Texas task force to investigate ’murder hornet’

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
Scott Anderson

A giant invasive hornet was sighted several times in northwestern Washington state and Canada in late 2019, causing concern across the U.S. At the request of Gov. Greg Abbott, a specialized task force led by Texas A&M AgriLife experts is spearheading an initiative to protect Texas citizens, agriculture and honeybees if the “murder hornet,” or Asian giant hornet, arrives.

The hornet, Vespa mandarinia, preys on bees and can decimate local honeybee populations.

Honeybees are essential for most fruit and vegetable crop production. Because crops rely on honeybees and other insects for pollination, in its absence, crop yields would greatly suffer.

What’s more, the Asian giant hornets are fiercely protective of their nests. They deploy painful stings that can cause fatal allergic reactions in people already sensitive to bee stings.

“Although this pest has not been spotted in Texas, the hornet poses a threat to both agriculture and public health,” said Patrick J. Stover, vice chancellor of Texas A&M AgriLife, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research.

The task force brings together experts from Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, the Texas A&M Department of Entomology and the Center for Cross-Border Threat Screening and Supply Chain Defense — a Department of Homeland Security Center for Excellence with representation from various parts of The Texas A&M University System.

Courses of action planned

How the pests ended up in North America is not yet clear. Washington state investigations are focusing on the possibility that container ship or airplane transport may have inadvertently transported a fertilized female hornet.

Part of the response is preparing our state entry points for cargo transportation. They are developing training for Customs and Border Protection staff to be able to detect the Asian giant hornet. They are also increasing surveillance of incoming containers and evaluating opportunities for specialized detection, such as possibly using scent-trained dogs to find these hornets hidden in cargo or luggage.

The task force is planning several avenues of action. The team will provide science-based educational materials on the hornet for citizens and beekeepers. In addition, to guard against the hornet entering Texas, the task force will work on detection efforts for border and port-of-entry points. The team will also assist with mitigation efforts to protect Texas honey bee populations.

Finally, the task force will prepare statewide identification efforts if necessary.

About Asian giant hornets

The world’s largest hornets, these insects are native to many areas, from Japan and South Korea to India and Pakistan. Up to 2 inches long, the insect is about a half-inch larger than the “cicada killer” wasp common in Texas.

Autumn is the hornets’ mating period and the most crucial time for their spread. After mating in the fall, the queens find places to overwinter while the rest of the nest dies out. Hornet queens re-emerge in the spring to raise their young. Once the queen has reared a few dozen workers, she no longer leaves the nest. To control the insects at that point, the nest must be located and the queen killed.

“While widespread surveillance for the hornets in Texas is premature, we do need strategies to prevent the hornets’ arriving here in cargo,” Ragsdale said. “Right now, what we need to know is whether the Asian giant hornets have successfully overwintered in British Columbia or in Washington state.”

In Washington, the State Department of Agriculture, WSDA, has created a systematic trapping program to locate any overwintering queens or workers this spring, Ragsdale said. If WSDA confirms the hornets are overwintering in Washington, the department will work to map the infestation and eradicate all colonies before the hornets’ mating season in late summer or early fall.

USDA Offers Farm Loans for Farmers Facing Covid-19 Related Challenges

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) reminds producers that FSA offers farm ownership and farm operating loans to agricultural producers who may not find success obtaining loans from their traditional financial institutions because of COVID-19. Farmers who cannot obtain commercial credit from a bank can apply for FSA direct or guaranteed loans.

“Farming and ranching is a capital-intensive business and FSA is committed to helpingproducers maintain their agricultural operations during this time of crisis,” said Gary Six, FSA State Executive Director in Texas. “FSA loans are designed to assist beginning and historically underserved farmers and ranchers, as well as those who have suffered financial setbacks from natural disasters or economic downturns. Producers may find that an FSA loan is the best option for them if they cannot qualify for a loan with their traditional financial institutions or other financial institutions because of COVID-19.”

USDA offers a variety of loans to meet different production needs. Direct loans are made to applicants by FSA. Guaranteed loans are made by lending institutions who arrange for FSA to guarantee the loan. FSA can guarantee up to 95 percent of the loss of principal and interest on a loan. The FSA guarantee allows lenders to make agricultural credit available to producers who do not meet the lender’s normal underwriting criteria.

The direct and guaranteed loan program offers two types of loans: farm ownership loans and farm operating loans.

Farm ownership loan funds may be used to purchase or enlarge a farm or ranch; purchase easements or rights of way needed in the farm’s operation; build or improve buildings such as a dwelling or barn; promote soil and water conservation and development; and pay closing costs.

Farm operating loan funds may be used to purchase livestock, poultry, farm equipment, fertilizer, and other materials necessary to operate a farm. Operating loan funds can also be used for family living expenses; refinancing debts under certain conditions; paying salaries for hired farm laborers; installing or improving water systems for home, livestock or irrigation use; and other similar improvements.

Repayment terms for direct operating loans are scheduled from one to seven years. Financing for direct farm ownership loans cannot exceed 40 years. Interest rates for direct loans are set periodically according to the government’s cost of borrowing. Guaranteed loan terms and interest rates are set by the lender.

For more information on FSA’s farm loan programs, please contact your local FSA office or visit farmers.gov.