The bee and honey industry and agriculture interests are caught in a dilemma: how to protect bees and other pollinators while maintaining the crop protection products farmers need to manage pests.
Protecting bees without sacrificing farm efficiency is a serious concern for the National Cotton Council, says Don Parker, Council IPM manager.
Parker addressed the Cotton consultants’ conference Monday at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans. “We’re trying to educate consultants (and others) about recent events and the amount of activity surrounding honey bees. These issues will affect the farm,” he said.
It’s an issue that has been building for several years, initially called colony collapse disorder. “Bee keepers have lost a significant number of bees to overwinter mortality,” Parker said. “They think they are fighting for survival. But we have to find a way to assure our survival as well.”
The term colony collapse disorder has been changed to bee health and suspected causes include multiple factors, including pesticide use. Parasites, pathogens, pests, loss of habitat, genetics and bee management stress are also cited as potential contributors to bee health.
“Researchers have no answers and have found no smoking gun, no number one factor,” Parker said.
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Varroa mite infestation “is a significant factor. Some say pesticides are as well. A number of interactive research efforts can’t separate factors out. But we do see a focus on pesticides and recommendations to change use.”
Bee keepers and other groups are putting a lot of pressure on the EPA regarding pollinator protection. Those changes would alter the way EPA evaluates products for bee safety. “EPA announced its intention to change the pollinator risk management process to a more robust tiered assessment requiring multiple studies for evaluating product impacts on adult and immature honey bees and the resulting effect on colony survival,” Parker said. “Changes would require more tests and more cost to get a product to market.”
A lawsuit has been filed against EPA by the Pollinator Stewardship Council, American Honey Producers Association, National Honey Bee Advisory Board, American Beekeeping Federation and several individuals, challenging registration of Dow’s new insecticide, sulfoxalor—a product effective in controlling plant bugs and similar pests.”
Fungicide and insecticide seed treatments have also been targeted.
Studies in Europe have found no evidence that neonicotinoids were a significant contributor but there is significant pressure to restrict use.
No smoking gun
“Many factors are involved,” Parker said. Still, the European Union has banned use of several neonicotinoid seed treatments and advocacy groups have intensified demands for greater restrictions in the United States.
“A Florida grower was fined for a bee kill.”
Parker said other efforts include a varroa summit.
He also said the Council’s stance is that solutions should be based on local conditions. “One solution will not fit every area of the country. Spraying only at night, for instance, will not work in areas with small fields and woodlands.”
Cooperation between the diverse groups will be critical, he added. North Dakota has put together a plan, with beekeepers and producers working together. Florida growers and beekeeper are working on a draft; Mississippi has also begun efforts to bring beekeepers and producers together.
“It is important for the U.S. cotton industry to understand that the debate over pollinator protection and the use of crop protection materials is at the forefront of discussions among lawmakers and regulatory officials,” he said.
Andy LaVigne, President and CEO of the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), said seed treatment technology has become a popular practice for farmers. “But it has raised some challenges in regard to pollinators.
“EPA liked seed treatment technology because of environmental and human health benefits. Now, stewardship is critical for all aspects of seed applied technology. We have to address the bee/pollinator health and raise awareness in the farm community.”
He said emphasizing stewardship may delay some restrictions on products. “We’re working across the board with key associations.” Those include the Cotton Council, National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association and others. The Seed Trade Association is also taking the message to key conferences, including the Beltwide Cotton Conferences and the Commodity Classic. Curriculum development and building international cooperation are also part of ASTA’s agenda.
An association’s website, www.seed-treatment-guide.com, offers information on multiple efforts and opportunities for producers, associations and consultants to become more aware of issues and action steps. Tools include brochures and videos.
“We will do videos for specific crops, including cotton. We’re also working with equipment manufacturers to look at planters to reduce dust. Proper storage and handling are other important issues.
“Our goal,” LaVigne said, “is to convince EPA not to go heavy-handed to restrict seed treatments. We hope to prevent additional burdens on growers.”
Parker said a lot of the science about bee health is not known. “A lot of studies are underway and so far EPA has stuck with the science. But they are under a lot of political pressure to stop or restrict application ‘in case it could be the problem.’”