Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a phenomenon with no concrete answer. It’s when there are no adult bees, but the queen bee, and usually immature bees are still present. While the reason is still a mystery, some are pointing to agriculture, specifically neonicotinoids, as the culprit. “Do it yourself” chain Lowe’s recently announced they would quit carrying neonicotinoids in their stores, in an effort to improve bee health. In this Farm Journal Report, we introduce you to a group of Missouri high school kids taking on this mystery, hoping to make a difference with science.
“I think the most pressing issue here is really just to save the bees,” says Abby Lammers, a senior at Parkway North High School in St. Louis, Mo.
Lammers isn’t your average high school senior. With plans to explore the ecology field in college, it’s her work today that could be a game changer.
“The pollinator project started by taking a look at what problems are facing pollinators right now,” she explains. “And we basically narrowed it down to two things: habitat destruction and also pesticide use.”
She’s working with her peers at Parkway North High School in St. Louis on the project. The intent isn’t to place blame, but to find resolutions to this scientific mystery. Lammers says they are deploying the help of consumers to help combat the habitat destruction portion of the equation.
These seeds packets, sent to anyone interested in planting their own bee-friendly garden, contain seeds of native plants that help pollinators thrive, like milkweed and royal catchfly.
As for combatting the pesticide piece of the issue, Lammers says that’s a bit more complicated.
“Because we obviously can’t go out and tell farmers, ‘hey, stop using pesticides, we’re worried about the bees here,” says Lammers.
Instead, they are taking what she calls a research-based approach
“The way that we’re doing that is by creating this test strip that will test for the presence of neonicotinoids, which are a newer, pesticide that have shown to be particularly toxic to bees,” says Lammers.
“So that citizens, normal people like us, could test it in our yard,” says Ellen Weng, also a senior working on the project. “Just put some soil in some water, give it a stir, stick in the test strip, and then see if it turns a certain color.”
“Then, we’ll plot that on a map, then we can plot that against other things that are affecting bees,” says Lammers. “We can see where the correlations are, and then move forward from there.”
The students know it’s a big undertaking that can’t be done on their own, so they’ve deployed the help of BioAg, as well as universities. But in the future, they hope their method is something major agriculture companies will want to employ.
“We think it would be in the best interest of the chemical companies producing neonicotinoids to actually produce a test strip themselves,” says Lammers. “It may sound counterintuitive, but when you think about it, you have ‘neonicotinoid A’ and ‘neonicotinoid B’ and ‘neonicotinoid A’ also offers a test strip that says ‘our chemical is so safe that if you test your water for it in two weeks it will be gone.’ Then they’re being held accountable, and that’s a really great marketing tool. “>
“If high school students can produce a test strip with the limited resources that we have, then it should be easily done by chemical companies that can produce them on a wide scale for a variety of different pesticides,” says Alec Wood, another senior working on the Pollinator Project.
The team has even gone as far as petitioning FDA to require some of these companies to use test strips before selling the pesticide commercially.
While determining the main factor causing so many bee deaths is still a work in progress, they’ve come a long way since august.
“I do not think neonicotinoids are the number one cause of colony collapse disorder,” says Lammers. I think they are definitely negatively affecting bees’ ability to forage, bees’ ability to maintain a colony, to survive the winter. I also think they are a huge agent in weakening bees which allows other agents to come in and cause colony collapse disorder.”
A recent study aligns with Lammers’ finding. EPA, USDA and University of Maryland found the world’s honeybees are under threat, but the culprits include a long list, including parasites, disease and climate stress. The sciences say they found chemicals do impact bee health, that’s just one issue bees face today.
These students have seen looked into studies and know agriculture depends on honey bee health, as well.
“Pesticides are really important to modern agriculture system, and before we take any steps to say these are killing bees, we really want to make sure we have our facts straight,” says Lammers.
“Bees and other pollinators are essential to modern agriculture, and without them, roughly one-third of the food we have today, wouldn’t be possible because it must be pollinated,” explains Weng.
It’s awareness that they are trying to create buzz around through a project that will outlast the school year, but they believe it’s work that could make a difference.
“I think this will be one of the most defining agriculture issues of our time,” says Lammers.