byJohn_Walter03-29-201309:50 AM - edited 03-29-201303:15 PM
Honey bees are continuing to send troubling signals about the health of their species, and it’s time that everyone in agriculture come to the table and figure out a solution. That was the message yesterday at the Bayer Bee Care Tour in Ames, Iowa. Bayer’s event, and related efforts, appear to be in part an attempt to address what the company feels is unwarranted criticism of its seed treatment products, a type of insecticide called neonicotinoids (NNCs), which some are saying have caused honey bee declines, or what is called colony collapse disorder.
On March 21, a group of beekeepers and activist organizations sued the EPA for approving the registration of the NNC class of pesticide, claiming the chemistry is highly toxic to honey bees.
The decline in honey bee numbers over this last winter has been alarming—50% of hives have been lost, a Bayer representative said yesterday. The issue is critical to agriculture, as honey bees and other pollinators are credited with pollinating about one third of the food produced in the U.S.
“Clearly, such a magnitude of losses is unsustainable,” Robyn Kneen, North American Bee Health Project Leader for Bayer, told the Ames gathering.
Researchers, beekeepers, regulators, and other stake holders are being brought together by Bayer in a six-stop tour of the Midwest to look at the latest ideas on how to stem bee losses. Bayer representatives insist that research shows the problem is highly unlikely to be related to NNCs, or at least solely so. A combination of factors is being looked at—lack of foraging habitat, drought effects, viruses, and other issues.
A few folks in the full house at the meeting in Ames, mostly beekeepers, expressed skepticism about Bayer’s claims. One beekeeper asked whether the pesticide is building up in the soil in a way that has gone undetected. “All I know is that bees don’t live as long as they used to," he said.
A Bayer representative and beekeeper from Utah, Veldon Sorensen (video, below), told me that if we don’t figure out this issue pretty soon, “we are going to be in big trouble.”
Everyone seems to agree on that point.
The message from the Bee Tour is that pesticides and healthy bee colonies can co-exist, if we attend to good management practices and continue to seek answers to the pollinator decline.
And corn farmers have an important role to play in helping protect pollinators, given that 94% of seed corn is treated with NNCs. Among the stewardship recommendations Bayer presented:
At preplanting time, try to keep fields clean of flowering weeds that might collect the seed treatment dust.
Make sure your planter is well calibrated so it doesn’t stir up dust.
Minimize dust when filling or emptying your planter.
Don’t use more talc or graphite than is recommended.
Clean planters and seed boxes away from sensitive areas with pollinator habitat.