This week has been designed as Pollinator Week by the Honey Bee Health Coalition. The organization hopes to use this time to highlight the importance of the honeybee to agricultural crops and the increased stresses that have been placed on the bees in the last ten years or so.
Many organizations have joined the Honey Bee Health Coalition to help them achieve a healthy population, including the National Corn Growers Association.
“Corn does not require pollination by honey bees, but NCGA recognizes the integral role they play in a productive agriculture system. We are committed to improving the health and viability of pollinators as part of our overall sustainability efforts,” said Chip Bowling, NCGA president and Newburg, Maryland farmer. “We are also engaged to assure steps being taken to help pollinators are well researched and based on science.”
Meonicotinoid seed treatments have been blamed for destruction of honeybee colonies, but lack of scientific evidence has NCGA and the Honey Bee Health Coalition looking for other stressors.
“What we know so far is that there are a handful of issues that can cause problems for bees. Severe weather, pests and disease, lack of forage and nutrition, lack of genetic diversity and incidental pesticide exposure may all be causing problems,” said Carson Klosterman, a farmer from Wyndmere, North Dakota and member of NCGA’s Production and Stewardship Action Team.
Klosterman says neonicotinoid seed treatments are actually a good way to limit incidental pesticide exposure because of how and when they are used. For instance, farmers are switching to a pinpoint treatment of insecticide on seed at planting time, rather than a broad spectrum treatment later in the growing season when bees are more active.
The neonicotinoids had three other distinct advantages: they are much safer for humans to use, they are absorbed by plants and translocated via the vascular system, giving effective control of sap sucking and boring insects which other sprayed insecticides might not contact, and they can be applied as seed treatments, so the accurate placement allows less insecticide to be used which is better for the environment.
Growers can take actions to protect honeybees. Klosterman suggest getting to know local beekeepers. Keeping lines of communication open can protect bees from unintended pesticide exposure. Working together mitigates risk to pollinators while protecting the crop protection tools used by growers.