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Farm News & Views - March 14, 2023

The announcement in late February of a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly called BSE, in an older bull in state of Para, Brazil has led to a ban on Brazilian beef imports by China and a call by some U.S. politicians to halt the importation of Brazilian beef to this country. BSE came to the attention of the world in 1986, when cattle in the British Isles began to die from a disease that attacked the brains of infected cattle, and caused some cattle to become aggressive, thus the disease was tagged as mad cow disease. A deadly human ailment, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, was linked to BSE in the 1990s when some people in Britain succumbed to a disease that exhibited brain lesions that were similar to those of cattle infected by BSE. As of 2019, 232 people worldwide are known to have died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Scientists believe that consumption of brain or spinal cord tissue from diseased cattle was the source of infection in humans, but research hasn’t found a link to the consumption of red meat to the human form of BSE. The Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture stated that samples from the sick animal were sent to the World Health Organization Animal Health Lab in Canada to find out if the animal had a classic form of BSE or an atypical variation. The atypical form is more common in older animals and is considered to be of lower risk for transmission to humans. Imports of Brazilian beef and veal to the U.S. last year amounted to over 466 million pounds. While that sounds like a lot, it’s only 1.5% of the 30 billion pounds of beef consumed in the U.S. last year. In 2022, two cases of BSE halted exports from Brazil to China for about three months in each case.

Last week, I reported that crop production in Ukraine, the fourth largest exporter of corn and the fifth largest exporter of wheat, was being hampered by the war with Russia. Now this week, Argentina is in the news because of dry conditions caused by La Niña, for the third year in a row. Key producing regions of the country are in the worst drought of the last four decades. Argentina has been the third largest exporter of corn and the seventh largest exporter of wheat, but the projected reduction of corn and wheat yields in these two countries is likely to make it harder for the hungry of the world to get enough to eat.

Thousands of bee colonies are used annually to pollinate crops in the U.S., and beekeepers have to replace queen bees that don’t survive the winter with new queens, which spikes demand for them in the spring, Keeping a supply of queens available for beekeepers to purchase is becoming increasingly difficult, since the majority of U.S. queen producers are based in California, where rising temperatures and wildfires make the propagation of queens difficult. A recent study, published in the Journal of Apiculture, suggests that queens placed in refrigeration units for the hot summer months fared well with just food and no human interference. When they were introduced into colonies in the fall, they helped their hives to survive the winter, and be ready to pollinate crops when spring arrived.

Winston Churchill wrote: “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.