Plants: Food or Poison?

first_img May apple (Podophyllum peltatum) fruit.Oleander (Nerium oleander) all parts. Poison ivy (Rhus radicans) berries. Pokeberry (Phytolacca americana) berries. Privet (Ligustrum) leaves and berries. Rhododendron, azalea (Rhododendron spp.) leaves. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) all parts, if ingested in excess. Yew (Taxus) seeds. Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculata, C. scandens) fruits. Black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) berries. Burning bush (Euonymous) berries. Castor bean (Ricinus communis) seeds. Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) seeds. Daphne (Daphne mezereum) berries. Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) fruits. Plants are extremely diverse organisms. And we should respect them for their ability topoison as well as feed us.There is no set manner by which plants poison. Most must be eaten to become toxic,while others can be touched (in the case of skin reactions).The toxicity depends on the amount of plant material ingested. For example, all partsof the sunflower (Helianthus annuus) fall on the “slightly toxic” plant list.Since sunflowers are a large part of our snack food diet, this comes as a surprise. Butit’s a perfect example of toxicity as a function of ingested amount. Doesn’t ice creammake us sick if we eat too much of it?So, should we fear all plants in the landscape? Should we keep our children locked inboxes so they don’t risk their lives around plants? Certainly not!Just because a plant produces poisonous berries or leaves doesn’t automatically excludeit from use in a home landscape.In his book, Plants for Play, Robin C. Moore says the great majority of our landscapeplants are “highly beneficial and perfectly safe” for children. But many plantscontain poisonous substances and warrant precaution.Adults should learn about their landscapes and be able to distinguish those plants thatmay be hazardous. In turn, they should caution their children about those plants and plantparts that carry toxins.There is no need to make children afraid of plants. But there is a great need to changethe child’s perspective to that of respect for all plant life, so the child has less riskof exposure to dangers. The education process provides a great opportunity for parent andchild to share and grow in enjoying the environment.The age of the children playing in the yard is a major consideration when planning yourlandscape. Plants with berries at perfect heights for small children, such as thepoisonous fall berries of Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley), are much more ofconcern for toddlers or small children than 10-year-olds.Recent trends in home landscaping involve a strong wildlife interest as a major factorin plant selection. Homeowners are asking for plants that produce berries to feed birds,squirrels, chipmunks and other creatures.These berries appeal not only to wildlife, but to small children as well. Patterningafter parents picking blackberries, strawberries and other edible fruits may encourage achild to pick and eat other tempting, but poisonous, berries.The best way to protect small children from plant poisoning is to teach them to not eatany plant parts without adult supervision until they are old enough to be positive thatthe plant is safe to eat.We can’t ignore plants — the hand that feeds us, so to speak. Human and animal lifecan’t exist apart from green flora. So we must learn how to live with it. This means planteducation for all people, big and small.Here are some common landscape plants and their toxic parts (from the book, Learningfrom Poisonous Plants).last_img read more

Men’s Health.

first_imgCardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death among men in Georgia, accounting for 34 percent of all male deaths. In 1997, hospital charges related to CVD were $1.8 billion. Unfortunately, the risk of dying from CVD is 25 percent higher for African American males than white males.Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Georgia’s men. The five leading causes of cancer death are lung, prostate, colorectal, pancreatic and leukemia. Lung and prostate cancer death rates in Georgia are both 19 percent higher than the national average. The colorectal cancer rate, though, is 12 percent lower.Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death among Georgia men. It also contributes to deaths from other causes like CVD and kidney failure. For every death in which diabetes is the primary cause, there are two and a half deaths in which diabetes is a contributing factor.Even though only half of the drivers’ licenses in Georgia are issued to males, men are involved in nearly 60 percent of all motor vehicle accidents and 72 percent of all fatal crashes. Of the men who died in these accidents, 62 percent were between the ages of 15 and 44, and 70 percent were white. Fortunately, the rate of seat belt use is increasing in males. But it is still lower than in females.Related to these disturbing motor vehicle statistics is the alarming incidence of binge drinking in young men. Almost 37 percent of young men ages 18-24 report that they binge drink.While more young white males commit suicide, more African American males are likely to be homicide victims.The percentage of men who are overweight or obese increased from 47 percent in 1984 to 62 percent in 1998. More than half of Georgia’s males are inactive. Men in Georgia are living longer, but not necessarily better. Just take a look at the “2000 Report on the Status of Men’s Health in Georgia: A Picture of Men’s Health and Well-Being,” from the Georgia Department of Human Resources. The comprehensive report details the health status of men in Georgia.The report shows that overall life expectancy increased during the past century from 48 years in 1900 to 74 years in 1997. But some serious health issues remain that affect the well-being of men in Georgia. Those health concerns vary, depending on a man’s age.Major Causes of DeathAmong adolescent males and young men, motor vehicle injuries, homicides, suicides and infectious diseases, like tuberculosis and human immunodeficiency virus, are the major causes of death and disability.For older men, the main causes of injury and death are chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and arthritis, as well as infectious diseases such as pneumonia and flu and accidental injuries.Here are just a few of the disturbing statistics: Clearly, some serious public health issues affect men in Georgia. This report not only details these disturbing facts. It also offers solutions to the problems that individuals and the community can try to reduce risk and improve health outcomes.A Valuable ToolThe report is a valuable tool for health and government officials, voluntary organizations and the public to use to focus on male health issues in the community.To read more about the “2000 Report on the Status of Men’s Health in Georgia” visit the Web site of the Georgia Department of Human Resources Division of Public Health.last_img read more

Tree technology

first_imgThe yellow hand-held global positioning systems that his class uses are accurate within one meter. The funds to purchase the devices – which cost $5,000 each – came from a UGA Learning Technologies Grant.“It helps sometimes when you’re teaching to have something that looks like a Game Boy,” he said in reference to the GPS. “One of our long-term goals is to go online with this information,” much like a person can go online, map out road directions and, now, view the area’s geography. “It’s a lot of ‘wow, gee whiz’ practical stuff.”It’s practical because mapping trees isn’t just about building inventory. Realtors, planning committees and other organizations throughout the state compare this information, such as an area’s tree canopy, to the property value of a home. Having that information readily available, and giving significant trees “a unique point on the map,” would speed up the process. Mapping landmark trees also helps contractors know which trees to protect when they are developing land for residential or commercial purposes, Berle said.The class of eight students didn’t spend the three-week term mapping every single tree in the county. Instead, they hunted champion trees, historic trees and trees that have cultural significance.A champion tree is the “largest tree of a particular species … it helps citizens in the county to keep looking for the next big tree,” Berle said. Trees with historical significance include those in a former slave cemetery that started in an open field and over the centuries turned into a dense forest. Culturally significant trees include the Moon Tree, a pine tree whose seed was taken on an Apollo mission.Once a tree has been pinpointed on a geographic information systems map by several of the 23 American satellites orbiting the earth, Berle checks an Internet site 24 hours later for variances. The U.S. government put these safeguards in place to deter others from using GPS technology against Americans.Access to such satellite technology has only been available to the public since the early 1990s. It was developed for defense purposes in the 1970s. And now it’s being used by horticulturists, foresters and students to keep an eye on trees.(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.) By Stephanie SchupskaUniversity of GeorgiaThe GPS signal bounced from earth to space to earth in a matter of seconds. And when enough satellites lined up the coordinates, David Berle had pinpointed another tree to add to his inventory.The horticulture professor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences spent a Maymester term teaching his students how to hunt trees and add them to a geographic information systems database. And although it was a class project, the study also helped Clarke County, Ga., foresters.“We mapped trees that already have significance,” Berle said. “The county had all the trees inventoried, but didn’t have a good map of them.”The timing was close to perfect. During that early summer term, a new Athens-Clarke County tree ordinance was finalized that included a landmark tree inventory. It went into effect Sept. 1.Many Georgia counties – including Fulton (Atlanta), Richmond (Augusta), Thomas (Thomasville), Berrien (Nashville) and Chatham (Savannah) – have similar ordinances.The Athens-Clarke County ordinance calls for two full-time foresters, as do others in the state. “This opens up a lot of positions for students,” Berle said. “It’s a good link in preparing students for the job market.“I teach it as a chance to learn technology,” he said. “And this technology has real world application.”last_img read more

Top turf

first_imgBy Sharon DowdyUniversity of GeorgiaIf you’ve recently walked on a golf course, athletic field or newly established landscape any where in the world, chances are you stepped on a Tif variety turfgrass developed at the University of Georgia. “Many of the people I meet have heard of Georgia because 80 percent of the surfaces planted in improved warm-season turfgrasses are planted in Tif varieties,” said Wayne Hanna, a researcher with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences who has bred turfgrass for 38 years. Tif grasses are popular because they “look good everywhere they’re planted,” he said.A long processBut it takes time to get it right, he said, as long as 15 years in some cases. For example, most varieties look good two years into being grown on research plots. By the third year, however, only 10 percent of plots look good.“We take our time to make sure the varieties we release are just right,” he said. “That’s why turf breeding is such a long process.”Hanna breeds Tif varieties on the UGA campus in Tifton, Ga. The top varieties are Tifdwarf, TifEagle TifBlair, Tifway, TifSport and ST-5.Tifdwarf and TifEagle are bermuda grasses used for golf course putting greens. TifBlair is a vigorous, cold-tolerant centipede grass.Newest on horizonTifway, TifSport and ST-5 are bermuda grass hybrids for lawns, sports fields, golf courses and landscapes. The yet unnamed ST-5 can grow in shade. The dark-green grass was selected from 27,000 hybrids and will be available to the public in 2010, he said.“Bermuda grass loves sunlight,” he said. “So the fact that this variety will grow in 70 percent shade is incredible. And, it’s sterile like a mule. So it doesn’t produce seed or pollen.”Georgia-bred turfgrasses are all certified, he said.“This means that a grass like TifBlair centipede has a pedigree that you can follow,” he said. “You can buy it now or five years from now, and you’ll be getting the same grass — guaranteed.”Plant at optimal timeIf you are planning to install any new turfgrass this year, wait until late April or early May to do it, said Clint Waltz, a UGA Cooperative Extension turfgrass specialist. Late spring conditions are more suitable for establishing warm-season grasses.“Sod may be available, but it’s too early now,” he said. “We’re having some really pretty days, and everyone wants to get out and work in the yard, but it’s not the optimal time to plant warm-season turfgrasses.”For more advice on UGA turfgrass varieties, visit www.georgiaturf.com. Or, call your local UGA Extension agent at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.last_img read more

Organic gardening requires more effort

first_imgHome gardeners who want to try their hand at growing organic vegetables should lower their expectations just a little and be prepared to put in more “sweat equity.”Plan aheadGrowing organic vegetables takes extra planning. If you use organic fertilizer sources or organic soil amendments, these need to be tilled into the garden well in advance to be effective. (Ideally, this process should begin in the fall prior to spring planting.) Organic amendments don’t provide nutrients as quickly as synthetic fertilizers. So, if you want to gain the benefits of organic fertilizers, give them plenty of time to decompose. Soil microbes have to convert them into a form that plant roots can absorb. An added benefit of organic amendments is that they can act as a slow-release fertilizer throughout the season. This improves soil structure.Less pesticides, more weedingGrowing organic vegetables takes extra work. Since you won’t have the option to “shoot first and ask questions later” with herbicides and insecticides, you will need to spend extra time and energy in your garden. Weeds must be pulled or hoed. Mulch must be applied to prevent weeds. Disease or insect damage must be pruned away from plants. The key is to catch all of these problems as early as possible to prevent them from becoming bigger problems and spreading throughout the garden. Organic gardening requires homework. You must become familiar with common garden problems and be able to tell the “good bugs” from the “bad bugs.” The last thing you want to do is get rid of beneficial bugs like lady beetles that actually help control aphids, mites and other insects.Veggies don’t have to look beautifulGrowing organic vegetables requires the gardener to lower his expectations. To understand my point, go to the produce section at your local grocery store and watch customers pick through a pile of tomatoes or apples in search of that one spotless specimen.Unfortunately, I think we are all habitually programmed to do this. When growing organically, you can’t be that picky. Small spots and blemishes can be easily cut off of fruits or vegetables. Appearances don’t affect taste, especially if the produce is headed for a casserole dish.Tips to followHere are a few more tips for the novice organic gardener: • Get your soil tested by taking a sample to the local University of Georgia Cooperative Extension office. This is the most important thing to do first.• Start small and increase garden size each year as you become more comfortable with organic techniques.• Use basic cultural control options like mulching, pruning, proper spacing, crop rotation, using resistant varieties and planting at the proper times.• Clean equipment periodically. A 10-percent bleach solution used on pruners and other tools after cutting away diseased plant material will minimize the spread of diseases.• Water plants as needed and only in the early morning. This helps prevent diseases and develops strong, deep root systems.When you have gardening questions, call your local UGA Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1 and ask to speak to a certified Master Gardener. These volunteers are trained to help you solve gardening problems.For more information, see UGA Extension publication B1011, “Growing Vegetables Organically,” and other gardening factsheets at www.ugaextension.com.last_img read more

Pollinator Protection

first_imgWe can strengthen our pollinator populations by making small changes to our landscapes. Native bees and other pollinators need a variety of habitats that are easy to create. Bumblebees nest in the ground in slightly messy, undisturbed spaces, like small brush piles. Many native bees are solitary and nest in tunnels in bare soil. Orchard mason bees nest in tubes, like nail holes in fence posts or even plastic drinking straws. They need a source of mud nearby to build separators between eggs inside the tube. Pollinator SyndromeAlthough it sounds ominous, “pollinator syndrome” describes the relationship between flowering plants and pollinators. The rich diversity of pollinators evolved hand in hand with the flowers they fertilize. In return for the bounty of food — pollen for protein and nectar for energy — pollinators spread pollen among the flowers. This act of fertilization enables flowers to produce the fruits, nuts and seeds that feed other animals — including humans — and helps to ensure the plant’s survival. Pesticide use. Pesticides may kill pollinators directly, and the chemicals may be retained in the pollen that bees store to feed their young. Over the thousands of years since angiosperms, or flowering plants, first appeared, flowers have adapted in shape, color and fragrance to attract specific types of insect or animal pollinators. Blue, yellow and bright white flowers, for instance, draw bees. Butterflies and birds frequent red blossoms. Strong, sweet fragrances get the attention of moths, while flies prefer putrid aromas. Plants that depend on bees and butterflies for pollination offer flowers as an inviting landing pad where the insect can rest as it collects pollen and nectar. Pollinator StewardshipMany of our native pollinators are in decline and need our help year-round. Factors that contribute to pollinator decline are largely man-made and include:Loss of habitat.Manicured lawns, clipped hedges and tidy, suburban landscapes deprive bees of the habitats they need for reproduction. Loss of sufficient flowering plants for forage. Exotic, non-native and cultivated, hybrid flowers may not produce the pollen that insects need for protein, or the nectar that bees, birds, butterflies and bats need for energy. center_img While many bee species are active only for a few weeks, bumblebees and honeybees need to forage from early spring all the way through the end of fall. To help sustain them, Georgians can keep their yards in constant bloom with flowering trees and shrubs, and an abundance of flowers and herbs. There are more than 4,000 species of native bees in North America — from plump, stalwart carpenter bees to the hardworking blueberry bees that help pollinate the state’s top fruit crop. This year the National Association of Conservation Districts is using its annual Stewardship Week celebration, April 26 to May 2, to recognize the importance of pollinators in our lives. Whether on a farm or in your backyard, protecting pollinators helps to ensure their future and the future of our food system. Pollinator NichesThe thousands of native bee species in the U.S. each fill specific, ecological niches to keep from competing heavily with one another. Some, like orchard mason bees, emerge very early in the spring, before other types of bees, to pollinate fruit trees. Other pollinators are specialists. Southeastern blueberry bees only collect food from — and consequently pollinate — blueberry flowers. Similarly, squash bees only visit the flowers of cucurbits, like squash and pumpkins. And, finally, don’t spray pesticides when plants are blooming. That’s when pollinators are busy collecting food. If you must use pesticides, wait until petals drop from flowers. For more information on protecting pollinators, see UGA Extension Bulletin 1164: Bee Conservation in the Southeast.last_img read more

Award Winners

first_imgUniversity of Georgia vegetable horticulturist Tim Coolong received the Donnie H. Morris Award of Excellence in Extension during the Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Savannah, Georgia, on Jan. 12.The annual award is presented by the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (GFVGA) to a UGA Cooperative Extension employee for contributions made to the Georgia fruit and vegetable industries and is named for Donnie Morris, a blueberry grower in Baxley, Georgia, and past president of the association. Previous awardees include UGA scientists Phillip Brannen, Stormy Sparks and Stanley Culpepper and agents including Justin Shealey in Echols County, Georgia, and Stephanie Hollifield in Brooks County, Georgia.“It was a great thrill. It was a great honor not only to be nominated by them but to actually receive the award,” Coolong said.Coolong has worked with more than 25 different vegetables, ranging from popular crops like watermelons and peppers to obscure commodities like kalettes, a cross between kale and brussels sprouts. Before Coolong joined the UGA Tifton campus in 2013, Georgia’s farm gate value for vegetables was $935.5 million for 2012, according to the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development. In 2016, the farm gate value for vegetables was $1.1 billion.“There were a couple of things when I came in that I wanted to focus on. We had not had a vegetable specialist in that position for about four years, so I wanted to make sure I was able to get back out there in front of the growers and provide a service for them,” Coolong said. “The other thing that I spent a lot of time on was establishing a variety screening program. We really didn’t have many strong relationships with the vegetable seed companies and their breeders. That was my top priority when I started — to build those relationships and start a program. I think we were successful with that.”In 2018, Coolong moved to the UGA Athens campus, where he now focuses on organic vegetable production.40 under 40UGA Extension vegetable plant pathologist Bhabesh Dutta and Appling County Extension Agent Shane Curry were also honored by being named to the first class of Fruit and Vegetable 40 under 40 award winners. The 40 under 40 recognition was made by Great American Media Services, publishers of Fruit Growers News and Vegetable Growers News.Since joining the vegetable pathology program at UGA-Tifton in 2012, Dutta has been part of multiple research projects that have impacted Georgia vegetable producers. He provides growers with management options for multiple fungal, bacterial and viral diseases in vegetables, as well as leading a national effort on center rot, an important bacterial disease of onions. Dutta also led a project to improvement the management of botrytis leaf blight in onions through early- and late-season fungicide spraying.Curry, who has worked in UGA Extension for 12 years, has participated in blueberry research that has helped propel Georgia to the top of the national rankings in blueberry production. Appling County, where Curry has worked for the past seven years, is the third-largest blueberry-producing county in Georgia.Through research trials with UGA specialists in Appling County, Curry found that using soil fumigants and the addition of pine bark mulch when blueberry bushes have to be replanted helps to fight pests, especially nematodes — microscopic parasites that attack plant roots.Curry also is part of a coordinated effort between Extension agents and specialists to research blueberry leaf rust, a foliar disease that causes small spots to appear on blueberry leaves.For questions about fruit or vegetable production, please visit http://extension.uga.edu.last_img read more

$5.7 million stimulus for Vermont transit

first_imgAlmost $5.7 million was released to Vermont today for transit programs funded by the economic recovery bill, Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and Representative Peter Welch announced.The stimulus money for Vermont from the Federal Transit Administration was included in the bill that was designed to create some 8,000 jobs in Vermont to help jolt the economy out of recession.Statewide, the Vermont Agency of Transportation will use $3.9 million to purchase 33 buses and vans for 10 local transit providers around the state.The Chittenden County Transit Authority plans to spend $1 million on heavy-duty, low-emission buses. Another $700,000 is set aside for rehabilitating buses, wooden bus shelters constructed by Vermont companies, and vehicles for seniors and individuals with disabilities.Nationwide, the bill provided $10.1 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, $773 million more than current funding.last_img read more

Welch votes for, House passes middle class tax cut extension

first_imgUS Representative Peter Welch voted to extend tax cuts for middle- and lower-income Americans on Thursday, while blasting Republican maneuvers to hold legislative business hostage as the party fights for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.Passed by a vote of 234 to 188, the Middle Class Tax Relief Act (H.R. 4853) would permanently extend tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 for all income below $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples. Without an extension, tax rates would revert to pre-2001 levels on January 1, 2011.‘Extending tax relief for middle-class Americans will help the economy and help Vermonters struggling to get by. But digging ourselves deeper into debt by borrowing $700 billion to give millionaires and billionaires tax breaks is simply unconscionable,’ Welch said.‘At a time when we’re nickel and diming hungry and cold Vermonters by cutting fuel assistance, food stamps and Social Security payments, how can we even consider doling out billions to those who need it least? And at a time when our national debt has reached an untenable level, how can we even consider borrowing $700 billion to fund tax breaks for the rich?’While the Middle Class Tax Relief Act focuses on lower- and middle-income Americans, the tax relief would apply to the first $200,000 or $250,000 of income for all taxpayers.The bill now goes to the Senate, though Senate Republican leaders have vowed to stop this and all other legislation unless tax cuts are extended for all income levels. Source: Welch’s office. 12.2.2010last_img read more

Berkshire Hills Bancorp reports 40 percent growth in Q2 core EPS

first_img— Interest expense 5,7156,121 CONSOLIDATED STATEMENTS OF INCOME – UNAUDITED Total interest and dividend income    32,053 Total net revenue32,371 Sept. 30, 1,027887 (In thousands, except per share data)2011 520 2010 Other1,628 816 Loans$ 28,607 $ 24,606$ 25,005 – Interest and dividend income     Securities and other    3,446 1,432 $     0.25 Net interest income24,201 1,373 19,684 7,611 Diluted$     0.11 1,090 Non-interest income Insurance commissions and fees    2,782 Income before income taxes2,248 6,787 Supplies, postage and delivery507 2,0522,153 5911,125 20112010 13,893 7,7678,274 609184 549 $     0.20$     0.26 – 1,708426 $     0.25 – $ 24,917 3,473 7,912 3,4353,043 Marketing and professional services    1,557 2,5412,871 $   3,454 Technology and communications1,531 1,1921,051 (301) — 13,856 454453 Other real estate owned700 2,819 Loan related fees780 2,305 13,865 1,116 FDIC premiums and assessments741 6,563 100 26,482 10,870 80234 $     0.20$     0.26 Gain on sale of securities, net    6 – Non-recurring gain124 23,18921,415 20,14620,095 3,7302,150 8,1347,431 4,153 1,140 2,963 June 30, Total fee income    8,317 2,267 2,988 June 30, 1,6002,000 Provision for loan losses  1,500 (122) Berkshire Bank,Berkshire Hills Bancorp, Inc. (NASDAQ: BHLB) reported second quarter 2011 core earnings per share totaling $0.35, increasing by 40 percent compared to $0.25 in the second quarter of 2010.  This increase resulted from strong ongoing organic growth together with the benefits of the acquisition of Rome Bancorp, which was completed on April 1, 2011. Diluted earnings per share was $0.11 for the second quarter of 2011 compared to $0.25 in the second quarter of 2010.Berkshire also completed the acquisition of Legacy Bancorp on July 21, 2011.  This event will be reported in Berkshire’s third quarter financial results. Berkshire incurred non-core merger related expenses in the second quarter for both the Rome and Legacy transactions.  Net of these expenses, which totaled $0.24per share after-tax, GAAP earnings per share were $0.11 during the quarter.  Including the Legacy acquisition in July, Berkshire’s total assets have now grown by more than 40% this year to over $4 billion, and Berkshire’s total common shares outstanding have increased by about 50% to approximately 21.1 million.  Based on the $23.06 closing price of Berkshire’s common stock on July 20, 2011, Berkshire’s total market capitalization exceeds $480 million.SECOND QUARTER FINANCIAL HIGHLIGHTS (Revenue and expense comparisons are to the prior year second quarter, unless otherwise noted.  Second quarter results include the operations of Rome Bancorp.  Organic growth numbers exclude acquired Rome balances.)40% increase in core earnings per share16% organic annualized commercial loan growth9% organic annualized total loan growth3% organic annualized deposit growth3.52% net interest margin, improved from 3.30% in the first quarter of 201122% increase in wealth management fee income0.52% non-performing assets/total assets0.24% annualized net loan charge-offs/average loans0.62% accruing delinquent loans/loansBerkshire President and CEO, Michael P. Daly, stated, “Our solid core earnings growth reflects strong organic growth and sensible bank acquisitions that are improving the strength of our franchise and shareholder value.  We have completed the Rome and Legacy acquisitions as planned.  We fully expect to achieve the cost savings and earnings targets that we have previously set out for these mergers and for our overall operations, and we are also benefiting from a higher net interest margin.  Our tangible book value per share at mid-year improved from where it was before we announced these acquisitions, reflecting our financial disciplines to produce strong earnings accretion while carefully managing any impact on tangible equity.”Mr. Daly continued, “All major business lines produced solid organic growth in the second quarter.  Growth has been led by the commercial lending teams recruited in recent years, as Berkshire continues to increase its market share in supporting business activity in our regional markets.  Our annualized organic core earnings per share growth continues to exceed 25%.  Our core return on assets has increased by 41% over 2010, and we are moving strongly towards our medium term goal to produce an annualized return on assets exceeding 1%.  For the quarter, our marginal core return on equity exceeded 10% on the additional capital that we utilized in the second quarter, which is consistent with our investment objectives.  Our asset quality metrics continue to be favorable and our capital ratios are strong and have improved during the year.  We continue to take advantage of the opportunities to take our company to the next level in serving our markets and in our attractiveness to the investment community.”DIVIDEND DECLAREDThe Board of Directors maintained the cash dividend on Berkshire’s common stock, declaring a dividend of$0.16 per share to stockholders of record at the close of business on August 11, 2011 and payable onAugust 25, 2011.   This dividend equates to a 2.95% annualized yield based on the average closing price of Berkshire’s common stock in the second quarter of 2011.FINANCIAL CONDITIONChanges in financial condition in the second quarter reflected the Rome acquisition at the start of the quarter, together with the ongoing benefit of organic loan and deposit growth.  Total assets increased to$3.2 billion, including the addition of $0.3 billion in Rome assets.  Total loans increased by 14% during the second quarter, including the benefit of 9% annualized organic loan growth.  Commercial business loans increased at a 16% annualized organic rate in the second quarter, including the benefit of higher asset based loans.  Residential mortgage balances increased at a 6% organic annualized rate, offsetting the impact of planned runoff of indirect auto loans.Second quarter asset quality metrics remain favorable and continue to improve.  Non-performing assets decreased to 0.52% of total assets, and annualized net loan charge-offs decreased to 0.24% of average loans.  Accruing delinquent loans also remained favorable, decreasing to 0.62% of total loans.  Total deposits increased by 11% in the second quarter with the benefit of the Rome acquisition.  Annualized organic deposit growth was 3% for the quarter.  The loan/deposit ratio was 99% at mid-year, reflecting the Bank’s ongoing strong liquidity.Berkshire issued 2.7 million shares for the Rome acquisition at an average value of $20.83 based on the closing price of Berkshire’s stock prior to the acquisition.  Total shareholders’ equity increased by $54 million primarily due to the benefit of this stock issuance.  Total intangible assets increased by $20 millionas a result of the Rome purchase accounting.  Tangible book value per share was $15.07 at mid-year, declining slightly from $15.35 at the start of the year.  Total book value per share decreased to $26.61from $27.61 during this period, primarily reflecting the $20.83 per share book value of the new shares issued.  The ratio of tangible equity/assets increased to 8.3% from 8.0% during the first half of the year including the benefit of the Rome acquisition.  RESULTS OF OPERATIONSThe second quarter of 2011 was the first period including the benefits of the Rome operations acquired at the start of the quarter.  As a result, most categories of income and expense increased due to the Romemerger.  Most core profitability measurements improved due to the benefit of this merger.  Results in the most recent quarter include an estimated $0.03 per share accretive core earnings benefit from the Romeacquisition.  Earnings per share were affected by the issuance of additional Berkshire common shares related to the Rome acquisition.  Second quarter core earnings increased by 69% to $5.8 million in 2011 compared to 2010, and core earnings per share increased by 40% to $0.35 (including the impact of the newly issued shares).  Excluding the $0.03 estimated Rome-related core EPS accretion, core EPS grew at a 27% organic annualized rate compared to the prior quarter.  This ongoing organic growth in core EPS reflects the benefit of positive operating leverage resulting from revenue growth and disciplined expense management.  GAAP income results in 2011 included the impact of merger related non-core items listed on page F-9 of the accompanying tables, adjusted for tax accruals.  Second quarter 2011 GAAP earnings per share were$0.11, net of $0.24 per share in net after-tax merger related non-core items.  Including the benefits of theRome merger, the core return on assets improved to 0.72% in the most recent quarter.  Net of merger related charges, GAAP return on assets measured 0.23%.  The efficiency ratio improved including the benefits of the merger and organic growth.  Second quarter total net revenue increased by 22% in 2011 compared to 2010.  The net interest margin improved to 3.52% from 3.30% in the prior quarter and 3.25% in the second quarter of 2010.  This improvement was primarily due to the higher margin of the acquired Rome operations, along with the continuing benefit of disciplined pricing of loans and deposits.  Second quarter wealth management revenue increased organically by 22% in 2011 compared to 2010, including the benefit of new business development at a 13% annualized rate for the first half of the year.  Including the wealth management business acquired after mid-year with the Legacy acquisition, Berkshire’s total assets under management now exceed $900 million for its combined wealth management business.  Second quarter insurance commissions increased 4% year-to-year, including the benefit of commercial account growth.  Second quarter revenue included the impact of a $0.5 million year-to-year reduction in insurance contingency income as a result of lower payouts from major carriers due to industry conditions.The provision for loan losses decreased in the most recent quarter compared to the prior quarter and to the second quarter of 2010, reflecting the continuing strong performance of the loan portfolio.   Under current accounting standards for business combinations, the Rome loan loss allowance was not transferred to Berkshire along with the Rome loans.  Estimated losses inherent in Rome’s loan portfolio were recorded as charges against the fair value of Rome loans on the merger date.  Berkshire’s loan loss allowance remained unchanged at $31.9 million during the second quarter.  The ratio of the allowance to total loans was 1.30% at mid-year 2011, and the ratio of the allowance to nonperforming loans was 212%.  Second quarter non-interest expense totaled $28.6 million, including $5.5 million in non-core merger related expenses.  Core non-interest expense totaled $23.2 million, which was a 16% increase over the second quarter of 2010.  This increase includes the impact of the core Rome operating expenses.  Berkshire is proceeding with its plans to achieve cost savings related to this merger, which are expected to be further realized in upcoming quarters.  FDIC insurance expense decreased due to the benefit of new FDIC industry assessment rates which became effective at the beginning of the second quarter.  This partially offset a write-down on a foreclosed property in anticipation of its sale.  Second quarter income tax expense decreased in 2011 compared to 2010 due to the lower pre-tax earnings as a result of the merger related expenses recorded in the most recent quarter.UNAUDITED SELECTED FINANCIAL HIGHLIGHTS OF LEGACY BANCORPIncluded in the financial exhibits to this news release are unaudited selected second quarter financial highlights of Legacy Bancorp.  This information does not include all items which will affect the final financial statements of Legacy as of the acquisition date.  Activity in the second quarter was in line with the Company’s expectations and transitioning in anticipation of the merger.  Additional financial information about Legacy Bancorp will be provided in the notes to the financial statements of Berkshire as of September 30, 2011, which will reflect the acquisition of Legacy as of July 21, 2011.  In conjunction with the acquisition of Legacy, a deposit divestiture agreement was entered into with NBT Bancorp to divest four Berkshire County Legacy branch offices with deposits totaling approximately $158 million.  It is anticipated that this divestiture will be completed by October 31, 2011.NOTE ON ACCOUNTING CORRECTIONBased on a review of its tax credit investment limited partnership interests in the most recent quarter,Berkshire determined that its net income had been understated by an immaterial amount in prior periods.  These interests primarily relate to low income housing, community development, and solar energy related investments.  The Company has corrected its accounting for these interests, including adjustments to non-interest income to reflect book losses in these interests, which are more than offset by the reduction of income tax expense resulting from federal income tax credits.  The enclosed financial statements include the impact of the correction of these immaterial errors to current and prior period financial information presented.   Compensation and benefits12,027 28,463 9,092 756 1,244 2,000 27,963 3,546 Income tax expense371 1,4661,519 8,0547,197 2,316 2,730 Amortization of intangible assets    935 Merger related expenses    5,451 1,4101,572 Basic16,580 Wealth management fees    1,389 26,247 Mar. 31,Dec. 31, Deposit related fees3,366 6,685 2,200 28,28027,526 Quarters Ended Basic$     0.11 Total non-interest expense    28,623 768 768 $     0.25 20,028 – $   2,835$   3,600 Borrowings and junior subordinated debentures2,084 Other(277) 3,3073,364 2010 Occupancy and equipment    3,546 Non-interest expense 3,197 $ 24,490 8,779 13,94313,890 1,2131,520 10,960 3,4914,111 13,98113,934 4,254 Total non-interest income      8,170 656511 699 $   3,438 Net income$   1,877 1,253 – 1,458 716718 Weighted average shares outstanding:       BACKGROUNDBerkshire Hills Bancorp is the parent of Berkshire Bank, America’s Most Exciting Bank(SM), and now has more than $4 billion in assets after the Legacy acquisition.    The Company has more than 60 full service branch offices in Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont providing personal and business banking, insurance, and wealth management services.  Berkshire Bank provides 100% deposit insurance protection for all deposit accounts, regardless of amount, based on a combination of FDIC insurance and theDepositors Insurance Fund (DIF).  For more information, visit www.berkshirebank.com(link is external) or call 800-773-5601.  FORWARD LOOKING STATEMENTSThis document may contain forward-looking statements as defined in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.  There are several factors that could cause actual results to differ significantly from expectations described in the forward-looking statements. For a discussion of such factors, please seeBerkshire’s most recent reports on Forms 10-K and 10-Q filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission and available on the SEC’s website at www.sec.gov(link is external).  Berkshire does not undertake any obligation to update forward-looking statements made in this document.NON-GAAP FINANCIAL MEASURESThis document contains certain non-GAAP financial measures in addition to results presented in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (“GAAP”).  These non-GAAP measures provide supplemental perspectives on operating results, performance trends, and financial condition.  They are not a substitute for GAAP measures; they should be read and used in conjunction with the Company’s GAAP financial information.  A reconciliation of non-GAAP financial measures to GAAP measures is included in the accompanying financial tables.  In all cases, it should be understood that non-GAAP per share measures do not depict amounts that accrue directly to the benefit of shareholders.  The Company utilizes the non-GAAP measure of core earnings in evaluating operating trends, including components for core revenue and expense.  These measures exclude amounts which the Company views as unrelated to its normalized operations, including merger costs and restructuring costs.  Similarly, the efficiency ratio is also adjusted for these non-core items.  The Company also adjusts certain equity related measures to exclude intangible assets due to the importance of these measures to the investment community.  Non-GAAP adjustments in 2010 and 2011 are primarily related to expense charges related to the Rome and Legacy mergers.  These charges consist primarily of severance/benefit related expenses and professional fees.  Tax adjustments are based on an analysis of tax accruals for core income and for GAAP income, with the net difference included with non-core items and reflecting the timing impacts of tax expense estimates.PITTSFIELD, Mass., July 26, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — $     0.25 874 11,15111,093 542 18,871 27,91328,369 BERKSHIRE HILLS BANCORP, INC. 893 Deposits5,768 Diluted16,601 Earnings per share: 6,512 – 20,094 13,894 Total interest expense    7,852last_img read more