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Branch County holds 10th annual Conservation Expo

COLDWATER, MI -- Dr. Walter Pett, Apiculture and Pollination Specialist for Michigan State University Department of Entomology, presented the keynote address for the 10th annual Conservation Expo for the Branch County Conservation District in Coldwater, MI.

Pett shared his extensive knowledge of bees with the participants and extended the highest compliment to the beekeepers of the area. “Michigan honey is very good because of the diversity of plants,” he said.

His talk dealt with many scientific facts concerning honeybees including that unfertilized eggs become male bees and fertilized eggs are female. He proceeded to explain the functions of the queen, drone bees and worker bees, with a daily schedule of what the worker bees do in their 30-day span of life.

Pett expressed his deep concern for bees and the Varroa mites, which tend to be an increasing problem for beekeepers. These mites are easily spotted on the thorax of drone bees which they prefer. Varroas suck blood from the bees and the larva causing a shorter life span and deformities in the larva. It is believed that the mites could be contributing to the colony collapse disorder.

Along with honeybees, various conservation practices were discussed in smaller group presentations during the event. Daniel Zay of the USDA- NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) shared on controlling invasive species in wildlife habitats. On the other hand, Sarah Topp discussed opportunities for volunteering with the Michigan United Conservation Clubs on public lands, encouraging wildlife habitats around the state.

A serious concern of hunters was presented by Chad Stewart of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources as he addressed the issue of Chronic Wasting in Deer. Local Walnut Food Markets and Projects developed by the Potawatomi Resource and Development Council were presented by Brian Huggett.

Huggett, who serves as the Executive Director, shared some of the efforts of the council to redirect commerce into Michigan via the products made by Black Walnuts. “Wood, nutmeats and shells are the current products developed from Black Walnuts,” Huggett said. “We have received a grant to encourage people to make money in Michigan with the nuts.”

His research showed that over $780,000 is made in other states from Michigan grown walnuts that are processed and sent out. “The conversion is 10:1 as far as shell weight to nutmeat,” Huggett said. “I think some of those nuts could be used in chocolate chip cookies and sold at local farmer’s markets.” He emphasized the need to keep the money in Michigan, especially at personal levels. The grant they received was for adding value to natural products and assisting people with the processing of the nuts.

The group offers day-long opportunities for the public to bring in their walnuts for hulling in the fall and a springtime shell cracking. Various pieces of equipment have been purchased for these free events as well as some borrowed units are shared by their owners.

The Conservation Expo ended with several awards being given out. The Branch County Conservation District named Charlene Hall the Conservation Partner of the Year and Jeff Blair was honored as the Conservation Volunteer of the Year. The District’s Chairman John Mitchell was also recognized for his 35 years of service.