Help Feed the Hungry – The UF/IFAS Extension Peanut Butter Challenge is Underway!

Help Feed the Hungry – The UF/IFAS Extension Peanut Butter Challenge is Underway!

Donate jars of unopened peanut butter to your County Extension Office for delivery to local food pantries. Paul Davis, 4-H youth development agent, and Julie McConnell, horticulture agent, both with UF/IFAS Extension Bay County, stand next to their 2016 peanut butter donations.

If you want to help feeding hungry people in Florida’s Panhandle this year, you can donate peanut butter during the annual Peanut Butter Challenge, coordinated by UF/IFAS Extension.

Thanks to a partnership of UF/IFAS Extension and the Florida Peanut Producers Association, food pantries from Pensacola to Monticello will receive thousands of jars of donated peanut butter this December.

From October 1 through November 21, you can donate unopened jars of peanut butter to your local UF/IFAS Extension county office, and other drop off points in each participating county.

Since 2012, the volunteers and UF/IFAS Extension faculty have collected jars of peanut butter from residents, volunteer groups, and businesses in 16 northwest Florida counties. “Last year, UF/IFAS Extension county offices received 6,222 jars of peanut butter,” said Libbie Johnson, agricultural agent for UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County and co-organizer of the Challenge.

In addition to these donations, the Florida Peanut Producers Association also contributes, supplying more than 3,000 jars each Challenge,” Johnson said.

The Peanut Butter Challenge not only raises awareness about the important contribution of North Florida’s peanut growers to the state’s peanut industry, but also helps provide a healthy, locally produced product to food-insecure families in Northwest Florida,” Johnson said.

Check out the YouTube video produced to share the importance of this nutritious food for local food pantries.

 

Friday Feature:  America’s Peanut Farmers

Friday Feature: America’s Peanut Farmers

Peanut FarmerWith peanut harvest in full swing in the Panhandle (between showers that is), I thought this would be the perfect week to share a video produced by American Farm Bureau to teach students about agricultural careers.  The video, called “America’s Peanut Farmers: Sustainability,” is part of the My American Farm website with resources for school teachers. Use the link below to view the video:

America’s Peanut Farmers

******************************************************************************

If you enjoyed this video, you might want to check out the featured videos from previous weeks:  Friday Features

If you come across an interesting or humorous video, or a new product innovation related to agriculture, please send in a link, so we can share it with our readers. Send video links to:  Doug Mayo

The Bumble Bee – One of Florida’s Vital Pollinators

The Bumble Bee – One of Florida’s Vital Pollinators

Bumble bees and other pollinators often visit the vast fields of cotton flowers in north Florida’s agricultural lands. Although cotton is mainly self-pollinating, pollination by bees can increase seed-set per cotton boll. Note the pollen grains stuck on each bee. Photo by Judy Biss

Bumble bees and other pollinators often visit the vast fields of cotton flowers in north Florida’s agricultural lands. Although cotton is mainly self-pollinating, pollination by bees can increase seed-set per cotton boll. Note the pollen grains stuck on each bee. Photo by Judy Biss

Bumble bees are among the most recognizable of insects. They are large, colorful, and a wonder to watch.  They’re also popularized in media, cartoons, and clip-art images, but beyond the popular images, bumble bees are worthy of our attention as important pollinators of both native plants and agricultural crops.  They are one of hundreds of pollinating bees that are critical to the abundance of our native lands, wildlife, and also our food supply.  Protection of pollinators has received national recognition and many programs are now geared towards pollinator conservation. 

Why is Pollinator Protection Important?

According to the UF/IFAS publication Minimizing Honey Bee Exposure to Pesticides:

The western honey bee is conceivably the most important pollinator in Florida and American agricultural landscapes. The honey bee is credited with approximately 85% of the pollinating activity necessary to supply about one-quarter to one-third of the nation’s food supply. Over 50 major crops in the United States and at least 13 in Florida either depend on honey bees for pollination or produce more abundantly when honey bees are plentiful.

And:

“Growers also use other managed bees species, such as the bumble bee to provide field and greenhouse crop pollination services. Additionally, there are more than 315 species of wild/unmanaged bees in Florida that play a role in the pollination of agricultural crops and natural and managed landscapes. These include mining bees, mason bees, sweat bees, leafcutter bees, feral honey bees, and carpenter bees, among others.”

Pollinator Protection was formally recognized at the federal level in 2014, when the President of the United States signed an official memorandum entitled: Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators  which outlines specific steps to increase and improve pollinator habitat. These steps are geared towards protecting and restoring populations of not only honey bees, but native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies; all of which are vital to our nation’s economy, food production, and environmental health.

Bumble Bee Biology and Ecology

There is much to learn about these fascinating insects.  Here are some facts to feed your curiosity.  Additional resources are listed at the end of this article.

  • Bumble bees belong to the genus Bombus within the family Apidae. As such, they are related to honey bees, carpenter bees, cuckoo bees, digger bees, stingless bees, and orchid bees.
  • There are about 50 species of North American bumble bees.
  • Bumble bees are social and form colonies like honey bees do, but bumble bee colonies are smaller (50 – 500 individuals), and their colonies only last one season.
  • Bumble bees generally make their nests in the ground, using abandoned rodent cavities or under old tree roots, etc.
  • Each spring, a mated queen emerges from winter hibernation and finds a suitable underground cavity. She begins collecting nectar and pollen and laying eggs to build her colony.
  • By late summer and into fall, the only surviving member of the colony are new queens.
  • These queens mate and then they hibernate during winter 2-5 inches deep in the soil. The following spring these queens emerge and start new colonies, repeating the annual cycle.
  • Bumble bees are adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions and can forage in cooler, cloudier, and wetter weather better than other bees. Because of this adaptation, they are generally the first bees out in early spring and the last bees out in the fall.
  • Since bumble bees are adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions, they are also able to feed on a wide variety of flowering plants.
  • Bumble bees do make honey, but only enough to feed the colony during bad weather, when they are unable to go out and forage.
  • Bumble bees, like the blueberry bee collect pollen from certain flowers using a unique behavior called “buzz pollination,” or “sonication.” This behavior is not found in European honey bees. Some plants, blueberries for example, hold tightly to their tiny pollen.  Bumble bees and blueberry bees grab the flower structure and powerfully vibrate their wings while holding onto the flower.  Their whole body vibrates and literally shakes the pollen lose from the flower.
  • Bumble bees are so effective at pollinating important food crops, they are raised commercially and sold to pollinate produce such as tomatoes, peppers, cranberries, and strawberries.
Bumble bees busy at work on our native flowers. Photo by Travis MacClendon. Calhoun County Florida Wasps and Flies

Bumble bees busy at work on our native flowers. Photo by Travis MacClendon. Calhoun County Florida Wasps and Flies

Create Your Own Pollinator Pasture

You can help increase the abundance and health of bumble bees, other native pollinators, and honey bees by creating nectar and pollen rich bee pastures.  These pastures can be filled with annual plants, which grow from seed each year, perennial plants, which return and spread on their own each year, various flowering shrubs and trees, or any mixture of above. You can also manage existing natural areas and woodlands by employing recommended prescribed fire regimes, non-native invasive plant control, and other practices to encourage a diversity of native pollinator plants.

The ideal bee pasture is one in which flowers are blooming as continuously as possible throughout the year. Research shows bees thrive best in open sunny pastures that are as large as possible, with a diversity of plants types. While flowering shrubs along woodland edges are well used by bees, a bee pasture that is allowed to become dominated by trees and shade will become less attractive to bees. A dedicated, open, sunny pasture having nectar and pollen plant diversity is best.  Just as with any field you intend to plant, the first step is to collect a soil sample for analysis of existing nutrients and pH levels. (For more information on soil samples read the article Soil Test First!

Pollinator Plant Types

There are many plants that provide nutritious nectar and pollen for North Florida’s pollinators. Some examples of plants which are good pollinator food sources are maple trees, redbuds, poplars, gallberries, blackberries, palmettos, partridge pea, mint, thistles, goldenrod, asters, tickseeds, sunflowers, squash, melons, and clovers. If you purchase a bee pasture blend from a seed company, make sure it is suited for growing in North Florida and does not contain noxious, invasive, weedy plant species. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council maintains a listing of documented invasive plants here: List of Invasive Plant Species.

Summary and Resources

The business, biology, and botany of pollination is fascinating and critical to sustainable and diverse food production in Florida and the United States. Bumble bees are just one of the many native pollinators that frequent our forests, fields, and gardens.  Consider turning your fallow lands or backyards into productive bee pasture and reap a sweet harvest.

For more information please see the resources used for this article below:

 

Art, Garden & Farm Family Festival – October 6

Art, Garden & Farm Family Festival – October 6

Bring the whole family for a fun day at the NFREC Art & Garden Festival and talk with agricultural scientists about new crops, methods and equipment for modern farming.

As the weather cools and plants perk up, join us for a day of fun activities for the whole family! View farm animals and equipment, and talk with agricultural scientists about new crops, methods and equipment for modern farming. Take a stroll through the new botanical garden or hop on a tractor-trolley for a tour highlighting fruits and nuts for our area. Speak with experts about all your gardening questions, or purchase unusual, hard-to-find, top-performing plants for your garden.  Children’s arts and crafts activities will take place in a huge “Kid Zone” located in a shaded area of the garden area.  Local arts and crafts will be for sale, and food and beverages will be available.

The University of Florida/IFAS will host the Art, Garden & Farm Family Festival on Saturday October 6, at the North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC), Quincy Campus. The event will be held form 9:00 am to 2:00 pm EDT. NFREC Quincy is located off Pat Thomas Highway, State Road 267, at 155 Research Road, Quincy, FL, just north of I-10 Exit 181,  or three miles south of Quincy, Florida.

The event is free and open to the public.  For more information: http://nfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/art-and-garden/

New Agritourism App Connects Visitors to Florida’s Agricultural Assets

New Agritourism App Connects Visitors to Florida’s Agricultural Assets

 

Visit Florida, in partnership with the Florida Agritourism Association, announced the release of a new mobile app aimed at connecting visitors with Florida’s agricultural assets. Through the app, Florida’s farms, ranches, and vineyards are opening their doors and inviting visitors to sample the abundant bounty and natural beauty found in the Sunshine State’s agritourism offerings.

Agritourism combines Florida’s two largest industries – tourism and agriculture – and allows farmers to open their agricultural land to the public for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes; to view or participate in activities such as farming, ranching, historical, cultural, civic, ceremonial, training and exhibition, harvest-your-own events. According to the most recent agricultural census by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, Florida’s 724 agritourism operations contribute $15.7 million annually to the state’s economy.

Ken Lawson, President & CEO of VISIT FLORIDA said, “Agritourism has become more and more popular as visitors seek off-the-beaten-path adventures. In 2017, Florida welcomed 116.5 million visitors, many of whom enjoyed our state’s agricultural attractions such as such as u-pick farms, ranches, vineyards, and more. Through the Florida Agritourism app, travelers from around the globe will be able to discover and enjoy authentic Florida experiences offered by our state’s agritourism operations.”

The free mobile app, available for Android and iOS devices, is an easy-to-use tool for discovering and locating agritourism sites in Florida. The app features a comprehensive farm guide, seasonal produce calendar, and a list of more than 100 agricultural events taking place throughout the state. In the app, users can browse venue information, navigate to farms, and RSVP for events. Additionally, if desired, users can create a personalized list of favorite farms and receive notifications regarding those farm’s events and activities.

Lena Juarez, Executive Director of the Florida Agritourism Association, said, “This mobile app is a game-changer for our state’s agritourism operators. It enables Floridians and visitors to find fun activities and events happening on our farms. We encourage users to utilize it regularly to explore Florida.”

To discover more about agritourism opportunities in Florida, go to https://visitfloridafarms.com/ or download the Florida Agritourism app in the Apple and Google Play stores.

 

Friday Feature:  Defining GMOs in Food

Friday Feature: Defining GMOs in Food

This week’s featured video was published by Iowa State University to help explain what genetically modified organisms or GMOs are and why these crops are used.  This is a very controversial topic, with contrasting points of view trying to inform consumers about GMOs in foods.  Many consumers really don’t understand what GMOs are, or the science behind their use.  Dr. Ruth Macdon, Chair of the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, Iowa State University provides a science-based overview that can be used to share on social media or shared with people who ask questions about the safety of GMO crops.

*******************************************************************************

If you enjoyed this video, you might want to check out the featured videos from previous weeks:  Friday Features

If you come across an interesting or humorous video, or a new product innovation related to agriculture, please send in a link, so we can share it with our readers. Send video links to:  Doug Mayo