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Corn and bees

Just posted a little slideshow (Bee careful out there) that talks about some of the issues surrounding the use of treated seed. If some of these insecticides are part of the problem in declining pollinator populations, then it seems like the issue needs more visibility than it's had in the past. Habitat is another issue, and I'm going to experiment a little with that this spring on the home farm.


Is this issue something you're ever going think about when you're preparing to go to the field with a planter box full of treated seed? Would you ever consider planting pollinator habitat?


Thoughts? Thanks....





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4 Replies
Jim Meade / Iowa City
Senior Advisor

Re: Corn and bees

I don't know what to think about all this.  On one hand, I'm sympathetic to the plight of bees and other pollinators.  Farmers are not given very much information that can be direclty translated into dollars and cents as to their worth.


I'm not sympathetic to the idea that if some substance is harmful it is the farmer's fault that it even exists.  We need to see the science.  I got a good education on monarch butterflies and Silent Spring so scintists don't impress me until they come with the peer reviewed and duplicated studies.

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Honored Advisor

Re: Corn and bees

John, I admit to being way behind on the curve of bees and pesticides. It seems that the implications are as much about the methods of application, as the exact chemicals thought to be problematic.

It took a very good book to explain modern beekeeping to me several years back... "Following the Bloom". I highly recommend that one to anyone trying to get a grip on how pollination of target crops is largely dependent upon itinerant beekeeping outfits tht literally follow the bloom of first one, then another. It is a fascinating subject.

Having kept a few hives, and taken a good beekeeping hands-on course a few years back, I can say there are do many variables in managing for healthy hives, it is almost a surprise that it has worked so well or so long. The onset of issues was relatively sudden in coming to the attention of the general public.

The last time your heard much was when Africanized bees were moving north in the western hemisphere,, and causing some level
of panic. Now, it seems I have heard that drones aren't getting their only job done, that of mating with the queen. That was the last theory I read.

It would be easy to solve CCD, if it is one pesticide or one application method.
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Senior Advisor

Re: Corn and bees

"The challenges are complex. There is no smoking gun," said Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, director of USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). "Parasites, disease, genetics, poor nutrition, pesticide exposure -- there's no way to parse out one cause as the smoking gun."


The last I read about the bee problems (older threads here) led me to believe that -- 1) they have alot more work to do to determine the actual causes of the problems, 2) there may be other sources of the pesticides since heightened levels were identified in the studies prior to corn planting time, 3) some of the pesticides seem to have a long life in the soil which allows them to present themselves to the bees (plant uptake by early flowering plants in the spring -- like maybe dandelions and henbit). 


The biggest problem with the bee colonies sounds like is due to the mites, and their apparent resistence to some of the chemicals used to control them.  And, is it possible that some of those chemicals are also hurting the bees?


So, it could be that the seed coatings are not the primary problem, especially when not using air/vacuum planters.  It could be that later season applications of insecticides are doing most of the damage (summer, fall and spring, especially if they have a carryover for uptake by the early spring plants that bloom at or prior to corn planting time.  It could be that non-farmers are applying these pesticides to lawns/gardens, and at higher levels than approved for farm use.  Etc.  And, it could be that the ag pesticides actually represent a minor part of the problem.

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Veteran Advisor

Re: Corn and bees

John, until we see scientific proof that seed treatments are to blame we will keep using treated seed. My personal opinion is that later season applications of insecticide could be more to blame than treated corn seed. I've heard many agronomist suggest putting in insecticide with the roundup applications "since you are going over the field anyway".

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