Jim Blome knows how to make an entrance. The CEO of Bayer CropScience North America walked into the Senate building in Washington, D.C., carrying a live bee hive. "You should have seen the security around me," says Blome, who brought the hive to impress upon lawmakers the importance of bee health. This month, Bayer CropScience opens its North American Bee Care Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C., which will house a teaching apiary; honey extraction and workshop space; interactive learning center; and meeting, training and presentation facilities for beekeepers, farmers and educators. As a farm kid from Iowa with an agronomy degree and experience in entomology, Blome couldn’t be more excited. "We have 9 billion mouths to feed, and one out of every three bites of food comes from pollination by a bee," Blome says. "Bees are some of the hardest workers in our food system." In recent years, Bayer has directed millions of dollars toward bee research, including expansion of its original bee care facility on 278 acres in Johnston County, N.C., affectionately called "Beesboro."
Pollinator research could mean big business for Bayer in the long term. A joint report issued by USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency this past spring cited a combination of factors in bee deaths: stress, starvation, diseases, parasites—in particular, the Varroa mite—and pesticide exposure. Some scientists contend that contaminated dust from seed corn treated with neonicotinoid-based insecticides is a contributing factor in bee die-offs. In Canada, the federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) and Ontario Ministry of the Environment evaluated the cause of extensive bee losses and reported that bee deaths coincide with seasonal corn and soybean planting. In response, PMRA announced it would mandate the use of Bayer’s new fluency agent during the 2014 planting season for farmers planting neonicotinoid-treated seed. More than 90% of U.S. corn acreage is treated with neonicotinoids. It’s no surprise that Blome is buzzing about bees.