Farming has always been a pursuit of the cultivation of a product within a living ecosystem. From those who grew up on farms to those who have found the love of agriculture, the saying of 'you give to the land and the land gives back to you' holds true. This covers everything from the soil to the organisms that live around crops. In recent years, a lot of attention has been paid to pollinators and how growers, farmers and consumers alike can provide safe habitats for them. Insects, including honeybees and wild bee species, beetles, wasps and butterflies are all important pollinators.
Allison Walston, a Senior Valent Field Market Development Specialist, conducts research on how Valent products perform in field trials to educate crop consultants and growers on best practices. An entomologist herself, Walston has spent 20+ years in the agriculture industry helping stakeholders better understand how to utilize crop inputs while at the same time being mindful of pollinator protection.
“From farmers, growers, chemical companies to beekeepers, we are all in this together” she says. “The better we can all communicate and work together, the more we can help all pollinators. Each of our roles differ to protect pollinators, growers and farmers need them to pollinate their crop, chemical companies provide pest management tools with warnings how to keep pollinators safe and beekeepers help find honeybees locations to pollinate .”
1. Read, Know and Follow the Label
Before using any product, organic or conventional, read the label carefully to understand and follow use directions and precautions. Walston says studying the product label can greatly impact safe handling for growers and pollinators, as some products may call for certain application techniques as well as restrictions for application timing.
2. Determine if the Pesticide may be Harmful to Insect Pollinators
Since 2013, EPA has required products that are harmful to honeybees have a bee advisory on the containers. When label directions and stewardship practices are followed, pesticides can be used around honeybees and other insect pollinators. Decide ahead of time the products you may want to use in-season. Then, confirm if any of those products carry a bee advisory warning, and be sure to follow any related label precautions or restrictions.
3. Understand Insect Pollinator Visitation Habits
During much of the growing season, native or managed pollinators will be prevalent, and honeybees can fly several miles from their hives to find flowers. Be aware of the attractiveness of blooming crops and weeds to pollinators, and strictly observe the application timing on the product label relative to the blooming stage of the crop and other plants in the area.
During the season, also be aware that the signs of pesticide exposure to honeybees can mimic those associated with other disorders including mite infestation, starvation and disease. And many times, it is a combination of all these factors that lead to poor bee health and/or death. Dead bees on the ground in front of hives is normal unless there are hundreds. Other warning signs can be unusually few foraging bees or bees that appear disoriented and unable to fly are all signs to closely monitor for throughout the season. Be sure to consult with a beekeeper or other pollinator expert if you observe such symptoms.
4. Follow IPM Principles
“It all starts with scouting,” says Walston. “You have to know what pests, both diseases and insects, are in the fields or that you anticipate coming.” Once growers prepare for what may happen in a given year, they can take time to talk with crop advisors about their options if they hit an actionable threshold. Once the threshold is determined for any issues present, stick to monitoring for that threshold and only apply products when needed. An effective Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program uses many practices to control pests and minimize risk. It is important to use the appropriate product, rate, timing and placement for maximum efficacy and safety.
5. Follow Pesticide Product Stewardship Practices and ‘Be Sure’
Once issues are identified and products are determined, Walston recommends targeting a timing window for application based on guidance provided by the product label. Do you have flexibility in timing? Determine the appropriate steps to take for applying your products and lay out your plans. For example, if the purpose is to minimize exposure to pollinators, applying in the evening or night when bees are not actively foraging.
Seed Treatment Stewardship Practices
Seed treatment practices have greatly changed and grown safer over the years for both the grower and for pollinators. Today’s seed treatments are usually a sprayed-on liquid that dries on the seed versus powder coatings that used to create dust. Use drills, planters or vacuum seeders that are closed systems which minimize both seed loss and exposure as closed systems vacuum any dust away. Load treated seed from a truck with an auger tube to fill the planter box. Check augers from a seed truck for airholes so no seed escapes and minimize the distance between auger opening and planter box. Be aware of wind direction and speed and the presence of foraging pollinators, hive locations, flowering habitats including weeds and other plants at field edges or nearby, and aquatic habitats. Properly dispose of any leftover treated seed and empty seed containers.
Other stewardship practices to consider:
● Follow the label directions for proper handling storage, and disposal for any pesticide product including treated seed.
● As labels usually recommend, avoid spraying during windy conditions.
● Calibrate the sprayer often and checking individual nozzle output.
● Don’t spray off target. Shut off sprayer near ponds, irrigation ditches and other sources of water.
6. Work with Local Beekeepers and Stakeholders
Communication among farmers, landowners, applicators, beekeepers, crop advisors, local field extension and or county ag department is crucial to ensuring maximum safety.
The best place to start is to identify beekeepers in your area, establish a relationship, share your pest management plans and discuss ways to cooperate in the future to minimize bee exposures.
FieldWatch is a voluntary, free stewardship and communication tool that connects growers and beekeepers with pesticide applicators to provide them with the most up to date contact and location information to help make timely and safe spraying decisions. Once signed up, growers can input their acreage, crops grown and growing methods. Beekeepers have the ability to input relevant information about their apiaries, such as location and number of hives. Applicators seeking this information can set up alerts to be notified of new crop sites in their specified area as well as any bee populations moving in and out of the area and other information useful to managing pesticide drift.
As for landowners, growers and pesticide applicators, consider the following practices:
● Beekeepers, growers and pesticide applicators need to work together to identify when and where bee boxes are located.
● Eliminate flowering weeds in the target area before application.
● If possible, provide pollinator forage in non-crop areas like vegetative buffer strips and by using cover crops.
● Consider the local landscape, including locations of forage and water when planning the application program.
It is also important to check state and local ordinances pertaining to insect pollinators. State and county departments of agriculture can provide specific information about pollinator protection. Some states have special requirements for bee populations or use mapping technology that can benefit growers greatly.
To learn more about the importance of pollinator protection and to review additional tips and stewardship practices, visit GrowingMatters.org.