Editor's Note: This is the Field Notes column published in the February 2014 issue of Citrus + Vegetable Magazine.
The European Union has implemented a 2-year moratorium on neonicotinoids, a widely used class of insecticides, to give officials more time to study their effects on honeybees.
An increasing number of environmental and even some beekeeper groups in the United States are pushing for similar bans in light of recent honeybee declines.
Even if you don’t use the pesticides or don’t rent bees for pollination, the issue bears watching because it could spread to other classes of chemicals on which you rely.
Bayer CropScience is in the middle of the fray, since the firm markets imadacloprid under the Admire Pro label. Several other companies also market off-patent imadacloprid, which can be applied to the soil or crop leaves.
“This issue has really escalated to new levels,” says Alan Ayers, Bayer CropScience’s director of state affairs stewardship who also sits on the company’s bee health team. The Research Triangle Park, N.C., firm is working with several other crop protection companies, including Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta, on the issue.
The big concern is discussions are focused on neonicotinoids today but could spill over into pyrethroids and other pesticide classes tomorrow, Ayers says.
His comments came during a meeting of the National Potato Council’s Environmental Affairs Committee recently in San Antonio. But the issue ranges far beyond potatoes and could affect just about every fruit and vegetable commodity. In fact, bees aren’t really attracted to potato blooms, but potato growers rely heavily on imadacloprid as part of their integrated pest management program.
The concern stems from a continuing decline in honeybee populations. During the past several years, beekeepers have reported winter losses in managed beehives of 25 percent to 35 percent compared to the typical 15 percent. Some beekeepers have even lost all their hives.
An October 2012 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that the declines are not due to any one factor but to several, including pests such as the varroa mite, pesticide exposure, poor bee diets, lack of genetic diversity and stressful management practices.
Ayers says the registrants continue to conduct studies on pesticide exposure, but they’re also looking at how beekeepers can improve overall bee health. At the same time, EPA is moving forward with a risk assessment of the products.
One of the most visible efforts from Bayer are new labels for neonicotinoids that carry a bee logo. This is designed to alert users of additional steps to take to reduce possible bee exposure to the product.
Ayers says the registrant group also is pushing for a national varroa mite summit to address what most in the industry consider the top bee pest. The pinhead-sized mite attaches itself to the back of bees and literally sucks the life out of its host.
In addition, a handful of states, including Florida and Mississippi, are in various stages of drafting voluntary best management practices for pesticide applicators to protect the larger class of pollinators.
This isn’t just a beekeeper issue or an issue if you rent beehives, but an industrywide problem that needs everybody’s help to address and—let’s hope—solve.