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Red seaweed reduces methane without influencing steer growth

Tyler Olson/Hemera/Thinkstock cattle at feed bunk

The University of California-Davis (UC-Davis) has found that a supplement derived from red seaweed (Asparagopsis taxiformis) may lower cattle feed requirements by 14% without diminishing beef steers’ weight gain, according to an announcement from Blue Ocean Barns.

The pre-published study, posted on biorxiv.org, also confirmed past research with dairy cows that the seaweed supplement reduced methane production from digestion by more than 80%, according to Blue Ocean Barns, which has developed a proprietary, natural feed supplement from red seaweed.

The UC-Davis study demonstrated that the methane reductions were sustained during the entire 147-day trial, which was longer and included more cattle than any prior study of the seaweed’s impact, the announcement said. Studies of other methane-reducing technologies have shown that the digestive systems of cattle typically adapt, making those additives less effective over time.

In addition, the new study showed that the health and safety of the cattle were not compromised, Blue Ocean Barns said, noting that, in a taste test conducted as part of the study, participants reported consistent flavor and tenderness compared with conventional beef.

Blue Ocean Barns said its product, which would be included at less than 0.3% of a cattle ration, prevents hydrogen from binding to carbon atoms during digestion and creating methane.

“We have evaluated several additives for methane reductions over the past decade, and the seaweed demonstrated significant savings we haven’t seen before,” said lead researcher Dr. Ermias Kebreab, director of the UC-Davis World Food Center and Sesnon endowed professor in the department of animal science. “The opportunity to equip meat and dairy producers with a way to offer climate-positive products while also reducing their highest cost -- feed -- is a win for farmers, consumers, the animals and the environment.”

Blue Ocean Barns said while it provides unrestricted funding to the UC-Davis Animal Nutrition & Environment Modeling Applications Laboratory and provided input in the conception and design of the work, the company did not influence the results or interpretation of the study.

Blue Ocean Barns, based in Redwood City, Cal., is a global technology player in the production of red seaweed. Backed by investment from Valor Siren Ventures and financial support from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research, Blue Ocean Barns is scheduled to make its product commercially available by the end of 2021.

Beef grading Prime reaches record levels

frotog-iStock-ThinkstockPhotos beef carcasses in cooler

The percentage of steer and heifer carcasses grading Prime so far in 2020 has outpaced normal levels, according to Josh Maples, assistant professor and extension economist at Mississippi State University. The average percentage of carcasses grading Prime during the first seven months of 2020 was 10.6%, which he noted is the highest January-to-July average on record. It is also about 2% higher than the first seven months of 2019.

Maples relayed that dressed weights have also been higher during 2020. Average steer and heifer dressed weights were 899 lb. and 829 lb., respectively, during the first eight months of 2020. For steers, that was a 32 lb. increase over the same period in 2019, while it was a 25.5 lb. increase for heifers.

“Cattle dressed weights are usually seasonally lowest during late spring and then peak in late fall. In 2020, the seasonal decline in the spring did not materialize due to the processing disruptions [caused by the COVID-19 pandemic] forcing cattle to stay on feed longer,” Maples said.

Even before the 2020 disruptions, the percentage of cattle grading Prime was steadily increasing, he said, noting that it averaged 4.1% from 2010 through 2015 and 7.4% from 2016 to 2019. On the opposite end of the grading scale, Maples reported that the percentage of cattle grading Select has been declining, averaging 28.3% from 2010 to 2015 and 18.5% from 2016 to 2019. The Select average for the first seven months of 2020 was 14%, the lowest seven-month average on record and 3.5% lower than during the first seven months of 2019.

Meanwhile, the percentage of cattle grading Choice increased from 67.3% during 2010-15 to 74% during 2016-19 and to 75.2% in 2020 through July.

“Putting Prime and Choice together, 85.8% of cattle graded either Prime or Choice during 2020 through July. There are longer-term trends that are leading to increasing quality grades, but the percentages in 2020 have been exceptionally strong,” Maples said.

While Prime percentages increased, the weighted average carcass premiums for grading Prime decreased. Maples said the U.S. Department of Agriculture's five-area weekly premiums and discounts report showed that the average carcass premium for Prime from April through July 2020 was $8.37/cwt., $3.52 lower than the same period of 2019. For comparison, the average Prime premium for April to July from 2015 to 2019 was $14.03/cwt.

Unfortunately, Maples said the larger totals of Prime beef in 2020 occurred right as demand took a significant hit.

“A sharp decline in travel and dining at high-end restaurants impacted the demand for Prime beef. The demand decline was coupled with the supply increase, and the premiums received for Prime carcasses declined," he said. "These shifts in supply and demand of Prime carcasses in 2020 limited the reward for achieving the Prime carcass grade.”

Still, the USDA national weekly comprehensive boxed beef cutout report shows that the value of Prime relative to Choice has increased since the low points earlier this year, Maples reported. From April through July 2020, the Prime boxed beef cutout value averaged only $10.59 higher than the Choice cutout. Since the start of August, however, the weekly difference has averaged $23.71, including consecutive weekly increases. He said this suggests that the difference between Choice and Prime cutout values may be returning to more normal levels moving forward.

CME Group launching pork cutout futures, options

cme group changes cattle trade hours

CME Group announced Sept. 29 that it will launch pork cutout futures and options on Nov. 9, 2020, pending all relevant regulatory review periods.

"As the market has evolved, our customers continue to look for new tools to manage the price risk associated with hog and pork production," said Tim Andriesen, CME Group managing director of agricultural products. "The pork cutout futures and options are complementary to our lean hog contracts and will provide clients with the ability to manage risk and discover price from the hog all the way to the meat case."

Hogs are increasingly bought and sold in the physical market based on a formula that uses the cutout. The pork cutout reflects the approximate value of a hog calculated using the prices paid for wholesale cuts of pork. The values, or cuts, used to calculate the pork cutout include the loin, butt, picnic, rib, ham and belly. The new contracts reflect the price of the wholesale product after processing.

National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) president Howard "AV" Roth, a pork producer from Wisconsin, said NPPC " welcomes the introduction of the new pork cutout trading vehicle. We applaud CME Group for providing another risk management option, in addition to the lean hog contract, and for enhancing market visibility, which is so important to maintaining a highly competitive and innovative pork production system in the United States."

Pork cutout futures and options will be financially settled to the CME Pork Cutout Index, a five-business day weighted average of prices reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and published every day in its "National Daily Pork Report Fob Plant -- Negotiated Sales – Afternoon" report.

The new contracts will be quoted in U.S. cents per pound, will have a contract size of 40,000 lb., will be available for trading on CME Globex or through block trades via CME ClearPort and will be listed by and subject to CME rules and regulations.

For more information on the CME pork cutout futures and options and the CME Pork Cutout Index, visit www.cmegroup.com/pork-cutout.

Facial recognition technology eyed for cattle

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New technology being developed at Kansas State University will help to identify cows by their unique facial features.

Kansas State University is developing new technology to capitalize on the power of artificial intelligence to build a database of facial recognition technology for the cattle industry. Such a system could boost biosecurity efforts and work into animal disease traceability systems, the university noted.

Just like people, each bovine has a set of unique facial features that modern technology can scan and later use to track the animal throughout its life, Kansas State said.

“We’re talking about a system here that has an incremental cost that is close to zero, and nobody would be (forced) to use it,” said KC Olson, a beef cattle scientist with Kansas State Research & Extension who helped develop the idea. “There would be economic incentives provided by the beef industry to participate.”

Human facial recognition is becoming more common in secure locations, such as airports.

“The technology is based on the geometry of the human face. It uses a bunch of intricate biometric measurements to put a permanent identification on a human being so that, later on, when that person needs to get on a flight or something similar, the technology will identify who they are. For humans, that technology is capable of nearly 100% accuracy,” Olson said.

“Our thinking is, ‘Why can’t we have something like that for beef cattle, which could then be used to create a national animal disease traceability system?’ The need for such a system has never been greater” Olson added. “We need this extra layer of protection for our industry against a foreign animal disease or .... possible malfeasance by somebody who’s an enemy of this nation.”

Olson and a group of Kansas State researchers in computer engineering, veterinary medicine and animal science began discussing the idea late in 2019. While much of the world slowed down during the COVID-19 pandemic, they were busier than ever putting together the intricacies of facial recognition for cattle.

“Initially, we made short videos of 1,000 feeder cattle that were restrained in a chute, taking a panoramic view of each calf’s head,” Olson said.

From the videos, computer engineers parsed individual images of each cow’s head and uploaded it to a neural network — a self-learning form of artificial intelligence. Once the pictures are loaded, Olson said the system “teaches itself which of the biometric measurements are critical.”

Recently, the Kansas State team tested the reliability of the network, feeding it images of cattle already in the system and some that had not yet been entered. Olson said the technology was accurate 94% of the time.

“Given the fact that this was a really small data set, there are some risks,” he said. “You can actually over-train a neural network so that it gets really good with the database that was used to create it, but it’s a little helpless when you give it new material. The major limitation right now is the size of the database. The bigger it becomes — in other words, the smarter the neural network is — the higher the accuracy becomes. Achieving buy-in from the beef industry is absolutely essential to make this as robust as possible.”

Kansas State is working with Kansas City-based Black Hereford Holdings to build a smartphone app called Cattletracs, which will allow producers to submit pictures of their cattle. The app is due to be released soon, although its full capability is not likely to be in place for several months, Olson said.

“For producers who don’t want anything to do with a national disease traceability system, that’s fine. Nobody is compelled to participate,” Olson said. “An animal could be read into the database anytime, such as at the first point of sale after leaving its ranch of origin or anytime after that.

“We do know that there can be economic incentives for animals with desired traits, and this system could help with that, but we would potentially get a lot more, including that all-critical element of biosecurity for our industry. The thinking is that this will eventually be applicable to most mammalian livestock species, including hogs and dairy cattle,” Olson added.

Boehringer Ingelheim invests in China's pet care market

GlobalIP/iStock/Thinkstock pets

Boehringer Ingelheim has acquired an equity stake in China-based New Ruipeng Group (NRP Group), a fast-growing business that offers veterinary care, e-commerce and many other services to pet owners and the broader animal health market across China.

“Improving the health of animals and humans is what drives us in Boehringer Ingelheim. Strong collaborations and partnerships have always been key to achieving this goal,” said Jean Scheftsik de Szolnok, member of the Boehringer Ingelheim board of managing directors with responsibility for animal health. “Together with NRP Group and other partners, we are looking forward to serving pet owners in China and contributing with our knowledge in areas such as disease understanding or training and education.”

China’s pet market is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, the announcement said. The number of pets keeps rising, as they play an increasingly significant role in people’s lives, and pet owners are looking for integrated online and offline products, services and information, Boehringer Ingelheim said.

“We are committed to expanding our active role in this dynamic and fast-paced market. Along with NRP Group and our other partners, we believe we can advance animal health care in China to the benefit of our customers, our employees, our businesses and, most importantly, the pets,” added David Gocken, head of animal health for The Chinese Markets, Boehringer Ingelheim.

Through collaboration and knowledge sharing, the aim of the partnership with NRP Group is to offer better solutions, quality advice and professional care to the growing number of pets and pet owners across China.

This is an exciting milestone for the company’s business development in China, Boehringer Ingelheim said, noting that it will continue to invest in China and make its contributions to people’s aspirations for integrated and innovative solutions for their pets.

Boehringer Ingelheim added that it remains fully committed to its current and future business partners, such as other clinics, veterinarians, distributors and animal health companies, and to expanding business opportunities with them. Both companies will continue to work independently according to their respective business models.

Through this investment, Boehringer Ingelheim joins a group of Chinese and overseas investors in NRP Group, including Tencent Holdings Ltd., a Chinese multinational technology company.

NRP Group set up the first hospital for companion animals via a partnership in 1993 and has been a pioneer in the pet industry and pet care sector in the past 30 years. NRP Group is a large conglomerate in the emerging industry, with a focus on pet care and with diversified businesses featuring strong innovation capability and growth potential.  

NRP Group has set up more than 1,400 referral centers, central hospitals, specialist hospitals and community hospitals in more than 80 core cities across China. It has more than 16,000 employees, engaging nearly 80% of experts and professors in the pet industry.

Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health is the second-largest animal health business in the world, with net sales of 4 billion euros in 2019 and a presence in more than 150 countries.

Beyond Meat expanding Walmart distribution

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Beyond Meat recently announced a major expansion in its relationship with Walmart, the world’s largest retailer. Following the successful launch this summer of the Cookout Classic value pack, Beyond Meat’s most affordable product offering to date, Walmart plans to triple the availability of the Beyond Burger from approximately 800 locations to more than 2,400 stores nationwide beginning this week. The move comes as part of Beyond Meat’s effort to increase worldwide accessibility to simple, plant-based meat products made without genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or bioengineered ingredients.

Beyond Meat first launched its frozen products at Walmart in 2015. Since then, Walmart has expanded its Beyond Meat in-store offerings to include the Beyond Burger and Beyond Sausage in the fresh meat aisle and, most recently, Beyond Breakfast Sausage patties in the freezer aisle.

“Walmart has been a terrific partner, and we’re excited to strengthen that partnership in depth and breadth as we look to offer more Beyond Meat products at more Walmart locations, furthering our commitment to increasing accessibility of plant-based meat,” Beyond Meat chief growth officer Chuck Muth said.

This news follows a year of growth for Beyond Meat, whose products are available at approximately 112,000 retail and foodservice outlets in 85 countries worldwide. This increased distribution of Beyond Burger at Walmart comes as the demand for plant-based meat continues to rise and consumers continue to choose Beyond Meat, the company said.

The Beyond Burger is designed to look, cook and satisfy like a traditional beef burger but is made from plant-based ingredients without GMOs, soy or gluten.

Beyond Meat said its vision is to be a global protein company capable of serving growing demand for delicious, nutritious and sustainable protein. Recently, the findings from a clinical study conducted at Stanford University using Beyond Meat’s plant-based products were published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In the study, the researchers evaluated the impact of animal-based versus plant-based meat over an eight-week period on cholesterol levels, heart disease risk factors (including TMAO levels) and bodyweight and found improvement in key health metrics when participants replaced animal-based meat with plant-based meat. Beyond Meat said the results provide another data point in a growing field of research about how plant-based meat can help people live healthier lives.

Genetic 'time travel' helps discover new cattle traits

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In Senegal, improved N’Dama cattle produce more meat and milk.

Researchers with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and other institutions have reported a new set of detailed genetic markers and information on African cattle associated with traits such as heat and drought tolerance, the capacity to control inflammation and tick infestations and resistance to devastating livestock diseases like trypanosomiasis.

The findings, published in the October issue of Nature Genetics, emerged from a collaborative effort to sequence the genomes of 172 indigenous cattle by scientists at the Ethiopia- and Kenya-based ILRI, Seoul National University and the Rural Development Agency in South Korea, University of Khartoum in Sudan, The Centre of Tropical Livestock Genetics & Health (CTLGH) in Scotland, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Sweden and the University of Nottingham in the U.K.

The researchers wanted to learn how — after spending thousands of years confined to a shifting patchwork of sub-regions in Africa — cattle rapidly evolved during the last millennia with traits that allowed them to thrive across the continent, ILRI said in an announcement.

“We believe these insights can be used to breed a new generation of African cattle that have some of the qualities of European and American livestock — which produce more milk and meat per animal — but with the rich mosaic of traits that make African cattle more resilient and sustainable,” said Olivier Hanotte, principal scientist at ILRI, professor of genetics at the University of Nottingham and program leader at CTLGH.

Hanotte and his colleagues engaged in a sort of “genomic time travel” that, for the first time, allowed scientists to retrace the genetic journey that has made African cattle so adaptable, ILRI said. They discovered what co-author Steve Kemp, head of ILRI’s LiveGene program and deputy director of CTLGH, described as an “evolutionary jolt” that occurred 750-1,050 years ago: the arrival of Asian cattle breeds in East Africa carrying genetic traits that would make cattle production possible in diverse and demanding African environments.

The genome sequencing work yielded evidence that indigenous pastoralist herders began breeding the Asian cattle, known as Zebu, with local breeds of cattle known as Taurine. In particular, Zebu cattle offered traits that would allow them to survive in the hot, dry climates typical in the Horn of Africa. However, by crossing the two cattle types, the new animals that emerged also retained the capacity of the Taurines to endure humid climates where vector-borne diseases like trypanosomiasis are common, ILRI reported.

“Livestock, especially cattle, can be controversial, but without them, millions of people in Africa would have been forced to hunt wildlife for protein,” said co-author Ally Okeyo Mwai, a principal scientist at ILRI who leads its African Dairy Genetic Gains program. “That would have been devastating for the African environment and its incredible diversity of wildlife.”

It is now important to use the full range of natural genetic endowments that have made African cattle so resilient to sustainably meet Africa’s surging demand for milk and meat while minimizing the negative impacts of increased livestock production, ILRI said.

For many households in Africa, livestock — particularly cattle — continue to be a family’s most valuable asset, ILRI said. The animals provide a critical source of protein and micronutrients alongside income to pay for things like school fees. They also provide manure for crops, and some African cattle breeds can survive in conditions that cannot support food crops, offering farmers a potential adaptation strategy for coping with climate change, according to the announcement.

“We’re fortunate that pastoralists are such skilled breeders,” Hanotte said. “They left a valuable roadmap for efforts underway at ILRI and elsewhere to balance livestock productivity in Africa with resilience and sustainability.”

“You can see from studying the genomes of indigenous cattle that breeding for environmental adaptation has been the key to successful livestock production in Africa,” Kemp said. “That has to be factored in our future efforts to develop more productive, more sustainable animals. If the goal is pure productivity, you’re doomed to fail.”

ILRI is a nonprofit institution helping people in low- and middle-income countries improve their lives, livelihoods and lands through the animals that remain the backbone of small-scale agriculture and enterprise across the developing world.

Olymel investing over $30m in poultry processing plant

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Canadian pork and poultry producer Olymel announced this week an investment of more than $31.5 million to expand its poultry slaughter and cutting plant in St-Damase in the Montérégie region of Quebec in order to diversify operations and add new activities. The project will result in the creation of more than 80 new jobs and bring the total number of employees at this facility to nearly 500, the company said.

The major investment is aimed particularly at equipping the plant with additional cutting, deboning and tray packing lines as well as new high-capacity, state-of-the-art equipment. The expansion work, which is expected to last about a year, will take place without interrupting the plant's current operations and will add 35,200 sq. ft. to its current surface area.

“By acquiring the space and equipment needed to prepackage products directly at the plant, Olymel will be able to better serve clients who require large volumes of prepackaged poultry products for their needs,” Olymel president and chief executive Réjean Nadeau said. “Olymel will, thus, bring operations that used to take place externally in house, enabling it to reduce product handling and transportation time and have better control over quality, order management and logistics.”

In addition to contributing to the economic development of the Montérégie region, Nadeau said the investment is an integral part of Olymel's determination to consolidate its position in the poultry market, “and after the recent difficult months marked by the pandemic, it is also a sign of confidence in the future.”

Besides the addition of an automated cutting line, three automatic deboning lines and four tray packing lines, the work associated with this new investment will also include the development of various production-related areas, a new shipping area and a new refrigerated warehouse. The project includes work to expand the cafeteria and employee service areas.

Including this newest investment, Olymel pointed out that it has spent nearly $60 million in recent years to modernize and expand its poultry processing plant in St-Damase. In 2016, major work was carried out on an air-cooling room, while in 2019, the company installed a major carbon dioxide anesthesia system, with the aim of achieving the highest standards of animal welfare and improving the working environment.

Olymel's St-Damase facility serves private customers with fresh poultry products but also supplies the company's poultry further-processing plants, including the neighboring plant in Ste-Rosalie, also in the Montérégie region. Olymel's St-Damase plant produces more than 70 million kilos of poultry products annually.

ICCF publishes third guidance on feed ingredient homogeneity testing

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The International Cooperation for Convergence of Technical Requirements for the Assessment of Feed Ingredients (ICCF) aims to develop and establish common guidance that covers technical requirements for the assessment of feed ingredients, including new uses of existing feed ingredients.

In September, following public consultation, it published its third guidance document covering “Homogeneity Testing of Feed Ingredients.”

The publication follows two earlier guidance documents published in April 2019 covering “Stability Testing of Feed Ingredients” and “Sub-chronic Oral Toxicity Testing in Laboratory Animals.”

In 2017, the International Feed Industry Federation (IFIF), together with regulatory authorities and feed and feed ingredient associations from Canada, the European Union and the U.S., launched ICCF. The international cooperation aims to develop and establish common guidance that covers technical requirements for the assessment of feed ingredients, including new uses of existing feed ingredients.

The founding members of ICCF include the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the European Commission (DG SANTE), the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the American Feed Industry Assn., the Animal Nutrition Association of Canada, the EU Association of Specialty Feed Ingredients & their Mixtures (FEFANA) and the International Feed Industry Federation (IFIF).

ICCF is the result of a concerted effort to bring together feed regulators and industry feed associations to work together to develop common guidance documents for technical requirements needed in the assessment of feed ingredients. This, the groups stated, will benefit not only the three regions covered, as the guidance documents will be made available for reference and use by other jurisdictions around the globe.

A goal of ICCF is to facilitate free and fair trade of feed ingredients as well as support the feed and food chain as it works to safely and sustainably meet the global growing demand for animal protein.

The ICCF Steering Committee, made up of representatives from the founding members of ICCF, is responsible for defining the priorities and activities of the project and establishing and overseeing the expert working groups tasked with developing specific technical guidance documents.

As this initiative develops, observer countries will be invited to join the expert groups and may be invited as non-voting members to the ICCF Steering Committee on an ad-hoc basis.

ICCF builds on the work of the 2013 IFIF report “Comparison of Regulatory Management of Authorized Ingredients, Approval Processes & Risk-Assessment Procedures for Feed Ingredients,” which covered synergies and gaps for product approvals in Brazil, Canada, China, the EU, Japan, South Africa and the U.S.

EPA Administrator Wheeler visits Minnesota farm

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Administrator Wheeler visits the Don and Shaun Fiedler’s Farm with Rep. Pete Stauber (R., Minn.), the Minnesota Farm Bureau and Future Farmers of America students.

Alongside U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber (R., Minn.), the Minnesota Farm Bureau, FFA students, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler and EPA Region 5 administrator Kurt Thiede toured Don and Shaun Fiedler’s farm on Sept. 28 to learn about their operations and conservation practices. They also met with local producers to discuss opportunities for future partnership and best conservation practices.

“Acting as good stewards of our land is of the utmost importance to Minnesota’s farmers. That’s why I was happy to join EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler at a farm in Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District to see firsthand the important role local farmers play in preserving the environment and help announce a grant that will protect and empower our farmers as they continue this important work," Stauber said. "Agriculture is one of the top industries in our state, so I commend this Administration for working alongside myself and our farmers to address the issues that are most important to the agriculture community, and I look forward to seeing this important partnership continue into the future.”

Minnesota Farm Bureau vice president Dan Glessing said, “Minnesota Farm Bureau appreciates Administrator Wheeler spending time talking directly to farmers in Minnesota. From the [Renewable Fuel Standard] to clean water to crop protection tools, the work of EPA has a direct impact on Minnesota farmers and ranchers. We appreciate the Administrator’s commitment to transparency in science and talking to those directly impacted as decisions are made. We look forward to continuing these discussions.”

While at the farm in Stanchfield, Minn., Wheeler announced $642,546 to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture under a Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) cooperative agreement to continue implementation of pesticide regulatory and enforcement programs for fiscal 2021.

Under the FIFRA cooperative agreement, Minnesota will protect agricultural workers, surface and ground water resources and endangered species from exposure to pesticides of concern by conducting pesticide use inspections, enforcement and compliance assistance; train and certify pesticide applicators; conducts education and outreach on pesticides use and regulations; implement pollinator protection activities; conduct surface water and groundwater monitoring for pesticides, and analyze pesticide residues.