Providing help for hurting pollinators
Complex problems are rarely, if ever, solved by simple answers. The alarming loss of honey- bees in North America during the past few years is no exception.
One encouraging sign, however, is that stakeholders, including farmers, beekeepers and the crop protection industry, are addressing the problem and looking for ways to solve it.
"We want everyone to have some skin in the game," says Laurie Adams, executive director of the Pollinator Partnership, an organization intent on finding ways to address the loss of pollinators and encouraging all stakeholders to participate in the process.
In early 2013, the USDA–Natural Resources Conservation Service stated it will provide close to $3 million in technical and financial assistance for interested farmers and ranchers to improve the health of bees. The focused investment to improve pollinator health will be targeted in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Honeybee pollination supports an estimated $15 billion worth of agricultural production or as much as one-third of all food production, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables such as almonds, blueberries and cantaloupe.
What’s at stake. Bee die-offs in North America have occurred at an alarming rate in recent years. Preliminary results from the 2013-14 survey by the Bee Informed Partnership, funded by USDA, show losses of managed honeybee colonies have averaged 30.5% for the past eight years.
A report issued by USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this spring cited a complex list of contributing factors: habitat loss, poor diet, declining genetic diversity, diseases, parasites and pesticide exposure.
"The neonicotinoids are the main target for beekeepers and environmental groups," says Don Parker, integrated pest management manager for the National Cotton Council. "They’re going after these materials hard."
Some scientists contend that contaminated dust from corn seed and other crops treated with neonicotinoid-based insecticides, talc or graphite is a contributing factor in die-offs. The theory claims bees are exposed to the dust when they land on dandelions and other flowering plants, and then they carry the dust back to the colony.
Parker says EPA has found no evidence of "imminent hazard" to honeybees or other pollinators.
Canadian farmers were mandated to use Bayer CropScience’s new Fluency Agent this past spring when planting neonicotinoid-treated seed. Use of the product was not required in the U.S.
For the past eight years, overwinter colony loss has averaged 30% from Oct. 1 to April 1.
The product reduces the amount of insecticide active ingredient released in seed dust during planting therefore reducing risk of exposure to non-target insects, such as bees and other pollinators says Kerry Grossweiler, manager of equipment and coatings, SeedGrowth, Bayer CropScience.
Using best management practices, such as cleaning treatment residues off equipment away from fields, using the recommended rate of lubricants and growing strips of native perennial plants around fields to improve habitat, can help preserve pollinators.