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Articles from 2020 In August

Louisiana producers picking up pieces after hurricane

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A complete loss assessment will take time, but several different agriculture sectors were affected when Hurricane Laura made landfall at the end of last week. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the system tied a 19th century storm as the strongest hurricane to cross the Louisiana coastline.

According to LSU AgCenter, the effects on agriculture appear to be less destructive than most people feared before Hurricane Laura struck. Still, rice, sugarcane, poultry and cattle producers are among those picking up the pieces after the storm.

Louisiana commissioner of agriculture and forestry Mike Strain, D.V.M., said the hurricane greatly impacted areas where much of the state’s poultry industry is located. The Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry (LDAF) has established a hotline for poultry farmers as a resource for those in need of fuel.

“Access to fuel has been difficult and with widespread power outages, there is a need to keep generators operating to keep the poultry houses cool and help save the flocks,” Strain said.

Blair Hebert, LSU AgCenter agent for sugarcane in the Bayou Teche area, said cane plants have been blown down, or lodged, throughout the area, and some plants were submerged in floodwater.

Much of the cane appeared to be laying in one direction, which could make harvest somewhat less difficult, he said.

Farmers had not completed cane planting, and that process will be even more difficult because of wet fields and downed cane that will be used for seed.

Sugarcane harvest is expected to begin in mid-September for some mills, and all mills are scheduled to begin by early October. “It’s going to take longer to harvest and cost more money,” Hebert said.

The surge wasn’t as bad as expected, so fields to the north won’t be as affected by flooding. “It’s not the best-case scenario, but it’s not the worst-case scenario,” he said.

Hebert is concerned that fields affected by flooding will also be littered with debris. He recalled that farmers had to deal with butane bottles that were washed into the fields after previous hurricanes.

Ricky Gonsoulin, a farmer in New Iberia, said he has about 2,500 acres of sugarcane flooded. The tops of the cane stalks are split “so it’s going to take sugar to repair itself,” he said.

The flood was about 3 feet lower than the flooding that accompanied Hurricane Rita in 2005, and it doesn’t have the salinity of the tidal surge from that storm, Gonsoulin said. It took five to seven years for fields flooded by Rita to recover from the salt level.

Gonsoulin is concerned about his newly planted cane that’s completely submerged. “Once it goes over the levee, it’s like a bathtub, and we’ve got to let it out,” he said of the floodwater. He has made cuts in levees and has pumps working to drain the water, “but the tides are working in our favor,” he said.

Errol Domingue, a farmer near Erath, has 800 acres of sugarcane where water has to be pumped off. But because the water was still above the levee, he has to wait for it to recede.

The sugarcane plants have been pushed over, but the tops don’t appear to be broken. “It’s down all one way, and not mangled up,” Domingue said.

“There’s still a great crop out there,” Gonsoulin said, adding that harvest will be more of a problem in fields that also have debris.

Some rice that had not been harvested yet or was planted for crawfish showed little damage. “The rice around here seemed to have fared pretty well,” Todd Fontenot, AgCenter agent in Evangeline Parish, said. Soybeans in the area didn’t appear to be damaged either.

“A lot of rice was cut over the weekend and up until Tuesday,” Fontenot said. One farmer, with help from neighbors, managed to harvest 350 acres of rice in one day.

Adlar Stelly, a farmer from Kaplan, evacuated his family and returned to his home south of Kaplan to discover everything was okay except for 190 acres out of 2,000 acres of rice that he is unable to harvest.

“I thought I was coming back to a flooded house and every acre of my farm underwater,” he said.

The rice was flooded by freshwater, and Stelly expects to start pumping off the floodwater in a day or two.

More than 90% of the rice in Acadia Parish had been harvested before the storm, said Jeremy Hebert, AgCenter agent in Acadia Parish. What rice was left in the field was knocked down and is under water.

“We’ve got great farmers, and they banded together and teamed up to help get as much rice out of the field as they could the week before the storm,” Hebert said.

Shrimp processing facilities at Intracoastal City had flooded, said AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant aquaculture agent Mark Shirley. But water was receding, and the businesses were starting the cleanup process.

Kyle LeBoeuf, cattle producer a cattle producer at Holmwood, had significant damage to his home. The roof on one side of his house was demolished and torn away, and a horse barn was destroyed.

His cattle behind his house were okay, but “I had some in Creole that got lost,” he said. This is the second time LeBoeuf has had a house destroyed by a hurricane.

During a discussion with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue at the National Assn. of State Agricultural Departments (NASDA) virtual meeting Monday afternoon, Dr. Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture, shared that there is 100% devastation from the hurricane that came with 17-foot tidal surges.

“Complete herds of cattle are no longer there,” Strain said, adding that rice and cotton fields experienced substantial damage.

Strain asked Perdue if there would be WHIP+ (Wildlife and Hurricane Indemnity Program) funds available for the recent hurricanes and derecho. Perdue said the real answer is up to Congress. The USDA secretary has directed his staff to try determine how much in WHIP+ funds were used in 2018 and 2019 as that program’s regulations did not have an end sign up date.

Perdue said the agency is attempting to calculate what kind of resources may be leftover from what Congress originally authorized to see if those funds can help aid producers from the most recent disasters.

Secretary Perdue extends free school meals through end of fall

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U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced USDA will extend free meals for kids through December 31, 2020. At the Bonaire Elementary School in Bonaire, Ga. on August 31, 2020.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Monday the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will extend several flexibilities on school lunch meals through as late as December 31, 2020. The flexibilities allow summer meal program operators to continue serving free meals to all children into the fall months.

USDA noted this unprecedented move will help ensure – no matter what the situation is on-the-ground – children have access to nutritious food as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. “USDA has been and continues to be committed to using the Congressionally appropriated funding that has been made available,” the agency said in a release.

“As our nation reopens and people return to work, it remains critical our children continue to receive safe, healthy, and nutritious food. During the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA has provided an unprecedented amount of flexibilities to help schools feed kids through the school meal programs, and today, we are also extending summer meal program flexibilities for as long as we can, legally and financially,” said Perdue. “We appreciate the incredible efforts by our school foodservice professionals year in and year out, but this year we have an unprecedented situation. This extension of summer program authority will employ summer program sponsors to ensure meals are reaching all children – whether they are learning in the classroom or virtually – so they are fed and ready to learn, even in new and ever-changing learning environments.”

The summer meal program waiver extensions announced are based on current data estimations. Over the past six months, partners across the country have stood up nearly 80,000 sites, handing out meals at a higher reimbursement rate than the traditional school year program. USDA has continuously recalculated remaining appropriated funds to determine how far the agency may be able to provide waivers into the future, as Congress did not authorize enough funding for the entire 2020-2021 school year. Reporting activities are delayed due to States responding to the pandemic; however, based upon the April data USDA currently has available, Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) projects that it could offer this extension, contingent on funding, for the remaining months of 2020. “USDA will continue to actively monitor this rapidly evolving situation and continue to keep Congress informed of our current abilities and limitations.”

These flexibilities will continue to make meal service easier in a number of ways, including:

  • Reducing the accounting burden on schools by providing meals to every student for free rather than forcing schools to develop a system to track and charge students who receive free, reduced price or paid meals, which could have caused families to incur meal debt. 
  • Allowing families to continue to pick up meals at one location rather than making parents go to different schools if they have multiple children in different school districts.
  • Providing meals for every day of the week. Meals would have been reduced to only 5 days per week or less.
  • Permitting community childcare organizations to continue providing meals. Many organizations like Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA are giving meals to children that are spending days there if their school is on a rotational schedule. 

Collectively, these flexibilities ensure meal options for children continue to be available so children can access meals under all circumstances. USDA said it is taking this “unprecedented action” to respond to the needs of its stakeholders, who have shared concerns about continuing to reach those in need without enlisting the help of traditional summer sites located throughout communities across the US. While there have been some well-meaning people asking USDA to fund this through the entire 2020-2021 school year, we are obligated to not spend more than is appropriated by Congress.

The waiver extensions fall under the authorities Congress provided to USDA in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Members on both sides of the aisle had asked USDA for the free school meals through 2020.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) led a delegation of 20 Republican senators urging USDA in a letter to continue to offer the flexibilities.

“I appreciate Secretary Perdue exercising the Department’s emergency authority to assist school food authorities and non-school sponsoring organizations to provide children with meals while schools begin various models of in-person and virtual classroom sessions under the COVID-19 emergency conditions,” said Roberts.

“School Nutrition Association greatly appreciates USDA addressing the critical challenges shared by our members serving students on the frontlines these first weeks of school. These waivers will allow school nutrition professionals to focus on nourishing hungry children for success, rather than scrambling to process paperwork and verify eligibility in the midst of a pandemic." said School Nutrition Assn. (SNA) President Reggie Ross, SNS. "We look forward to continuing our dialogue with USDA to ensure school meal programs are equipped to meet the future needs of America’s students.” 

“Today’s announcement brings a huge relief to our school meal program and the community we serve,” said Lindsay Aguilar, RD, SNS, director of food services for Tucson Unified School District, Az. “Many of our families who might not qualify for free meals are still going through a tough time and are worried about how to keep food on the table. Now their children will have one less thing to worry about as they adjust to evolving in-school and remote learning scenarios. These waivers also eliminate a massive administrative burden for our school nutrition staff, allowing them to focus on feeding children.” 

Year-round assistance

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said she too has been urging USDA to make this change and extend flexibilities. “Because many schools will need this certainty to continue, I encourage the Department to take the next step and extend these flexibilities for the full school year,” she added.

In a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on August 14, Stabenow joined Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D., Va.), chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, to urge the USDA to take action and use its full authority to provide healthy meals to students for the duration of the school year. Perdue responded on August 20 and refused to extend waivers that allowed states and schools to more seamlessly operate through the emergency summer meal programs.

In Perdue’s response, he stated, “While we want to provide as much flexibility as local school districts need during this pandemic, the scope of this request is beyond what USDA currently has the authority to implement and would be closer to a universal school meals program which Congress has not authorized or funded. Should Congress choose to go in this direction, USDA stands ready to provide technical assistance.”


Furst Animal Health introduces next-generation immune product


After extensive research, product development and commercial testing, Furst Animal Health has launched Furst Protect, its first product that specifically focuses to providing nutrients for the immune system.

Furst Protect is a comprehensive product that provides pigs, poultry and calves with multiple highly available fatty acids and monoglycerides, along with several powerful natural antioxidants to support and maintain optimum health, the company announced.

According to the company, Furst Protect was recently evaluated in a study by Dee et al. (2020) and found to be a significant tool for supporting pigs when exposed to viral diseases (i.e., porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus and senecavirus A) through a contaminated feed challenge model.

The study design demonstrated that Furst Protect was still able to maintain the health of the pig by supporting the pig’s immune system even though viable viruses were present in the feed, the company said.

Additional research by Furst Animal Health has shown that sow farm supplementation with Furst Protect can achieve significant long-term health support benefit for the gains of the whole production system as health flows downstream.

“What we’ve been able to accomplish through the development of Furst Protect goes well beyond feed mitigation,” according to Dr. Fredrik Sandberg, vice president of health and nutrition. “Our exclusive nutrients including fatty acids, monoglycerides and antioxidants support both the innate and acquired immune response supporting the animal from challenges and helping the animal win.”

“Feed mitigants are getting a lot of attention today, and for good reason, but Furst Protect is more than that. It’s more than a MCT and more than a straight monoglyceride. We believe it’s the most comprehensive feed supplement on the market today. It’s our first feed product that truly achieves nutrition for the immune system in a comprehensive manner, and the results we’re seeing lead me to believe we’ve delivered something to the swine industry that will make a real difference to the producer and their herds,” according to Steve England, executive vice president.

For more information about Furst Protect, visit www.furstprotect.com.

July milk production moves higher

Hillview1/iStock/Getty Images dairy cows entering milking parlor

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest “Milk Production” report showed milk production in the 24 major states during July totaled 17.8 billion pounds, up 1.5% from July 2019. June revised production, at 17.5 billion pounds, was up 0.8% from June 2019. The June revision represented an increase of 59 million pounds or 0.3% from last month's preliminary production estimate.

Production per cow in the 24 major states averaged 2,016 pounds for July, 19 pounds above July 2019. The number of milk cows on farms in the 24 major states was 8.83 million head, 44,000 head more than July 2019, and 2,000 head more than June 2020.

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Total milk production in the U.S. during July was 1.5% higher at 18.6 billion pounds, production per cow in the U.S. averaged 1,994 pounds for July, 21 pounds above July 2019. The number of milk cows on farms in the U.S was 9.35 million head, 37,000 head more than July 2019, and 2,000 head more than June 2020.

USDA recently lowered its forecast for the average number of milk cows in 2021 to 9.370 million head. This forecast for 2021 is driven by a smaller forecast for the milking herd in 2020 and lower expected milk prices in 2020 and first quarter of 2021, the agency noted.

Milk cows in 2021 are forecast to produce 24,050 pounds per head on average, unchanged from last month’s forecast. With lower expected cow numbers, the milk production was lowered by 0.3 billion pounds to 225.3 billion pounds.

Weekly Grain Movement – "Big Three" volume slumps

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USDA’s latest grain export inspection report, released Monday morning and covering the week through August 27, were nothing but disappointing, with corn, soybeans and wheat all landing on the lower end of trade estimates and spilling lower week-over-week. Traders mostly shrugged off the latest data, however, with most grain prices moving higher in morning trading.

Corn export inspections fell to 15.8 million bushels, which was less than half of the prior week’s tally and below all trade estimates, which ranged between 31.5 million and 43.3 million bushels. With less than a week to go in the 2019/20 marketing year, cumulative totals of 1.640 million bushels are more than 200 million bushels behind last year’s pace.

 Mexico was the No. 1 destination for U.S. corn export inspections last week, with 7.8 million bushels. China, Japan, Jamaica and Taiwan rounded out the top five.

Sorghum remains a small-but-mighty highlight for 2019/20 grain export inspections, doubling the prior week’s pace with another 6.4 million bushels last week, all of which was headed for China and Zimbabwe. Cumulative totals for the 2019/20 marketing year have far outpaced last year’s tally, with 195.2 million bushels.

Soybean export inspections were also lackluster last week, falling 34% week-over-week to 29.6 million bushels. That was at least good enough to land in the middle of trade estimates, which ranged between 23.9 million and 36.7 million bushels. As the 2019/20 marketing year winds down, cumulative totals remain moderately behind last year’s pace, with 1.585 billion bushels.

China accounted for more than half of all U.S. soybean export inspections last week, with 17.1 million bushels. The Netherlands, Spain, Mexico and Egypt filled out the top five.

Wheat export inspections trended moderately lower last week, dropping to 19.0 million bushels. That was on the lower end of trade estimates, which ranged between 14.7 million and 15.7 million bushels. Cumulative totals for the 2020/21 marketing year are still a bit ahead of last year’s pace, with 247.8 million bushels.

Nigeria led all destinations for U.S. wheat export inspections last week, with 3.0 million bushels. An Asian quartet of the Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan rounded out the top five.

Click here to review the latest round of grain export inspection data from USDA.

Double J purchases Texas plant to aid sheep industry

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Double J Meat Packing is purchasing the old Ranchers’ Lamb of Texas plant to offset the loss of the Mountain States Rosen plant that was recently purchased by JBS USA after it filed bankruptcy.

The American Sheep Industry Assn. (ASI) said the industry will get a “needed shot in the arm” this fall when the Texas plant, to be known officially as Double J Lamb Inc. of Texas, comes back online.

“It hasn’t been used in quite a few years, so there’s a lot of work to do,” said Jeff Hasbrouck, whose family runs both Double J Meat Packing and Double J Lamb Feeders in Colorado. The plant closed to lamb processing in February 2005.

He added, “We’ll be able to fabricate there, which is one of the main reasons we reached out about buying this plant. With the loss of Mountain States Rosen, we felt like we had to do something for the industry.”

Mountain States Rosen entered into bankruptcy protection early this year, leading to the auction of company’s lamb processing plant in Greeley, Colo. After placing the winning bid, JBS took over the plant but announced the plant would become a beef processing facility.

ASI said that while the new Colorado Lamb Processors plant in Brush, Colo., is set to come online in September, it will only be able to harvest lambs as it lacks fabricating facilities.

Hasbrouck, who has been in San Angelo with his father, Jay, in recent weeks overseeing the purchase of the lamb plant, told ASI they hope to have the plant up and running in two months.

“We’ll have to ramp up, so we’ll probably just be harvesting lambs at first, but will start fabricating soon after that. We knew we didn’t have a lot of time to get this done, so we couldn’t sit back and wait for it to happen.”

Hasbrouck further relayed that their company feeds lambs for a lot of the members of the Mountain States Co-Op, which owned Mountain States Rosen, “so we knew how concerned they are about where they are going to get their lambs processed this year.”

The Ranchers’ Lamb plant was built with a capacity of 1,700 to 1,800 head a day. While Hasbrouck was familiar with the plant, he said he never personally sent sheep to the facility as it was built specifically to process Texas sheep.

“This is a bold, innovative step that the Hasbrouck family is taking in looking for a new way to support the American sheep industry,” said ASI executive director Peter Orwick. “I think the entire industry will applaud their efforts and wish them the best of luck in this new endeavor.”

Auburn University partners with ADM Animal Nutrition on poultry feed enzyme research

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Drs. Charles and Jessica Starkey of Auburn University’s department of poultry science have joined forces with ADM Animal Nutrition, a global leader in human and animal nutrition, to conduct groundbreaking research on the correlation of feed enzymes to live broiler chicken growth. The research will be conducted at the new, state-of-the-art Charles C. Miller, Jr. Poultry Research & Education Center, located on the Auburn campus.

The research, which began in August, is further enhanced by an $80,000 gift from ADM Cares to support the Starkey’s multi-species research and teaching program and support undergraduate and graduate student as well as visiting research scholar stipends.

“Working with ADM will not only help accelerate our research, but it will directly benefit our students, through diverse, hands-on educational experiences in our lab and through internship and networking opportunities,” said Dr. Charles Starkey, assistant professor of poultry science. “We see this as the beginning of a productive collaboration and look forward to working closely with some of the best enzyme scientists in the world at ADM.”

“We’re excited about our partnership with Auburn University’s department of poultry science and are proud to support their mission to develop future innovators in the field of animal nutrition,” said ADM chief science officer Todd Werpy. “We’re proud to partner with the Starkeys, accomplished researchers, who will be working alongside our own research and development team to create cutting-edge solutions in animal nutrition.”

Our interview with Drs. Charles and Jessica Starkey:

Our interview with Dr. Randy Berka of ADM Animal Nutrition


Maternal bonding of dairy cattle assessed

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A new study from the University of British Columbia's (UBC) Faculty of Land & Food Systems measures how strong a bond develops between a dairy cow and her calf based on the amount of time spent together and whether suckling takes place.

“Previous studies suggested that a strong cow-calf bond can be established even in the absence of suckling,” said Dan Weary, a Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada industrial research chair in animal welfare at UBC. “But our results show another dimension — that the activity of suckling dramatically increases the bond between mother and calf.”

The results published in Scientific Reports, "Effect of Cow-Calf Contact on Cow Motivation to Reunite with their Calf," outlines research in which cow-calf pairs were divided into three groups:

• Those who spent a maximum 2 hours together immediately after birth, but did not see each other regularly;

• Those who spent 1.5 days together after birth and reunited each night, and

• Those who spent 1.5 days together after birth, reunited each night and were allowed to suckle.

Cows that were suckled by their calves built the strongest bond compared to those who spent the same amount of time with their calves but were not suckled and those who did not spend time with their calves, UBC said. The bond was measured by seeing how much weight a cow would push to open a gate that provided access to her calf. Cows that were suckled by their calves showed much higher motivation — pushing a weight twice as heavy as those that were not suckled.

“Oxytocin, known as a bonding hormone, may be the main reason,” said Margret Wenker, a doctoral student at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, and a co-author of the study. “Oxytocin is known to be increased when a mother feeds her young and it has a rewarding effect — suckling is considered one of the most hedonic maternal activities.”

There was no noticeable difference in motivation between the cows that were not suckled and those that did not see their calves regularly. Also, all cows showed similar behavior once reunited — licking their calves and being attentive.

On many dairy farms, the calf is removed from the cow soon after birth, but as Weary explained, “Some dairy farmers are interested in trying to keep calves and cows together; our results suggest that an important feature of the cow-calf system is that the cow is able to suckle her calf.”

The study included 34 Holstein cows at UBC’s Dairy Education & Research Centre in Agassiz, B.C.

UBC posted a short video showing how the study was conducted.

Innovation evolving with shifting consumers behavior

ADM has identified six emerging behavioral changes that will power innovation and growth in the months ahead as the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Consumers’ attitudes, priorities and behaviors are shifting significantly,” said Ana Ferrell, vice president of marketing for ADM. “This evolution is providing a unique opportunity for forward-looking food and beverage companies to bring a suite of trailblazing new products to market.”

Recent ADM OutsideVoice research showed that 77% of consumers intend to make more attempts to stay healthy in the future. Food and beverage manufacturers who successfully balance consumer health concerns with affordability are most likely to win with consumers.

ADM has identified six behavioral shifts that will create opportunities for food and beverage manufacturers to gain market share in an increasingly uncertain business environment.

  1. Increasing focus on the gut health and immune function connection
    Globally, 57% of consumers report being more concerned about their immunity as a result of COVID-19. As consumers strive to enhance their immunity, they are becoming more knowledgeable about how the human microbiome supports the immune system and overall wellbeing. Products containing probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics can benefit the microbiome and are already gaining momentum in the marketplace.
  2. Plant-based becomes mainstream
    In the U.S., 18% of alternative protein buyers purchased their first plant-based protein during COVID-19, and 92% of those first-time buyers report they are likely to continue purchasing meat alternatives. In Germany, the U.K. and the Netherlands, 80% of consumers state they are likely to continue eating plant-based meat alternatives beyond COVID-19. With health, safety and convenience as top purchase motivators, products that deliver exceptional nutrition and a high-quality sensory experience will be poised for success.
  3. A new perspective on weight management, metabolic health
    The pandemic’s consequences for individuals with hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease have consumers viewing weight management and metabolic health in a new light, with 51% of consumers indicating they are concerned about being less active or gaining weight during the pandemic. That worry is likely to increase demand for functional solutions supportive of metabolic wellness and healthy weight management.
  4. Finding balance: Self care, emotional wellbeing and nutrition
    The difficult circumstances stemming from COVID-19 have increased feelings of anxiety and stress as 35% of consumers report being concerned about mental health. People are looking for new ways to improve their mental wellness during these stressful times, including granting themselves permission to consume indulgent, comforting food and beverages. However, they are tempering this desire with weight management needs and seek a careful overall balance of indulgence and good nutrition.
    Food and beverages designed to elevate mood, sustain energy and reduce stress will grow in popularity in the months and years to come. ADM also projects new opportunities for comfort foods, snacks and baked goods offering nutrient-rich ingredients and functional health benefits.
  5. Nutrition, it’s personal
    As COVID-19 increases consumer awareness of individual health risk factors, demand for products offering tailored, highly personalized health and wellness solutions will take off. ADM research shows that 49% of consumers feel every individual is unique and requires a customized approach to diet and exercise, and 31% of consumers are already purchasing more items tailored for health and nutrition. Products that focus on improving nutrition, self-care and general wellness will increasingly attract consumers’ attention2.
  6. A shift in shopping values
    An increased focus on health is triggering a windfall in consumer health and wellness spending. Forty-eight percent of consumers plan to purchase more items related to health and wellness. Concurrently, manifesting concerns around widespread economic decline have prompted a shift to value-based shopping, including growing demand for basic pantry staples, stimulating trade-downs to private labels and increasing traffic to value retailers.

These behavioral shifts are likely to persist well after the pandemic crisis peaks, according to ADM. As such, the company has responded by developing tailored solutions aimed at giving brands an edge in an ever-changing marketplace.

Wyoming researchers seek clues to variable horn fly parasitism

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Craig Calkins enters data from cattle at the Laramie Research & Extension Center.

Two cows on the same University of Wyoming McGuire Ranch pasture northeast of Laramie, Wyo., near Sybille Canyon: One cow has 383 horn flies sucking her blood while the other cow has four.

Why that remarkable difference?

Craig Calkins, a veterinarian turned Army major and now a doctoral student at the University of Wyoming, is helping extension range specialist Derek Scasta unravel the mystery of a pestilence that costs the livestock industry billions of dollars in losses, the university said in an announcement.

Calkins is eyeing whether shorter blood-clotting times of individual animals clog a fly’s attempts, whether a thicker hide frustrates flies and if elevation and environmental conditions — such as colder and wetter areas — affect fly parasitism.

Considered a filth fly, horn flies (Haematobia irritans) feast on a cow’s blood, leave to lay their eggs in manure and then fly back to their bovine buffet, the university said. Eggs hatch after about two weeks, and a new generation begins.

The flies pierce the hide and inject an anticoagulant to help free the flow of blood. Cattle swing their heads, slap their tails and twitch their skin in attempts to stop the biting.

“Seeing an animal with horn flies is a really discouraging situation when you think about that animal,” Scasta said. “Cattle producers suffer production losses because the animal is losing blood, but also because of these annoyance avoidance behaviors. Every time that animal picks its head up and swings, it’s not taking a bite of grass, so grazing time decreases.”

He said other researchers have found such cows produce less milk, which lowers weaning weights. The biting also slows growth rates of younger animals, such as calves or yearlings.

Some animals will be bothered more than others in any group.

“They may all look similar as far as you and I can tell, but there will be some cows infested more than others,” he said. “We’re trying to identify the traits those individual animals have that make them more or less susceptible to parasitism.”

Calkins’ study began with help from the military. The 438th Medical Detachment (Veterinary Service Support) from Ft. Carson, Colo., helped draw blood from University of Wyoming cattle, and Calkins analyzed blood-clotting times. Hide thickness in three different areas was measured using ultrasound.

“We were kind of surprised how fast some of the cows’ blood coagulated,” said Calkins, a graduate of Chadron State College who joined the Army in 2012 as a veterinarian. “Sometimes, it would be clotted in the tube before we could even get to the machine to run it.”

Army veterinarians have to return to school and specialize to continue in the service and have several options, the university said. Calkins chose public health, and the program in rangeland ecology and watershed management at the University of Wyoming returned him to his home state.

Cattle studied include those in the Bighorn Mountains and lower-altitude herds at the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research & Extension Center near Lingle, Wyo. Other cattle are near Cheyenne, Cody and on the McGuire Ranch.

Calkins’ study requires documenting the extent of horn fly parasitism on cattle. He noted that trends across the state show decreasing horn fly parasitism at higher elevations.

“This is related to colder temperatures as elevation increases,” he said.

Full-frame, high-resolution photos of individual cows, taken just after sunup, are analyzed on a computer, and the numbers of horn flies are counted by rangeland ecology and watershed management undergraduate Cora Knowles, of Santa Maria, Cal.

“The sun illuminates the whole side of the cow, so the flies are really easy to see,” Calkins says. “You’re counting all of the flies over the body. We stratify the head, side of the legs, the belly, brisket and tailhead.”

Horn flies are easy to spot.

“They are a different size and, for some reason, horn flies always eat with the head down so their wings are making a ‘V,’” he said. “Who knew?”

Only one side of a cow is counted. “So, realistically, whatever number we come up with is likely doubled,” Calkins said.

The highest fly count was 383, noted July 4 last year, and that was just one side, he said.

“The next were 319, 280, 229, 219, 205 and 190,” he added. “The lowest was four. So, what’s the difference between the cows on the top and the cows at the bottom? That’s what I’m trying to find out.”

The goal is to identify traits that make an animal more prone to parasitism, and then cull it from the herd.

“Potentially removing those outlier cows that you know are super-prone to parasitism could save producers a lot of money,” Calkins said.

Producers use various treatment options, Scasta explained, pointing to a feed-through product containing an insect growth regulator, spraying, ear tags that contain an insecticide and back rubbers that disperse a chemical.

Each has its limitations, including insects becoming resistant to insecticides or the need for retreatment.

The data from the study may help develop options that help producers save money, the university said.

“If we are going to have an integrated pest management approach, some of these other things will be really important so we can select for certain cows that are less susceptible,” Scasta concluded.