Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Deep freeze may deep six part of fire ant population; flies likely unaffected


By Mary Hightower, U of A System Division of Agriculture

Fast facts:

  • Loftin: Imported fire ants, of tropical origin, may see population shrink temporarily
  • Thrash: Redbanded, southern green stinkbugs likely affected by cold

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A week of record-low temperatures may leave its mark on Arkansas’ fire ant populations, but don’t look for the cold to have reduced fly or tick numbers, Kelly Loftin, extension entomologist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said Friday.

Closeup of fire ants on sidewalk
FIRE ANTS — The extreme cold of the winter of 2021 may make a dent in fire ant populations in Arkansas. File photo taken January 2014 in Pulaski County. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo by Mary Hightower)

In general, Loftin said that “insects that are endemic to our region have evolved various mechanisms to survive cold winters.” However, invasives that originate from warmer climates don’t have those means for survival.

Fire ants and freezing weather 

“Imported fire ants are a good example of an exotic species that can be adversely impacted by extreme cold temperatures,” he said. “This pest ant has expanded its range about as far north as it can under normal winter conditions. And north Arkansas is the northern limit of its range.

“Although imported fire ants are native to South America, they survive most Arkansas winters,” Loftin said. “However sustained cold can cause a temporary population reduction.”

He said that a decade ago, when parts of the state sustained seven days below freezing,  “Arkansas’ fire ant population experienced a 70 percent reduction in the number of fire ant colonies.” he said.

But you can’t keep fire ants down for long.

“About 1.5 years later, fire ants returned to the prior population level,” he said. “Fire ant colonies associated with sidewalks, parking lots, foundations, and other areas tend to survive simply because these structures serve as heat sumps thus preventing colonies from freezing.”


Ticks are pretty good at finding protected places to ride out the freezing weather.

“Species such as the American dog tick and lone star tick survive the winter by seeking shelter as adults and nymphs in the leaf litter,” Loftin said. “Other species such as the winter tick are attached to a warm host during the cold winter.”

“If you look at the geographical range of the American dog tick, black-legged tick and winter tick, all three survive up to the Canadian border and beyond,” he said. “Even the lone star tick survives up to the Great Lakes region.”

Loftin said temperatures will influence when ticks become active.

“For example, if we have a warm spring, we will see active ticks in March or April,” he said. “And during warm spells during winter months you may see an occasional active lone star or American dog tick in January or February. Likewise if temperature remain cold in the spring, ticks will not become active as early.”


Don’t count on a week of freezing temperatures to knock out flies.

“The house fly range is worldwide including the Arctic, so obviously we wouldn’t expect to see much winter mortality,” Lofton said, adding that “our most important livestock flies have different mechanisms to survive cold winters.

House flies and horn flies of cattle survive cold temperatures as larva or pupae under manure piles and other protected breeding material.

The face fly a pest with a different overwintering strategy as a hibernating adult. Introduced from Europe into Nova Scotia, Canada, about 1950, face flies hibernate in church steeples, attics, barns and other protected areas.

“I routinely see hibernating face flies on warm days in manmade structures,” Loftin said. “Many times they are numerous enough to become household pests.”

Row crop pests

The effects of the deep freeze are uncertain, said Ben Thrash, extension entomologist for the Division of Agriculture.

“We can safely say the redbanded stink bugs and southern green stink bugs will be knocked back for the next several years,” he said. “I think many our native species will be relatively unaffected.”

However, the cold’s effects on insects that migrate to Arkansas isn’t known yet.

“Insects like corn earworm and fall armyworms do overwinter here Arkansas, the cold should have killed them here, but many of our most damaging corn earworm populations migrate from places like the lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas and south Louisiana,” Thrash said. “I’d bet we will still see these insects, but they may just be delayed in getting here.”

“I would like to put some data together sometime to see if there are any trends I can pick out with weather and certain species,” he said. “Other things like how wet our spring is can also have major effects on our insect populations by promoting weed growth.”

Thrash recalled something former Arkansas soybean breeder Chuck Caviness said when asked to predict a field’s soybean field. Caviness declared “Only fools and newcomers try to predict soybean yield, and I’m neither.”

Thrash said, “I’m beginning to feel the same way about predicting insect numbers.”

To learn about extension and research programs in Arkansas, visit https://uada.edu/

Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk, @uaex_edu or @ArkAgResearch.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

USDA Ready to Assist Farmers, Ranchers and Communities Affected by Winter Storms


WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2021 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reminds rural communities, farmers and ranchers, families and small businesses affected by the recent winter storms that USDA has programs that provide assistance. USDA staff in the regional, state and county offices are prepared with a variety of program flexibilities and other assistance to residents, agricultural producers and impacted communities.

"USDA is committed to getting help to producers and rural Americans impacted by the severe weather in many parts of the country. As severe weather and natural disasters continue to threaten the livelihoods of thousands of our farming families, we want you and your communities to know that USDA stands with you,” said Kevin Shea, acting Secretary of Agriculture. “Visit farmers.gov or your local USDA Service Center to inquire about assistance."

Risk management and disaster assistance for agricultural operations:

USDA offers several risk management and disaster assistance options to help producers recover after they are impacted by severe weather, including those impacted by winter storms and extreme cold.

Even before disasters strike, USDA provides tools for producers to manage their risk through the Federal Crop Insurance Program, a public-private partnership between USDA’s Risk Management Agency and private companies and agents. For crops that do not have crop insurance available, the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) is available through the local Farm Service Agency. This risk protection includes crop production loss and tree loss for certain crop insurance products. It is recommended that producers reach out to their crop insurance agent or local FSA office for more information.

Producers that signed up for Federal Crop Insurance or NAP who suffer losses are asked to report crop damage to their crop insurance agent or local FSA office, respectively, within 72 hours of damage discovery and follow up in writing within 15 days.

Livestock and perennial crop producers often have more limited risk management options available, so there are several disaster programs for them. Key programs include:

  • The Livestock Indemnity Program and the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybee and Farm-raised Fish Program reimburses producers for a portion of the value of livestock, poultry and other animals that were killed or severely injured by a natural disaster or loss of feed.
  • The Tree Assistance Program provides cost share assistance to rehabilitate or replant and clean-up damage to orchards and vineyards that kill or damage the tree, vines or shrubs. NAP or Federal Crop Insurance often only covers the crop and not the plant.

USDA reminds producers that it’s critical to keep accurate records to document the losses and illnesses following this devastating cold weather event. Livestock producers are advised to document beginning livestock numbers by taking photos or videos of any losses.

Other common documentation options include:

  • Purchase records
  • Production records
  • Vaccination records
  • Bank or other loan documents
  • Third-party certification

Additionally, USDA can provide financial resources through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help with immediate needs and long-term support to help recover from natural disasters and conserve water resources. Assistance may also be available for emergency animal mortality disposal from natural disasters and other causes.

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) also has a variety of loans available including emergency loans that are triggered by disaster declarations and operating loans that can assist producers with credit needs.

Ensure food safety:

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is helping ensure affected households and communities are taking the proper steps to reduce the risk of foodborne illness during severe weather and power outages. Food safety tips for before, during and after a weather emergency are available on the FSIS website.

During a power outage, a refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened, and a full freezer will hold a safe temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full and the door remains closed). During a snowstorm, do not place perishable food out in the snow. Outside temperatures can vary and food can be exposed to unsanitary conditions and animals.

Care for livestock and pets:

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is helping to meet the emergency needs of pets and their owners, as inspectors coordinate closely with zoos, breeders and other licensed facilities to ensure animals in their care remain safe.

On the livestock front, APHIS veterinarians are ready to work alongside partners to conduct on-site assessments to document the needs of affected producers. More information about protecting livestock is available on APHIS’ Protecting Livestock During a Disaster page. Information about protecting household pets and service animals can be found on APHIS’ Animal Care Emergency Programs webpage.

APHIS has additional staff on stand-by to provide support should the situation escalate in severity or the number of affected livestock operations increase. Should it be necessary, APHIS has the expertise to assist with carcass removal and disposal as well.

APHIS’ Animal Care (AC) program is also prepared to respond. The Animal Care Program oversees the welfare of certain animals that are exhibited to the public, bred for commercial sale and used in medical research. In addition to providing technical assistance to regulated facilities, AC inspectors may be checking affected facilities to assess damage and ensure the welfare of their animals.

For more information about APHIS’ response efforts and how to protect pets and service animals in disasters, follow APHIS on Twitter at @USDA_APHIS.

Helping individuals recover:

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) works with state, local and nongovernmental organizations to provide emergency nutrition assistance, including food packages and infant formula, to households, shelters and mass feeding sites serving people in need. FNS also provides emergency flexibilities in administering nutrition assistance programs at the request of states and works with local authorities to provide benefits. Emergency nutrition assistance and flexibilities requested by states and approved by FNS are posted to the FNS Disaster Assistance website.

Visit USDA's disaster resources website to learn more about USDA disaster preparedness and response. For more information on USDA disaster assistance programs, contact your local USDA Service Center.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

USDA Invests $11.65 Million to Control Destructive Feral Swine

 WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2021 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $11.65 million in 14 projects to help agricultural producers and private landowners trap and control feral swine as part of the Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program. This investment expands the pilot program to new projects in Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.

This pilot program is a joint effort between USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). This second round of funding is for partners to carry out activities as part of the identified pilot projects in select states.

“These awards enable landowners to address the threat that feral swine pose to natural resources and agriculture,” NRCS Acting Chief Kevin Norton said. “The projects we have identified will be key to addressing the feral swine problem.”

Similar to the first round, NRCS will provide funding to partners who will provide financial assistance, education, outreach and trapping assistance to participating landowners in pilot project areas. All partner work will be closely coordinated with the APHIS operations in the pilot project areas. Between the first and second round of funding, there will be a total of 34 active projects across 12 states for the life of the 2018 Farm Bill. Each project is unique, and additional information about the expectations for individual projects can be found at www.nrcs.usda.gov/FSCP.

These new pilot projects and areas were selected in coordination with NRCS state conservationists, APHIS state directors and state technical committees to address feral swine issues and damage in areas with high densities. Pilot projects consist broadly of three coordinated components: 1) feral swine removal by APHIS; 2) restoration efforts supported by NRCS; and 3) assistance to producers for feral swine control provided through partnership agreements with non-federal partners. Projects are planned to conclude at the end of September 2023.

All USDA Service Centers are open for business, including those that restrict in-person visits or require appointments. All Service Center visitors wishing to conduct business with NRCS, Farm Service Agency or any other Service Center agency should call ahead and schedule an appointment. Service Centers that are open for appointments will pre-screen visitors based on health concerns or recent travel, and visitors must adhere to social distancing guidelines. Visitors are also required to wear a face covering during their appointment. Our program delivery staff will continue working with our producers by phone and email and using online tools. More information can be found at farmers.gov/coronavirus offsite link image    .

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

2021’s Best States to Start a Farm or Ranch


The time couldn’t be more ripe to start a new farm or ranch. Local food producers have been in demand during the pandemic, as locavore activity has soared.

But which states are better if you want to start a Green Acres life or to be at Home on the Range where the cattle and horses roam? 

LawnStarter, America’s leading outdoor services provider, compared the 50 states across 44 key metrics to rank the Best States to Start a Farm or Ranch. We looked into the infrastructure, prevalence, environmental factors, cost, and potential returns of farming and ranching in each state.

How did the states fare? Here are the top 5 and bottom 5 performers, followed by some highlights and lowlights from the findings.

Best States to Start a Farm or Ranch
3North Dakota
Worst States to Start a Farm or Ranch
47Rhode Island

Highlights and Lowlights:

  • Home on the Range: Nine of the top 10 states are fully or partially within the central Great Plains. It’s easy to see why this broad, sweeping landscape dominates the top of our ranking. States such as Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas boast cheap land, an excellent growing climate, and a highly developed infrastructure for farmers and rural residents. Move to the Great Plains, and you’ll be chasing cattle in no time.

  • Down and Out in the South: While the Deep South is known as an agricultural destination, many states, such as Louisiana and Alabama, rank middle to low on our list. Both states fare well in cost and return-on-investment categories, as do other southern states like Mississippi. But the South’s achilles heel appears to be both infrastructure and prevalence. Louisiana ranked lower than any other state in the number of new farms in the last year, showing a marked decrease. All three mentioned states rank in the bottom five on Community Supported Agriculture, as well. The Deep South has many charming qualities, but new farm-friendliness is not among them.

  • Leaving the West Behind: California performs surprisingly poorly in our study. While the No. 1 agricultural state when it comes to return on investment, the Golden State also ranks as the worst state for cost metrics, having the highest average per-farm production expenses of any state. It may also prove more difficult to establish a new small ranch or farm in an already crowded corporate field: California ties with a few other states for the lowest share of family-owned farms. California may be an excellent place to grow food, but it’s far from the best state for your growing agribusiness.

  • Sweet Kentucky Bourbon: The No. 1 state on our list is a bit unexpected: Kentucky. Yes, it’s a largely rural state with plenty of fertile land, but why is it the best? While ranking high in prevalence categories such as farms per state area and the share of family-owned farms, the Bluegrass State wins with a more well-rounded approach, ranking in at least the top 20 in every metric category. Many other states have competing metrics that cancel each other out: high populations and crop yields can lead to equally high land prices and less available land. Kentucky — much like it’s bourbon — sits right in that middle sweet spot to be the best state for new farmers and ranchers. 


Our full ranking and analysis can be found here: https://www.lawnstarter.com/blog/studies/best-states-to-start-a-farm/ 

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