic Improvement (301) Quality and Utilization of Agricultural Products (306)

B.  Application Technology for Agrochemicals and Bioproducts

Problem Statement
Rationale.
 
Modern crop production depends on precise delivery of agrochemicals and bioproducts that is essential to ensure the desired biological effect and to minimize adverse impacts on the environment, adjacent land areas, and worker health.  Crop yields would decrease significantly without use of these products and materials.  Increasing world population, environmental concerns, and health risks dictate that these materials be delivered by the most efficient and effective methods.  Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) regulations are placing stringent restrictions on the availability and use of many agrochemicals and bioproducts.  Future regulatory action, such as changes in chemical labeling that are designed to limit adverse impacts of applications, may limit delivery options and require new technologies.  Most existing agrochemical and bioproducts and those in development place greater demands on application processes for optimum effectiveness than did older materials.  

Agrochemical and bioproduct application operations are at risk because most involve movement of material through the air between a machine and the target application site.  This makes delivery and deposition susceptible to environmental or weather conditions.  With a wide variety of target locations, no single form of application technology is best suited for delivery of these materials.  Applications that occur in controlled environments, such as greenhouses, present increased risks to operators and others involved in plant production in confined environments.  Differences in product formulations and handling requirements often require specialized equipment.  Application of new biological materials will likely require delivery through newly designed systems or significant modifications to established systems. 

What is known.  Some aspects of application technologies have changed significantly in recent years.  Materials are currently delivered or applied to field crops by ground machines and aircraft.  Specialized machines and equipment are used in orchards, vineyards, and production greenhouses.   It is difficult to deliver and keep all material on the target.  All chemical applications are at risk of producing a percentage of fine particulates that are susceptible to environmental forces.  Deposition characteristics can affect the biological impact of agricultural materials.  The window of opportunity for making applications is often limited, making efficient and effective applications imperative. 

When soil conditions and crop foliage prohibit the use of ground machines, aerial application is the only feasible application method.  Aerial application permits large areas to be treated rapidly, thus ensuring timely application.  The percentage of larger and faster turbine aircraft in the agricultural aviation fleet has doubled in the past five years.  These aircraft have increased the speed at which applications can be made, but have also increased potential drift problems.  Canopy penetration is extremely difficult in some crops and resulting higher pressure or higher volume applications reduce application efficiency.  Air-assisted delivery has shown potential for improving canopy penetration and spray distribution, but is often more expensive than traditional applications.  To minimize the need for land being taken out of production because of the need for no-spray buffer zones, applications are being made with coarser sprays to reduce drift.  Air induction nozzles may potentially reduce the amount of spray susceptible to drift.  However, use of larger spray droplets does not always provide efficient use of the product, which must be compensated by increased spray rates or increased frequency of application.  Electrostatic technology can improve product distribution and potentially reduce active ingredient rates, but is limited to relatively low volume applications that may be susceptible to spray drift.  Pulsed nozzle technologies have been introduced as means for on-the-go management of droplet size and chemical placement.  Tower and wrap-around sprayers can reduce drift problems when treating tree, vine, bush, and ornamental crops, but they are limited to treating short crops.  Some pest problems occur in the soil and cannot be treated with conventional above-ground techniques.

Gaps.  Numerous technologies for drift mitigation have been developed or proposed, but there is little information to document the effectiveness of the approaches or their optimization.  Information and technologies for optimum application of crop production and harvest management materials are inadequate, particularly for tree, vineyard, and other crops where production and harvest labor costs must be reduced.  Technology for efficient field-scale delivery of living pest control organisms such as parasites and predators is inadequate.  Additional research is needed to better understand how application technology affects not only spray deposition characteristics but also post-application production issues.  Applications are currently made using standard procedures for pest management materials, without regard to specific targeting requirements.  However, research has shown that different products require different application parameters for optimum efficacy.  More research is needed in this arena before active ingredient application rates can be reduced because of optimization of product application parameters.  Research is also needed to understand how changes to chemical formulations can influence droplet size, target deposition, and uptake.  In addition, technology for delivery of production and pest control materials into soils in turf and nursery crops is inadequate. 

Goals

  • Define handling and delivery factors that enhance viability of biological pest management and crop production materials.
  • Relate delivery parameters to biological impact.
  • Develop practical means for assessing and controlling spray drift.
  • Develop means to provide site-specific application.
  • Develop guidelines for application that will provide efficient delivery of materials in greenhouses with reduced re-entry intervals.
  • Develop technologies and information to help applicators comply with safety and regulatory requirements.

Approach
Research will be conducted to develop and test improved application technology for increased deposition on target areas and reduced off-target movement.  Research will be conducted to establish relationships between the fate of spray and the biological effect.  More reliable drift measurement technology will be developed.  Research will seek ways to improve canopy penetration and coverage using air-assistance and other techniques, including development of systems to determine the amount of assistance necessary to provide penetration in different canopy forms.  To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of applications, target surface microstructure and morphology, spray carrier and formulation physical properties, and other factors that affect deposit and uptake will be evaluated.  Research will be conducted to determine the most viable means for delivering conventional and biological materials for both above- and below-ground pests, and to evaluate means for increasing the viability of biological control materials.  Current and new sensor technology will be incorporated into application systems to enhance delivery and effectiveness of crop production and protection materials.

Outcomes

  • Identification of handling and delivery factors for optimum viability of biological pest management and crop production materials and relationship of delivery parameters to biological impact
  • Means for providing site-specific application and for assessing and controlling spray drift
  • Application guidelines that will provide efficient delivery of materials in greenhouses and reduce re-entry intervals
  • Technologies and information to help applicators comply with safety and regulatory requirements

Impact
Optimized application of crop production materials and mitigated adverse effects on worker safety and health and the environment

Linkages to Other ARS National Programs
Air Quality (203)
Crop Protection and Quarantine (304)
Integrated Agricultural Systems (207)

C.  Sensor and Sensing Technology

Problem Statement
Rationale. 
There is an increasing demand for information in all phases of the crop production process.  Information is needed about soil, field, crop, and pest conditions, such that management and inputs can be applied in the right place, in the right amount, and at the right time, in order to optimize profit and protect the environment.  Information is needed about crop quality parameters for selective harvest, and to monitor quality during storage and processing. Information also is needed to improve the efficiency of crop production operations, to protect the U.S. food supply from foreign pests, and to facilitate agricultural research.  Such information can be acquired in a timely and efficient manner using sensors and sensor technology.

What is known.  Sensors of importance to crop production include general-use sensors and those tailored to a specific agronomic need.  A flow sensor used to monitor and control the application rate of an agricultural chemical is an example of a general-use sensor.  Significant development of general-use sensors has been supported by the needs of manufacturing and other high-volume industries (e.g., automobile manufacturing).  These sensors may need some modification and/or testing to be usable in crop production systems.  On the other hand, a sensor to measure soil nitrate content would be specific to agriculture.  Although engineering and scientific principles on which to base such a sensor might exist, a significant design, development, and testing program would be needed.  It is difficult to interest sensor manufacturers in agricultural sensors because the sensing problem is often complex and unique, resulting in high developmental costs, while the size of the market is small, making it more challenging to realize a profit.

Significant trends and technologies exist to support the adoption of sensors in crop production.  Cutting-edge computer technology is available in field-ready configurations and is generally not a limiting factor.  GPS data and GIS technology allows accurate geo-referencing of sensor output.  Most new agricultural equipment is electronically controlled, facilitating the use of sensed data.  Finally, the introduction of precision agriculture systems, and especially combine yield monitors, has familiarized many producers with electronically-derived information and made them more willing to adopt such information as a basis for management decisions.

Gaps.  Sensors are not commercially available for most biological, agricultural, and natural resource parameters.  Research is needed to develop sensors for soil, field, crop, and pest characteristics, which are important in monitoring and optimizing agricultural production processes (e.g., soil chemistry and physical condition and moisture content; crop stress and composition; insect detection and identification; weed detection, identification, and quantification).  In many cases, these sensors need to be usable for within-field mapping to support precision agriculture.  Sensors are needed to monitor the effects of agricultural operations on the soil-plant system (e.g., compaction and its amelioration, efficacy of spray deposition, water management).  Sensors are also needed to monitor product quality and composition, both in the field and during storage. 

Goals

  • Develop and test sensor technology (hardware and software) to be used in pesticide application to ensure appropriate application and delivery to target.
  • Develop and test sensor technology for measuring soil and site factors that control water infiltration and movement (e.g., topography, soil physical properties, compaction) to improve water utilization, to manage water drainage and runoff, and to reduce nonpoint source pollution from soil, fertilizers, and pesticides.
  • Develop and test sensor technology for determining levels of nutrients in soil and plants.
  • Develop and test remote and nontraditional sensor technology (e.g., acoustics) for pest detection and quantification.
  • Develop and test sensors for selective harvesting, particularly for fruit and horticultural crops.
  • Develop and test technology for detection and segregation of GMOs in soil and products, if deemed feasible.

Approach
New sensor development projects will be proposed based on customer needs and the state of the supporting science and engineering knowledge base.  Priority will be given to projects that directly address stakeholder needs and have a high probability of success.  Sensor development expertise across ARS will be surveyed, and appropriate project teams will be formed that integrate personnel from multiple locations, where appropriate.  A multidisciplinary approach will be used to integrate plant-soil-pest-product expertise into the developmental process.  Sensor testing will be conducted in multiple locations and with cooperating producers as appropriate.  CRADAs and other mechanisms will be used to involve industry partners.  Grower and industry meetings will provide opportunities to share research results and to obtain stakeholder feedback.

Outcomes

  • New sensors and technologies that increase productivity and decrease costs of crop production
  • Improved ability to detect crop pests at entry points, within fields, or on an areawide basis through the application of sensor technology
  • New sensors and systems that reduce the environmental impact of crop production by facilitating site-specific control of inputs such as nutrients, water, and chemical pesticides
  • Improved harvesting, segregation, and storage systems through the application of sensors for monitoring and control of operations
  • Improved ability to monitor regulatory compliance and verify product quality and/or composition through the application of new sensor technology

Impact
Enhanced food safety, environmental protection, and competitiveness of U.S. growers through the incorporation of senor and sensor technology in production systems.

Linkages to Other ARS National Programs
Crop Protection and Quarantine (304)
Plant Diseases (303)
Plant, Microbial, and Insect Genetic Resources, Genomics, and Genetic Improvement (301)
Integrated Agricultural Systems (207)
Water Quality and Management (201)
Soil Resource Management (202)
Rangeland, Pasture, and Forages (205)

D.  Controlled-Environment Production Systems

Problem Statement
Rationale.
 
Controlled-environment crop production represents a significant portion of agricultural sales, particularly floral and nursery crops.  Growing consumer demand for products outside of the traditional field crop production season is also increasing demand for greenhouse-grown food crops.  Controlled-environment production decisions are based on market demand.  While field crop production systems can be relatively easily changed to meet production needs, it is difficult to adapt existing controlled-environment structures to new production needs.  The efficiency and productivity of a greenhouse are greatly influenced by its design, which is in turn greatly influenced by location and weather conditions.

What is known.  Controlled-environment structures can extend growing seasons.  Protecting plants from otherwise unproductive growing conditions.  Many types of older greenhouses are in production today.  New production aids must be retrofitted to work within these older structures.  Manufacturers are offering new building designs, but producers may not find it feasible to invest in new structures.  Even if that is not the case, knowledge about production in new structures is sometimes inadequate to help growers select the best structure for their needs.  To complicate matters further, many structures must accommodate several different crops, each requiring different production needs, to meet market preferences.

Gaps.  Production issues that are common for all structures include air movement for plant health, material handling issues, and sensors and control systems for site-specific production.  Additional research is necessary to help producers understand how to optimize production within controlled-environment structures.  Taller structures, for example, will trap heat higher above a crop than traditionally shorter structures, and present other air circulation issues that will affect crop health and pest management.  Open roof designs that provide plants with more natural growing environments can improve plant production, but further research is needed on effects of open and/or retractable roofs to improve the efficiency of these designs.  It also is imperative that these designs be flexible to accommodate changes in crops and production systems to meet changes in market demands.

Goals

  • Evaluate system components that will enhance ornamental and food crop production within controlled-environments and provide flexibility to meet changing market demands. 
  • Develop techniques that will enhance facility management and handling of crops within new and existing controlled-environment structures.

Approach
Conduct interdisciplinary meetings with industry representatives to define facility design issues that impact efficient production.  Conduct research to develop performance requirements for structures that will provide producers with flexibility to adapt to different crops and cultural practices.  Conduct research to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of production, air movement, energy management, water and nutrient management, and material handling factors within these structures.  Using a systems approach, conduct research to ensure that the design is compatible with other production issues.  Use economic analysis to allow producers to assess the suitability of design options on their production systems.

Outcomes

  • Improved crop production systems for controlled-environment structures
  • Improved designs to enhance ornamental and food production in controlled-environment structures
  • Determination of the effects of retractable roof designs
  • Information that will help producers select designs best suited for their production needs

Impact
Enhanced efficiency, flexibility, and crop production in controlled-environment operations

Linkages to Other ARS National Programs
Air Quality (203)
Crop Protection and Quarantine (304)
Integrated Agricultural Systems (207)

E.  Worker Safety and Ergonomics

Problem Statement
Rationale. 
Regulatory restrictions and concern for worker well-being are placing an increased emphasis on worker protection, safety, and welfare.  Regulations dictate that efforts to limit exposure of crop production workers to hazardous agricultural inputs and to physically unsafe procedures must become a priority. 

What is known.  Agriculture ranks high among occupations in terms of the probability of suffering a work-related injury or illness.  Production of many high value crops, including fruits, vegetables, and horticultural plants, often expose workers to repetitive manual operations (e.g., picking fruit and pruning), to physical stresses (e.g., standing on ladders with round rungs and carrying of heavy containers), and to pesticide exposure, either during or after application.  Fruit and vegetable production is labor intensive, with hand harvesting accounting for half of the total production cost. 

Gaps.  Little research is being conducted to develop technology that will reduce agricultural worker exposure to risk of injury and illness.

Goals

  • Develop technology for production and processing for crops, especially, but not limited to fruit, vegetable, and horticultural crops that decrease worker exposure to hazards.
  • Develop and test automated technologies for pesticide application that reduce worker exposure to pesticide.  (See Component II, Problems to be Addressed, B.  Application Technology for Agrochemicals and Bioproducts).
  • Develop and test methods, equipment, and sensors that best quantify exposure of agricultural workers to safety risks.

Approach
Producers and farm workers will be included in efforts to develop pruning, harvesting, and produce delivery systems that decrease worker exposure to injurious repetitive motion hazards and other ergonomic risk factors.  Equipment and procedures that enhance worker safety and reduce repetitive motion in produce packing and processing operations will be developed and tested in cooperation with those enterprises.  User input also is needed for development and testing of automated application technologies that reduce worker exposure to pesticides while maintaining efficacy, and for protective clothing and equipment that will reduce occupational exposure to agricultural applications.  In all of these efforts, health, safety, and medical expertise will be sought when needed.

Outcomes

  • Pruning, harvesting, and produce delivery systems with low ergonomic risk and neutral or positive impact on work productivity
  • Automated technologies for pesticide application that reduce worker exposure while maintaining efficacy

Impact
A healthier, more productive, and better protected workforce that will make U.S. production more globally competitive

Linkages to Other ARS National Programs
Food Animal Production (101)
Aquaculture (106)
Integrated Agricultural Systems (207)
Crop Protection and Quarantine (304)


Research Projects Associated with Component II

Research Projects Associated with Component II – Agroengineering, Agrochemical and Related Technologies

 

Location/Lead Scientist

Research Project #

Research Project Title

Kearneysville, West Virginia

 

 

D. Swietlik

1931-21000-012-00D

Small Fruit Production Systems

Wooster, Ohio

 

 

R. Derksen

3607-21000-009-00D

Improving Crop Protection Technology for Horticulture Crops

H. Zhu

3607-21620-006-00D

Biological, Microclimate, and Transport Processes Affecting Pest Control Application

Corvallis, Oregon

 

 

J. Tarara

5358-21000-034-00D

Production Systems to Promote Yield and Quality of Grapes in the Pacific Northwest

College Station, Texas

 

 

W. Hoffman

6202-22000-023-00D

Aerial Application Technology for Crop Production and Protection

Stoneville, Mississippi

 

 

L. Young

6402-21410-004-00D

Alternative Crops and Value-Added Products for Mississippi

S. Thompson

6402-22000-038-00D

Development of Pesticide Application Technologies for Spray-Drift Management and Targeted Spraying

Dawson, Georgia

 

 

D. Sorensen

6604-13210-003-00D

Develop and Transfer Irrigated and Non-Irrigated Peanut Management Systems and Technology

 

Research Projects Contributing to Component II – Agroengineering, Agrochemical and Related Technologies

 

Location/Lead Scientist

Research Project #

Research Project Title

Riverside, California

 

 

C. Grieve

5310-13210-008-00D

Salinity and Trace Element Management in Irrigated Agricultural Systems

Corvallis, Oregon

 

 

C. Scagel

5358-12210-002-00D-00D

Factors Influencing Root Development, Physiology, and Productivity of Horticultural Crops

Lubbock, Texas

 

 

G. Holt

6208-21410-005-00D

Harvesting and Ginning Processes to Enhance the Profitability of Stripper Cotton

Stoneville, Mississippi

 

 

K. Reddy

6402-22000-042-00D

Weed Biology and Ecology and development of Sustainable Integrated Weed Management Systems for Cotton, Soybean, Corn

Poplarville, Mississippi

 

 

J. Spiers

6404-21000-006-00D

Weed Biology and Ecology, and Development of Sustainable Integrated Weed Management Systems for Cotton, Soybean, Corn

New Orleans, Louisiana

 

 

W. White

6435-22000-012-00D

Developing Integrated Weed and Insect Pest Management Systems for Efficient and Sustainable Sugarcane Production


Component III: Bees and Pollination

PART I:     INTRODUCTION

Managed bees are vital to the production of more than 90 crops, including almond, alfalfa and sunflower seed, apple, cherry, melon, and berries.  Honey bees (Apis) alone pollinate crops that have an added value of over $14 billion.  Only a few species of bees can be used for commercial pollination, and their health and improved management are critical to agricultural production.  The most versatile commercial pollinator is the honey bee, which also produces its own unique agricultural product, honey.  However, two parasitic mites, Varroa jacobsoni and Acarapis woodi, have devastated beekeeping operations, driving production costs sharply higher and reducing the availability of honey bees for pollination.  Feral honey bees have virtually disappeared because of parasitic mites.  Managed honey bees can survive only if mite infestations are treated with acaracides, which can lead to mite resistance and contamination of hive products.  The bacterium responsible for American Foulbrood Disease and a newly introduced beetle pest that attacks honey bee colonies and bee products cause other persistent and often severe problems.

There is a growing niche for non-Apis bees that specialize in specific crops or can be used in greenhouses.  These species are threatened by shrinking habitat and lack of information about their biological requirements, including their own sets of parasites and diseases.  A variety of native and non-native species could be better used to enhance pollination efforts if they could be produced effectively in sufficiently large populations and managed for health and availability.  For crops to be pollinated more efficiently, there is a need to better understand pollination mechanisms, as well as bee and bee-associated pest management.

PART II.     PROBLEMS TO BE ADDRESSED

A.    Pest Management

Problem Statement
Rationale.
  Honey bees and bee colonies are threatened by a myriad of pests.  The parasitic mite (Varroa) is a large, external obligate parasite that develops primarily on immature brood.  American Foulbrood Disease (AFB) is a highly contagious bacterial disease of immature honey bees.  The small hive beetle (Aethina tumida), a pest of both bees and hive products, is found in 13 states.  The tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi) is a microscopic, parasitic mite that inhabits the respiratory tubes of adult bees.  Honey bee viruses and chalkbrood (a fungal disease) of non-Apis bees also affect bee activity and viability.

What is known.  Varroa has become such a serious problem that it is virtually impossible to maintain honey bee colonies without chemical treatment to control infestations.  However, the close association between the mite and its honey bee host makes chemical control difficult, a problem compounded by the potential for pesticide contamination of honey and beeswax.  Also, mite resistance to chemical pesticides has been documented.

AFB spores can remain viable for years.  The disease may be spread by the interchange of infected equipment, by feeding bees contaminated honey, or by drifting bees from infected colonies.  Two types of control are generally used:  destruction of infected colonies and equipment by burning, and treatment with Terramycin (the only registered antibiotic treatment), which is also used as a prophylactic.  However, reports of bacterial resistance to Terramycin have been widespread.

The spread of the small hive beetle is due to movement of beetle-infested colonies by migratory beekeepers and the shipment of bees used to establish new colonies.  The tracheal mite occurs seasonally, and its infestation can be detected only by dissection and microscopic examination.  The only registered treatments for its control are menthol and formic acid; however, their efficacy may depend on temperature.  Chalkbrood affects both honey and non-Apis bees.

Gaps.  Safe, effective, and environmentally-acceptable forms of mite control are lacking for the U.S. beekeeping industry.  New and effective antibiotics for control of AFB to offset the resistance to Terramycin have not yet been approved for use.  Control measures for small hive beetle and tracheal mites are needed that are efficacious over a range of environmental conditions.  There are no available controls for chalkbrood disease.  The economic impact of honey bee viruses is poorly understood, partly because many of the viruses purported to attack bees do not appear to cause overt diseases.  The role of parasitic mites like Varroa in the epidemiology of bee viruses is unresolved, as are the interactions of viruses with other bee pathogens and stress.  Cost-effective methods of virus detection are lacking.

Goals

  • Develop an IPM strategy for Varroa.
  • New antibiotics for registration that effectively control the bacterium that causes AFB.
  • Develop effective chemical and non-chemical treatments for the small hive beetle.
  • Determine the economic impact of bee viruses and develop diagnostic tools for their identification.
  • Develop effective controls for tracheal mites.
  • Identify and evaluate chemicals that are effective against fungal diseases of bees.

Approach
The following pest-specific approaches will be used to address the major problems:

Varroa.  An IPM strategy to control Varroa will be developed by selecting and field-testing stocks of honey bees that are resistant to Varroa; identifying the genes that confer resistance; screening alternative control chemicals for efficacy, and proposing candidate compounds for registration and use.  Cultural forms of control and testing will be used in conjunction with genetically resistant stocks; seasonal timing of controls will be determined to maximize efficacy and reduce the potential for contaminated hive products, and recommendations will be developed for regional and nationwide use in IPM strategies.

AFB.  New controls will be developed by using established survey procedures to determine the extent of Terramycin-resistant AFB; determining efficacy of control of alternative antibiotics; developing and field-testing suitable formulations of candidate antibiotics to use in honey bee colonies; and providing appropriate data to support product registration and use. 

Small hive beetle.  Control strategies will be designed by developing bioassays to evaluate chemicals for efficacy in apiaries and package bees; testing and evaluating cultural control methods to protect stored honey from beetle damage; using bioassays and standard chemicals to identify semiochemicals that can be used for beetle detection and monitoring; and determining economic thresholds for beetle damage.

Viruses.  Honey bee viruses will be evaluated through the use of molecular methods such as specific PCR primers to diagnose viral infections of honey bee; the economic impact of viruses will be determined by correlating virus incidence with colony vigor; parasitic mites will be screened for viruses to determine their role in epidemiology and transmission of viruses and to determine if honey bee viruses can be transmitted ovarially; and molecular techniques will be used to devise a non-invasive diagnostic procedure to certify queen bees as virus-free. 

Tracheal mites and chalkbrood.  Standard bioassays will be used to screen new chemicals for efficacy against tracheal mites as part of the Varroa program; bee stocks that are resistant to mite infestations will be evaluated and improved; collaboration with fungus systematists will be needed to identify definitively chalkbrood fungi that attack non-Apis bees; fungicides will be screened in the laboratory to determine efficacy; and alternative methods of chalkbrood control will be devised that do not require registration.

Outcomes

  • A variety of new chemical, cultural, and biological control techniques tailored to particular bee parasites and diseases
  • Implementation of IPM strategies that will not require prolonged registration processes and that are less likely to induce pest resistance, thus reducing reliance on synthetic pesticides
  • New cost-effective diagnostic techniques for bee pests and pathogens that allow beekeepers to monitor colony health and make appropriate and timely treatment decisions
  • Identification of resistance genes in bees to allow bee breeders to ascertain that these important genes are passed along as they breed for additional traits such as honey production and climatic preferences

Impact
A stable and viable U.S. beekeeping industry

Linkages to Other ARS National Programs
Crop Protection and Quarantine (304)
Integrated Agricultural Systems (207)
Plant, Microbial, and Insect Genetic Resources, Genomics, and Genetic Improvement (301)

B.  Bee Management and Pollination

Problem Statement
Rationale.
 
Agriculture increasingly depends on managed honey bees and non-Apis bees for successful pollination of crops.  Beekeepers are concerned that the quality of their honey bees, especially queen-worker bee packages, is not as high as it once was or as it should be.  Good nutrition is an important component of maintaining healthy populations of both honey and non-Apis bees.  It is well known that honey bee colonies used for pollination of specific crops will dwindle because nutritional resources of the crop are insufficient.  This long-standing concern is increasingly important because of the added stresses of parasites and greater use of colonies in migratory pollination.  Populations of candidate species of non-Apis bees need to be increased to demonstrate their pollinating abilities under commercial situations and ultimately make them economically feasible for pollination of commercial crops.

What is known.  Many honey bee queens die during shipping, are not being as readily accepted by colonies at installation, and are being superseded more quickly.  Beekeepers claim that colonies do not prosper, that drone populations seem to be reduced, and that queens subsequently are not mating satisfactorily.  This lack of durability may be due to a number of factors that are not mutually exclusive.  These include increased use of miticides in colonies and packages, reduced variability of the gene pool, increased stresses from higher parasite/disease infestation, intensive management for pests, and migration.  Higher queen losses also make it more difficult to maintain specific stocks or select for improved ones.  Cultural practices for crops can have a negative or positive effect on non-Apis bee populations, and the continual production of  new plant varieties may create different pollination requirements.  Pheromones play an important role in regulating colony activity and interactions in communal nesting sites for bees of all kinds.  Pesticides negatively affect all bee pollinators.

Gaps.  The inability to safely store germplasm, eggs, and semen makes it difficult to keep viable stocks available for long periods and to select genetic stocks that are resistant to mites and diseases.  Little is known about the quality of pollen and nectar resources provided by crops during pollination or about the nutritional requirements of many non-Apis pollinators.  Little is known about proper supplemental pollen and nectar that may be needed for population buildup in the Spring, during periods of dearth, and in greenhouse settings in order to increase management efficiency of all pollinators and extend the capability to manage them for specific crops and climates.  There is a lack of development of and standardization for nest materials and shelters, disease control, and rearing techniques for non-Apis bee populations.  Integrated pest management systems for crops that also consider effect on pollinator populations are needed to promote optimal pollination and production in a sustainable manner.  The impact of increased migratory activity, parasites, and the Africanized honey bee on honey bee pollination efficiency is not well understood.  Identification of pheromones in new candidate species, and improved understanding of known pheromones are needed to allow beekeepers to increase the effectiveness of colony and nest management and to improve the activity of bees in crops.  There is a lack of knowledge about honey bee and non-Apis bee chemical ecology.  Information about the biology of pollination is inadequate to provide guidance to beekeepers pertaining to such factors as numbers of bees, placement of colonies, and timing of pollination for each crop and pollinator species.  The means by which bees are attracted to flowers, obtain pollen, and transfer it between plants is not known for most plant species that are not self-pollinating.  How concurrently foraging honey and non-Apis bees might complement each other has not been thoroughly studied.  Using the excessively defensive Africanized honey bee for managed pollination has an unknown impact on feral bee populations.

Goals

  • Determine factors that contribute to decreased survivability of queens and bees and design bee management strategies to reduce their impact, leading to more cost-effective pollination and honey production.
  • Identify nutritional deficiencies that contribute to colony decline during pollination and dearth, develop/improve supplemental feeds, and determine basic nutritional needs of candidate non-Apis species in order to maintain robust pollinator populations.
  • Identify and research factors such as nest materials, rearing and cultural techniques, crop pest management, bee diseases, and semiochemicals in order to optimize or minimize their effect on pollination by honey bees and non-Apis bees.
  • Determine pollination mechanisms for agricultural crops requiring pollen transfer by bees, and determine how concurrent foraging by honey bees and non-Apis bees affects pollination and fruit set rates.
  • Optimize long-term germplasm storage technology for eggs and semen of honey bees.
  • Determine factors that promote interbreeding and colony takeovers by Africanized honey bees.
  • Develop and demonstrate new pollination techniques and pollinator management systems that will improve on-farm profitability.
  • Improve existing or develop new user-friendly documentation to help producers and custom pollinator providers manage for optimal pollination levels.

Approach
Developed assays will be used to identify biological characters such as storage proteins, pheromone levels, inbreeding levels, and quality of stored semen to evaluate queen or bee quality, and these characters will be compared in queens exposed to miticides, from inbred and crossbred stocks, before and after shipping, etc., to determine specific deleterious conditions.  Standard molecular techniques will be used to identify genetic markers for clarification of reproductive activity of bees under normal and suboptimal conditions.  Optimum conditions for preserving honey bee eggs and semen by freezing will be sought using successful protocols developed for other insects.  Standard methods will be used to determine correlations between colony health and nutritional components of nectar and pollen in field cropping systems and/or greenhouses with vital and dwindling bee populations, and to determine the availability of nutritional components during winter and other dearth periods, to establish correlations with bee loss.  Behavioral and seed set data from open-field tests and controlled exposure to flowers will be used to determine the mechanism of bee attraction to flowers, to study pollen transfer mechanisms, and to determine pollination efficiency of pollinators on new varieties.  The activity of feral Africanized honey bee (AHB) colonies on crops and native plants will be measured using landscape ecology techniques.  Genetic markers will be used to assess the extent of Africanized bee genetic makeup in colonies that are used for pollination in areas with established AHB populations, negative impacts on pollination behavior of other bees, and the possibility of invasions of migratory colonies by AHB queens.  Conducting case studies to identify the effect of cultural practices on populations of non-Apis pollinators could lead to modification of crop cultural practices and increased populations of non-Apis bees.

Outcomes

  • Identification of indicators of quality and survival of queens, drones, and packages
  • Improved methods of queen production, shipping, and introduction
  • Technology for the preservation of honey bee germplasm, eggs, and semen
  • Improved management of pollination units through supplemental feeds to prevent colony decline and pheromones to improve bee management
  • Identification and characterization of new bee species to provide sufficient specific populations for specialized environments, such as greenhouses and for threatened and endangered native plants
  • Expanded guidelines for variety selection, orchard and farm layouts, required pollinator species and population levels, and pollination in areas populated by Africanized bees.

Impact
More efficient production of crop products and enhanced preservation of wild and native plants

Linkages to Other ARS National Programs
Crop Protection and Quarantine (304)
Integrated Agricultural systems (207)
Plant, Microbial, and Insect Genetic Resources, Genomics, and Genetic Improvement (301)


Research Projects Associated with Component III

Research Projects Associated with Component III – Bees and Pollination

 

Location/Lead Scientist

Research Project #

Research Project Title

Beltsville, Maryland

 

 

M. Feldlaufer

1275-21000-174-00D

Managing Diseases and Pests of Honey Bees to Improve Queen and Colony Health

A. Collins

1275-21220-212-00D

Preservation of Honey Bee Germplasm

Tucson, Arizona

 

 

G. Hoffman

5342-21000-014-00D

Improving Crop Pollination Rates by Increasing Colony Populations and Defining Pollination Mechanisms

Logan, Utah

 

 

R. James

5428-21000-010-00D

Pollination and the Development of Alternative Crop Pollinators

Weslaco, Texas

 

 

J. Adamcyk

6204-21000-009-00D

Pests, Parasites, Diseases, and Stress of Honey Bees Used in Honey Production and Pollination

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

 

 

T. Rinderer

6413-21000-010-00D

Breeding, Genetics, Stock Improvement and Management of Russian Honey Bees for Mite Control and Pollination

J. Harbo

6413-21000-011-00D

Development and Use of Mite-Resistance Traits in Honey Bee Breeding


 

Research Projects Collaborating

 

Location/Lead Scientist

Research Project #

Research Project Title

Fargo, North Dakota

 

 

R. Leopold

5442-22000-040-00D

Development of Cold Storage Technology for Mass-Reared and Laboratory-Colonized Insects

Gainesville, Florida

 

 

P. Teal

6615-22430-002-00D

 Chemistry and Biochemistry of Insect Behavior, Physiology and Ecology

 

 

 


Last Modified: 9/13/2007