Farmers, beekeepers and industry look for opportunities to provide help for hurting pollinators.
Complex problems are rarely, if ever, solved by simple answers, and the alarming loss of honeybees in North America during the past few years is no exception to the rule.
One of the encouraging signs, however, is that a consortium of stakeholders, including farmers, beekeepers and the crop protection industry, is addressing the problem and looking for ways, collectively, to solve it.
"We want everyone to have some skin in the game," says Laurie Adams, executive director of the Pollinator Partnership. The organization is intent on finding ways to address the loss of pollinators and is encouraging all stakeholders to participate in the process.
Adams participated in a panel discussion on the pollinator issue today at the Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum in San Antonio ahead of the 2014 Commodity Classic.
What’s at Stake
Bee die-offs in North America have garnered considerable attention as they have occurred at an alarming rate in recent years. An annual survey funded by the USDA shows losses of managed honey bee colonies totaled 31.1% last winter. Bee losses for each of the last six years have averaged 30.5%.
Farmers who produce crops such as almonds, blueberries and cantaloupe rely on bees and often other animal species, including birds, bats, beetles and butterflies, for their pollination process. As much as one-third of all food products produced globally rely on such pollinators.
A joint report issued by the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency last spring cited a complex combination of factors as contributing specifically to bee deaths: habitat loss, declining genetic diversity, poor diet, diseases, parasites—in particular, the Varroa mite—and pesticide exposure.
Some scientists contend that contaminated dust from seed corn and other crops treated with neonicotinoid-based insecticides, talc or graphite, is a contributing factor in bee die-offs. The theory is that bees are exposed to the dust when it lands on dandelions and other early-season flowering plants.
Products and Practices
In Canada, the federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) and Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) have evaluated the cause of the extensive bee losses, which they report coincides with corn and soybean planting season.
In response, the PMRA announced this past November that it would mandate the use of the new Fluency Agent from Bayer CropScience during the 2014 planting season for farmers planting neonicotinoid-treated seed.
The Fluency Agent is also available for use by U.S. farmers for the 2014 season. Its use is not mandated in the United States.
The Fluency Agent reduces the amount of insecticide active ingredient released in treated seed dust during planting therefore reducing the risk of exposure to non-target insects, including bees and other pollinators, according to Kerry Grossweiler, manager of equipment and coatings, SeedGrowth, Bayer CropScience.
Grossweiler says the product—made of a polyethylene wax substrate—was shown to significantly decrease dust and emissions during laboratory and field testing.
In laboratory tests conducted by the company, the Fluency Agent was shown "to help reduce the amount of total dust released in treated seeds by 90% versus talc and 60% versus graphite."
As an application guideline, Fluency Agent is applied at the rate of 1/8 cup per 80,000 kernel seed corn unit or 1/8 cup per 140,000 seed soybean unit. The product can be used in all makes and types of planting equipment that recommend the use of a seed lubricant.
Using best management practices on the farm can also help preserve bees and other pollinators. These include: cleaning seed treatment residues from planting equipment away from fields; using the recommended rate of seed lubricants, and growing strips of native perennial plants around agricultural fields to improve foraging habitat.