Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ergot in the Rye

Stopping at the charity field on the way back from pollinating, I noticed a ripening rye cover crop the next field over - and decided to look for my friend, ergot.*

I couldn't believe my luck! There were little black pods sprouting from rye spikes all over the edge of the field. This is a very exciting creature to a plant pathologist - and one that's had quite an impact on European history...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Waldsterben all over again?

Michelle tipped me off to yet another "all the bees are dying" article.

The new wrinkle in the story is a leaked EPA memo that suggests that Bayer CropScience's seed treatment, chlothianidin, was registered without sufficient proof that it didn't hurt bees. Aside from the fact that this registration was completed in 2004 and (according to the same article) this whole bee business started in the mid-1990s, I'm skeptical that any new pesticide is causing all this. We were SO much more indiscriminate and profligate with our agricultural sprays and industrial dumping in past decades (and with much more dangerous chemicals) than we are now - it seems a funny time for a problem to pop up. I haven't paid a lot of attention to the CCD story, but the persistent failure to identify a cause makes me wonder if the cause really is as simple as an anthropogenic chemical or exotic pathogen.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Maize is a Machine

This is why farmers like hybrid seed. The parents on the left and right are inbred lines that have been self-pollinated for many, many years.* The two rows of much bigger plants in the middle are simply their hybrid offspring - they grow faster, produce higher yields and are tougher in the face of unfriendly environments.

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