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hindu business

TN’s hill banana plantations wilt under elephant, viral attacks

A bunch of Hill banana grown in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu

Animal menace, inadequate insurance cover have resulted in shrinking acreage of the fruit

Kochi, April 20

Rampaging wild elephants coupled with Bunchy Top Banana (BTB) disease have hit Hill Banana growers in the Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu.

Found only in the Palani Hills of Dindigul, hill banana — locally called ‘Virupakshi’ — is a highly remunerative crop that can be harvested in 18-36 months .

This specific variety has a commercial importance and it caters only to Chennai market with a sales of around 50,000 fruits per day in the price range of 60-80/kg, said TVSN Veera Arasu, Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Hill Banana Growers Federation.

However, wild elephants straying into the fields in search of food and water have wrought havoc in several areas, causing financial loss to farmers.

The hill banana crop is the livelihood of farmers in 29 villages in the region.

But without any adequate insurance protection available, farmers are starved of funds to start the next crop.

“I have lost around 40 lakh in the last season due to the damage caused by wild elephants in my farm. Majority of the farmers here are scared to come back to banana cultivation,” he said.

Acreage down

Arasu, who was in Kochi recently to attend the farmers conclave organised by the Kerala Farmers Federation, told BusinessLine that the banana acreage has also come down to 3,000 acres compared to 16,000 acres five years back.

The threat of damage discourages new entrants to take up banana cultivation.

“To control the elephant menace, we have an assurance from the authorities to set up trenches and solar fencing for crop protection,” he said.

“We have successfully controlled BTB disease in the early 2000 with the help of Tamil Nadu Agriculture University. As the virus started attacking the plants again, we have approached the National Research Centre for Banana, Tiruchi, along with TNAU for remedial measures”, he said.

Highly remunerative

Among all the plantation crops, hill banana is the only crop which provides a weekly income to farmers, whereas remuneration from all other crops was on annual basis.

The Federation has been successful in obtaining GI certification for Virupakshi and Sirumalai — the two varieties of Hill Banana — a favourite fruit during the British period.

The famous Panchamritham in Palani Temple is made out of Virupakshi banana, the pulp of which is the main ingredient, he added.

 

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Daily News Blog

Predatory Birds Can Successfully Replace Pesticide Use in Agriculture

(Beyond Pesticides, March 8, 2018) Simple approaches that increase populations of vertebrate predators, like bats and falcons on farms, can reduce pesticide use, increase on-farm productivity, and conserve wildlife, according to a literature review published by researchers at Michigan State University in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment.  The review encompasses 48 studies published over the last 150 years on the effect of human interventions to enhance natural ecosystem services. Results point not only to new methods to improve on-farm pest management, but also potential ways to engage farmers and citizen scientists in implementing these win-win strategies.

Researchers looked at a number of methods tested in the scientific literature that would increase on-farm populations of vertebrate pest predators. Broadly, discrete approaches such as installing structures like nest boxes, perches, and artificial roosts were investigated alongside more wide-ranging systems aimed at altering habitat and increasing landscape complexity. The latter includes methods such as installing field borders, increasing tree cover, reintroducing native species, and eliminating invasives.

The more discrete approaches provided a simpler, more accessible, and less expensive method of pest management when compared to approaches that require more wide-ranging landscape changes, though the benefits of those activities were not negligible. Nest boxes were found to successfully increase the abundance of predator species. Populations of western bluebirds increased by a factor of 10 when nest boxes were installed as part of a study on California vineyards, and vineyards without the nest boxes saw significantly higher pest levels when compared to those with bluebird boxes. In Europe, apple orchards that installed nest boxes for the native great tit bird saw 50% less pest damage than orchards that did not install the structures. Likewise, the installation of artificial bat roosts around Spanish rice fields led to significant declines in major moth pests over a 10 year period. When perches were installed around Australian soybean fields, raptors and other predatory birds caused a statistically significant decline in mouse populations.

The creation of field borders – strips of non-crop flowers and plants – did represent a successful method of improving populations of vertebrate pest predators. Studies reviewed found that bird abundance around these strips grew as the distance between cropland and forested areas increased, indicating potentially significant benefits of this practice for otherwise monotypic row crop farms.

In considering research on the addition of tree cover, studies have found mixed results. While some work indicates higher populations of various birds on farms of shade-grown coffee, other show species richness to be greater in sun-grown fields. That being said, studies generally indicate that increasing tree cover is likely to improve vertebrate pest control services.

Reintroducing native species can be a multifaceted, costly undertaking, and as a result of misperceptions about large carnivores, is more successful when the species is smaller, well-known, and non-threatening for people and farmers. A case study following the introduction of the New Zealand falcon into region known for its grape production found that the predators reduced fruit loss from pest bird species.

Both structural and landscape-level strategies can interact with one another. In one example, nest boxes installed to promote kestrel populations in Michigan were displaced by the widespread and invasive European starling. Although the solution to this problem is as simple as removing the nests, it indicates broader efforts may be necessary to maintain discrete approaches.

In sum, these methods provide a myriad of benefits. The economic value of vertebrate predators in reducing pests is significant. Bats alone contribute millions of dollars in pest-controlling ecosystem services – one study reviewed found that the loss of bats in Indonesian cacao fields would decrease yields by over 700 lb per hectare, a loss of $730 per year per hectare. The falcons reintroduced to New Zealand grape fields saved farmers there between $234 and $326 as a result of decreased pest bird consumption of fruit. In addition to monetary benefits, structures like nest boxes help conserve species by enhancing local populations, as occurred with the reintroduction of kestrels in Michigan.

Critically, these strategies help replace the over $15.2 billion American farmers spent purchasing pesticides in 2016. However, as researchers indicate, the true cost of pesticide use, through the poisoning of humans and animals, the displacement of pest predators, and contamination of our environment may increase that number by over $10 billion.

This review provides sound evidence in favor of farmers implementing simple, environmentally sustainable pest management methods. Researchers note the need to further investigate ways to engage farmers and citizens to participate in these activities, potentially through social networks, games such as the Ebird mobile app, and other tools. “Now that we’ve bundled these studies, we really need to set a research agenda to quantify best practices and make the results accessible to key stakeholders, such as farmers and environmentalists,” said lead author of the study Catherine Lindell, PhD to the National Science Foundation.

For more information on the benefits of not only vertebrate predators, but a wide range of wildlife species in reducing pesticide use, see Beyond Pesticides’ Wildlife Program page.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: National Science Foundation, Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment

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Reuters

December 6, 2017

Rats join mosquitoes as targets for ‘gene drive’ pest control

LONDON (Reuters) – Rodents have joined mosquitoes in the cross-hairs of scientists working on a next-generation genetic technology known as “gene drive” to control pests.

FILE PHOTO: A rat eats pieces of bread thrown by tourists near the Pont-Neuf bridge over the river Seine in Paris, France, August 1, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo

Researchers in Scotland said on Tuesday they had developed two different ways to disrupt female fertility in rats and mice, building on a similar approach that has already been tested in the lab to eliminate malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

So-called gene drives push engineered genes through multiple generations by over-riding normal biological processes, so that all offspring carry two copies. Usually, animals would receive one copy of a gene from the mother and one from the father.

The technique is extremely powerful but also controversial, since such genetically engineered organisms could have an irreversible impact on the ecosystem.

Concerns about the proliferation of mutant species have led some to call for a gene drive ban, but Bruce Whitelaw of the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute believes that would be short sighted.

“A moratorium would prevent the research which is required for us to understand if and how this can be used in an advantageous way for our society,” he told reporters in London.

“We need to have an understanding of what gene drive can do and how it can be controlled so that decisions are based on knowledge rather than fear.”

A key appeal of a gene drive is its durable effect on pests, whether they are disease-carrying insects or crop-eating rodents. And since relatively small numbers of animals would need to be released initially, it is likely to be quite cheap.

It also offers a humane way to eliminate unwanted populations of sentient mammals like rats, which are typically killed with poison and traps.

Still, researchers agree more work is needed on the risks and potential unintended consequences of release of such animals.

Whitelaw and his colleagues, who published details of their rodent work in the journal Trends in Biotechnology, hope as a next step to build self-limiting gene drives that would burn out after a certain number of generations.

If their approach is successful, the gene drives could potentially be applied to help control a range of other non-insect pest species, such as rabbits, mink and cane toads.

 Currently, an older approach called “sterile insect technology” is being used in some areas to fight mosquitoes. Intrexon’s Oxitec unit has already deployed its sterile male mosquitoes, whose offspring die when young, in Brazil. But because Oxitec’s mosquitoes last only one generation, a vast number must be released to swamp their wild counterparts.

 

Existing approaches to fighting pests, particularly mosquitoes, have so far shown mixed success, with insecticide resistance increasing in many parts of the world and drugmakers struggling to develop good vaccines against complex diseases such as dengue.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Mark Potter

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Western Farm Press

  • Rodents cause millions of dollars in damages to field crops, stored grain and farm equipment each year. In addition, they are the major carrier for more than 60 diseases that are transmissible to humans, companion animals, and livestock.
  • “Rodents pose one of the most serious threats to food production worldwide, but indiscriminately removing rodents from ecosystems is not always the best management option.”

Rodents cause millions of dollars in damages to field crops, stored grain and farm equipment each year. In addition, they are the major carrier for more than 60 diseases that are transmissible to humans, companion animals, and livestock.

In the new book titled, “Agricultural Production,” by Nova Science Publishers, Inc., Felix C. Wager (editor), researchers from the USDA and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) present a review of the latest information on rodent damage management as it relates to worldwide agricultural production. The review can be found here.

“Rodents pose one of the most serious threats to food production worldwide, but indiscriminately removing rodents from ecosystems is not always the best management option,” states Dr. Gary Witmer, lead author and research wildlife biologist at the USDA-APHIS National Wildlife Research Center. “Sustainable agriculture attempts to ensure the profitability of farms while preserving and protecting the environment upon which they depend.”

Traditional approaches to rodent population and damage management have relied on direct reduction of populations using rodenticide baits or rodent traps and modifying the habitat to be less suitable for rodents. Recently, the use of an ecologically-based rodent management system (EBRM) that is tailored to the rodent species, agricultural system, and local habitat is gaining more support from researchers and agricultural specialists.

“The key to the EBRM is to reduce important resources needed by rodents, such as food and nesting sites at critical times of the year through habitat modification,” notes co-author Dr. Grant Singleton from the IRRI. “The emphasis is on a lower reliance on rodenticides and more community-wide habitat management approaches.”

Witmer and Singleton note the EBRM approach may still involve the use of lethal methods, such as rodenticides, and research is critical to finding new rodenticides as well as make existing rodenticides more effective and less hazardous to non-target animals and the environment.

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http://irri.org/rice-today/flying-heroes-of-ecuador-s-rice-fields

IRRI

Written by Imelda Felix, Finbarr Horgan, and Alex Stuart.

Bird IRRI

Apple snails (Pomacea spp.) have been a problem for Asian rice farmers for decades. First introduced in the late 1980s to Taiwan and the Philippines, these snails have now spread to most countries in Southeast Asia, as well as East Asia, such as Japan and Korea, where they are among the most damaging pests of rice and other aquatic crops. Recently, established populations of apple snails were found close to major rice-growing regions in Pakistan. India, and Bangladesh. While a few other Asian countries are still free of apple snails, what can these countries expect should the snails someday arrive?

Events in Ecuador might give some clues. In 2005, rice damaged by apple snails was first noticed in Ecuador. Since then, and particularly after severe flooding in 2008, the snail has spread to most of Ecuador’s major rice-growing regions. Losses to the rice sector from apple snails in 2013 alone were estimated at over US$56 million. However, Ecuadorean rice farmers have one big advantage in dealing with apple snails over their Asian counterparts—the snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis), a predatory bird that specializes in eating snails.

Flying pest control

The snail kite’s natural range extends from Florida in the United States to subtropical region in Argentina, a region that is also the native habitat of several apple snail species, including the most invasive species: the golden apple snail. West of the Andes, snail kites are largely restricted to mangrove swamps and river estuaries in southern Ecuador, where they likely feed on less invasive snails such as the spike-topped snail.

Prior to the recent apple snail invasion of Ecuador, snail kites were a threatened species. Their population had declined dramatically because of habitat loss and the overuse of agrochemicals. Moreover, farmers often hunted and killed the birds, believing that they damaged livestock. In recent years, as the apple snails have continued to spread, snail kites have become a common feature of the Ecuadorean rice landscape and a welcome sight for farmers. Groups of these birds can be regularly seen perched over rice fields watching for snails, communicating with one another through haunting, rolling caws, or swooping down to catch the snails before gracefully flying off with their prey.

But are snail kites enough to control the snails? We found out that the snail kites first respond to high snail densities by building up their own populations. This means that the snail kites require ample food and suitable habitat for hunting and nesting. Thus, for some time, as the apple snails spread, they escaped the predatory snail kites.

During this time, snail densities peaked, and had terrible effects. A visit to any newly snail-invaded region is a lesson in an ecosystem out of balance: hundreds of bright pink egg masses, containing millions of eggs, can be seen on wooden posts or the trunks of trees near infested ponds and paddy fields. Large patches of rice fields, where the water is deepest, become denuded of rice and other aquatic weeds. Snails, the size of small apples, chew through any remaining green vegetation and decomposing matter at the water’s edges.

Desperate chemical measures

Agrocalidad, Ecuador’s agricultural extension service, has been working with farmers to control snail damage to rice. Experience in Asia had shown that delayed transplanting of rice plants, careful control of water depth, and other cultural control methods could help reduce snail damage. Agrocalidad has shared these methods with tens of thousands of farmers through workshops, talks, theater, videos, posters, and handbooks. However, although Agrocalidad discourages the use of highly toxic insecticides, farmers overwhelmingly used these chemicals, particularly endosulfan, to kill the snails. This reduced snail densities but at high environmental and health costs. Worst of all, farmers noted that the chemicals were also killing their greatest allies—the predatory snail kites. In 2011, the government of Ecuador banned the use of endosulfan, and promoted the use of a more selective molluscicide, methaldehyde—for which the effects on snail kites are still unknown.

Overall, 2013 seems to have seen a decline in snail numbers in some affected areas, particularly in fields at higher elevations. However, a large part of Ecuador’s rice is produced during the dry summer months (June-December) in vegas. Vegas are natural wetlands that are completely flooded for 6 months of the year. In June-July, the water recedes, and farmers track the water levels and plant their rice in a sequential manner in areas of shallow water. This results in an attractive rice landscape with rice of different stages in natural patterns (a system called arroz escalonado or stepped rice). Apple snails in vega systems have remained at very high densities and continue to damage rice significantly. Furthermore, these habitats are highly vulnerable to agrochemicals because they are the natural habitat for a diversity of amphibians, fish, birds, and other fauna and flora.

For scientists, the events in Ecuador are an opportunity to better understand how snails invade rice and how predators and prey interact with each other. Continued monitoring of the situation will highly benefit both scientists and farmers, and could help predict future effects and help design management options as apple snails continue to invade new areas.

Above all, the tremendous negative impact of the invasive apple snail on the Ecuadorean rice sector, despite the presence of a key predator, should encourage snail-free rice-producing countries to be vigilant against possible infestation by tightening quarantine regulations and banning the trade and import of exotic snails. The best way by far to avoid apple snail damage is to ensure that these voracious snails are not introduced to any new regions, where, without natural predators such as snail kites, losses to the rice sector could be even more severe than those experienced in Ecuador.

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NEWSWISE

http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/618448/?sc=swtn

Columbia Engineering computer scientists launch electronic field guide to North American birds

Released: 5/28/2014 9:05 AM EDT
Source Newsroom: Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

Is it a Crow or a Raven? New Birdsnap App Will Tell You!
Newswise — New York, NY—May 27, 2014—Researchers at Columbia Engineering, led by Computer Science Professor Peter Belhumeur, have taken bird-watching to a new level. Using computer vision and machine learning techniques, they have developed Birdsnap, a new iPhone app that is an electronic field guide featuring 500 of the most common North American bird species. The free app, which enables users to identify bird species through uploaded photos, accompanies a visually beautiful, comprehensive website that includes some 50,000 images. Birdsnap, which also features birdcalls for each species, offers users numerous ways to organize species—alphabetically, by their relationship in the Tree of Life, and by the frequency with which they are sighted at a particular place and season. The researchers, who collaborated with colleagues at the University of Maryland, are presenting their work at the IEEE Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition in Columbus, OH, June 24 to 27.
“Our goal is to use computer vision and artificial intelligence to create a digital field guide that will help people learn to recognize birds,” says Belhumeur, who launched Leafsnap, a similar electronic field guide for trees, with colleagues two years ago. “We’ve been able to take an incredible collection of data—thousands of photos of birds—and use technology to organize the data in a useful and fun way.”
Belhumeur and his colleague, Computer Science Professor David Jacobs of the University of Maryland, realized that many of the techniques they have developed for face recognition, in work spanning more than a decade, could also be applied to automatic species identification. State-of-the-art face recognition algorithms rely on methods that find correspondences between comparable parts of different faces, so that, for example, a nose is compared to a nose, and an eye to an eye. Birdsnap works the same way, detecting the parts of a bird so that it can examine the visual similarity of its comparable parts (each species is labeled through the location of 17 parts). It automatically discovers visually similar species and makes visual suggestions for how they can be distinguished.
“Categorization is one of the fundamental problems of computer vision,” says Thomas Berg, a Columbia Engineering computer science PhD candidate who works closely with Belhumeur. “Recently, there’s been a lot of progress in fine-grained visual categorization, the recognition of—and distinguishing between—categories that look very similar. What’s really exciting about Birdsnap is that not only does it do well at identifying species, but it can also identify which parts of the bird the algorithm uses to identify each species. Birdsnap then automatically annotates images of the bird to show these distinctive parts—birders call them ‘field marks’—so the user can learn what to look for.”
The team designed what they call “part-based one-vs-one features,” or POOFs, each of which classifies birds of just two species, based on a small part of the body of the bird. The system builds hundreds of POOFs for each pair of species, each based on a different part of the bird, and chooses the parts used by the most accurate POOFs as field marks. Birdsnap also uses POOFs for identification of uploaded images.
The team also took advantage of the fact that modern cameras, especially those on phones, embed the date and location in their images and used that information to improve classification accuracy. Not only did they come up with a fully automatic method to teach users how to identify visually similar species, but they also designed a system that can pinpoint which birds are arriving, departing, or migrating. “You can ID birds in the U.S. wherever you are at any time of year,” Berg notes.
The Leafsnap app, which involved costly time and resources spent in collecting and photographing thousands of leaves, took almost 10 years to develop and now has more than a million users. Belhumeur got Birdsnap going in about six months, thanks to the proliferation of online data sources and advances in computer vision and mobile computing. Photos were downloaded from the Internet, with species labels confirmed by workers on Amazon Mechanical Turk, who also labeled the parts. Descriptions were sourced through Wikipedia. The maps were based on data from eBird, a joint venture of Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, and BirdLife, an international network of conservation groups.
Belhumeur hopes next to work with Columbia Engineering colleagues on adding the ability to recognize bird songs, bringing audio and visual recognition together. He also wants to create “smart” binoculars that use this artificial intelligence technology to identify and tag species within the field of view.
“Biological domains—whether trees, dogs, or birds—where taxonomy dictates a clear set of subcategories, are wonderfully well-suited to the problem of fine-grained visual categorization,” Belhumeur observes. “With all the advances in computer vision and information collection, it’s an exciting time to be immersed in visual recognition and big data.”
This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research.

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Image

Yorke Peninsula farmer Mark Schilling runs the Cunliffe bait station.

Cheap mouse bait killing off plague
ABC Rural Lauren Waldhuter

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-21/yorke-peninsula-dead-mice/5468110

Mouse bait mixing stations are helping Yorke Peninsula farmers in South Australia control mice numbers.

At the start of the season, farmers were planting grain crops in paddocks that had been inundated with mice.

The mice can eat the seeds farmers sow, as well as newly-germinated crops.

Grain growers have spent tens of thousands of dollars on bait to try to kill off the mice and keep their crops safe.

Now new baiting stations, where poison and grain are mixed together on the farm, are making that process cheaper.

Maitland farmer Dylan Schultz has spent a lot of time spreading bait in his paddocks.

“We’ve baited some paddocks three times,” he said.

“They only need to eat one (poisoned) grain. One grain is lethal to a mouse.

“But it’s been shown that a mouse can actually eat 20 grains before they die.

“That’s why it’s important to be able to put out more bait per hectare.”

Cunliffe farmer Mark Schilling has a mouse bait mixing station on his farm.

The station is a shed, where the process of mixing poison and grain can take place.

The stations have to be approved by a number of regulatory bodies before they can go ahead.

Mr Schilling says it would have been better if the stations had been opened earlier, but it’s a relief the cheaper bait is finally available.

“If you came and saw me a month ago, there were mice everywhere. They’ve quietened right down now.

“It’s a combination of the season having broken and we’ve been baiting pretty heavily, as we now have access to cheap bait.”

 

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