Farming has always been a pursuit of the cultivation of a product within a living ecosystem. Children who grow up on farms are taught, ‘you give to the land and the land gives back to you.’ This covers everything from the soil to the living organisms that live around crops. In recent years, a lot of attention has been paid to pollinators and how 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.
Fred Marmor, a Valent Field Market Development Specialist, studies how Valent products perform in real-world trials to educate crop consultants and growers on best practices for using these products. An entomologist and beekeeper himself, Marmor has spent 40 years in the agriculture industry helping growers better understand and work with the living things on their land.
“We are all in this together. The growers, chemical companies, beekeepers,” he says. “The better we can all work together, the more we can help all pollinators. It’s about being cognizant that everyone has a role to play in all of this and we need to take it seriously.”
Marmor says while growers across the nation are growing different crops on different growing timelines, for the most part, general tips for pollinator management can apply. Here’s how growers can do their part.
1. Read, Know and Follow the Label
Before using any product, read the label carefully to understand and follow use directions and precautions. Marmor says studying the product label can greatly impact safe handling for growers and pollinators, as some products may call for certain application techniques and sites as well as restrictions for application timing.
2. Determine if the Pesticide may be Harmful to Insect Pollinators
Generally, pesticides can be used safely around honey bees and other insect pollinators when label directions and stewardship practices are followed. 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 honey bees 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. Dead bees on the ground in front of hives, 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 Marmor. “You have to know what pests, 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, Marmor suggests nailing down 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 might be an option.
Other stewardship practices to consider:
● When planting treated seeds, avoid releasing dust from seed treatments into the air. Incorporate treated seeds into soil at proper depth, especially at field margins.
● Be aware of any changing weather patterns before spraying and during application, especially windy conditions.
● Calibrate the sprayer often, checking individual nozzles.
● 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 and local officials 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.
FieldWatch CEO Stephanie Reganon says, “No applicator wants to harm anyone. No beekeeper wants to lose bees. Growers do not want to be harmed or to harm anyone. When tools like FieldWatch are used, we are all better off for it and it can be very effective. At the end of the day what we are trying to do here is be good neighbors and its systems like this that help us get there.”
As for landowners, growers and pesticide applicators, consider the following practices:
● Determine who will alert beekeepers regarding upcoming pesticide applications.
● 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.
Marmor says, most in the industry are being as proactive as possible. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to use products correctly, in a timely manner and only when needed.” Knowing the correct steps and tools available to growers can only make this process more seamless during a busy growing season.
To learn more about the importance of pollinator protection and to review additional tips and stewardship practices, visit GrowingMatters.org.