‘Bee’ smart with pesticide usage

Bees have had it hard lately. Since 2006, greater attention has been paid to high levels of bee loss — an average loss of 37.6% in the winter of 2006-07, as stated in a report commissioned by the Apiary Inspectors of America.

‘Bee’ smart with pesticide usage

Bees have had it hard lately. Since 2006, greater attention has been paid to high levels of bee loss — an average loss of 37.6% in the winter of 2006-07, as stated in a report commissioned by the Apiary Inspectors of America.

Though the winter of 2013-14 harbored a loss lesser than previous years at 23.2% of managed bee colonies in the U.S., as reported by the Bee Informed Partnership, that number is still high. Various groups are calling for action to help lower bee losses and keep them low.

Andy Joseph, state apiarist with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, describes the bees’ plight as “death by a thousand paper cuts.” Colony collapse disorder got many people aware of bees’ high death rate, but Joseph says the disorder is really a small fraction of what is affecting bee colonies. The biggest factor is the varroa mite.

This mite can physically damage bees, as well as trasmit the varroa virus complex,” which can harm bee health. While various methods of control exist, determining the level of infestation and following label directions are important.

Joseph cites other factors of bee loss, including poor nutrition and pesticide use. Since 1979 in Iowa, beekeepers have registered their hives according to the Iowa Bee Rule. Though this is not required in Iowa, it includes contact information and apiary location saved in a directory that commercial pesticide applicators are required to view on the first of every month.

When commercial applicators plan to apply pesticide labeled as “toxic to bees,” and the plan is to apply it within a one mile radius of an apiary location, they must do so before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m., in hope of avoiding the time when bees are most active.

Register hives

Registering your hives online can help protect them from commercially applied pesticides, but there are more steps you can take for pesticide protection.

First, Joseph recommends talking to your neighbors. All over Iowa beekeepers house a few colonies here, a few colonies there, so neighbors of apiary locations may not realize hives are close by. By having a friendly conversation with your neighbor, you can help work out plans and ideas of how to keep both parties happy.

Second, hive location can be very important in avoiding pesticide effects. Joseph recommends avoiding fencerows. “That’s just asking for pesticide exposure,” he says. Instead, look for a more central location, away from row-cropped fields.

If you feel your hives have experienced pesticide-related losses, Joseph says to contact the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s pesticide bureau. You can learn more at www.iowaagriculture.gov/pesticides.asp.

Steps farmers can take

As a farmer without bees, there are steps you can take to help curb high colony losses, as well. Though noncommercial pesticide applicators aren’t required to check the online database of hive registries, it’s not a bad idea to follow the same guidelines the commercial applicators do. By checking the registry and being conscientious of where and when you spray, you can help keep bee losses down.

Joseph also stresses to make sure to follow label directions when applying pesticides. “Bees can get substantial nectar from soybeans,” he says, which can lead to bees staying in the beans while they’re flowering. This makes pesticide applications problematic during this time in soybean development. If pesticide needs to be applied in soybeans during flowering, Joseph recommends doing it after 6 p.m. to minimize bee loss.

“Be aware there are a whole lot of bees out there,” he says, estimating 4,000 beekeepers and 40,000 hives in Iowa. With hives scattered across the state, taking steps to ensure their safety is critical.

With bees’ nutrition also in question, Joseph is excited about the growing popularity of cover crops. With more acres being paved and fewer crops being grown, there is much less diversity among plants than there used to be in Iowa. This makes less food for bees, and can affect their health. Growing cover crops can help improve diversity, and also fetch a premium when marketing the varietal honey. One plant Joseph would like to see used is buckwheat, as it creates a unique, dark honey, similar to sorghum or molasses, and would command a higher price.

With many factors causing higher-than-optimal bee losses, it’s important to be doing a better job than may seem normal with your hives. With bees needing help and struggling, you can find assistance through Joseph’s office at 515-725-1470 or the IDALS website.

Other resources include the Iowa Honey Producers Association at www.abuzzaboutbees.com, and local clubs scattered throughout the state. To register your apiary locations or seek locations near you, search for “IDALS sensitive crops,” or visit www.iowaagriculture.gov/horticulture_and_farmersmarkets/sensitivecropdirectory.asp.

Dittmer is a Wallaces Farmer intern.

USDA funding to help boost declining bee population

The White House on June 20 ordered USDA and the U.S. EPA to lead a governmentwide effort to study why honeybees, Monarch butterflies and other species are dying off and to figure out ways to stem the declines. The Obama administration also pledged to set aside more federal land for conservation purposes so pollinating species like these could thrive in those areas.

USDA said it would offer $8 million in incentives as part of the Conservation Reserve Program for farmers and ranchers who establish new habitat for declining honeybee populations. “American agriculture production relies on having a healthy honeybee population,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

USDA released a report that says the number of managed honeybee colonies in the U.S. has fallen from 6 million in 1947 to about 2.5 million today. Bees, butterflies and other species are instrumental in the production of $24 billion worth of crops, with honeybees alone accounting for $15 billion worth of more than 130 fruits and vegetables. The loss of bees “poses a real threat to U.S. agriculture.”

The government report says multiple factors are responsible for contributing to the decline in honeybee colonies in the U.S. Those factors include parasites and disease, habitat loss, genetics, poor nutrition, and pesticide exposure. For more information about USDA’s new pollinator initiative in Midwestern states, the continuous enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program, and the pollinator habitat initiative, agricultural producers are encouraged to contact their local FSA office or go online to www.fsa.usda.gov.

The CRP pollinator initiative, administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency, takes advantage of new pollinator seed mixes developed by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. FSA also recently announced the restart of continuous enrollments in CRP, including its pollinator habitat initiative to enroll 100,000 acres of longer-lasting meadows of high-quality native wildflowers that support honeybees, pollinators and other wildlife.

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He said it

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“Iowa’s bee population has declined significantly due to a number of factors. More steps need to be taken to protect our valuable pollinators.”

Andy Joseph,
state apiarist,
Iowa Department of Agriculture
and Land Stewardship

This article published in the July, 2014 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2014.

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