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Pollinator issues subject of presentation at Beltwide

Declines in honey bee populations continue to attract attention in the national media and in environmental activist circles. Activists and some beekeepers have been asking that pesticide registrations be withdrawn because of claims the chemicals are impacting bees negatively.

There’s a lot more to the issue than pesticide use, however, says Don Parker, manager of integrated pest management for the National Cotton Council. Parker gave a presentation at the Consultants Conference at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences explaining the issue and the actions the NCC is taking to address it.

“This issue does throw into question a lot of our pesticide products that are used in agriculture,” says Parker. “But several different studies have pointed out there is no single smoking gun, no single factor that is identified as the main cause of the decline in honey bee health.”

Varroa mite question

Among those are parasites, including the Varroa mite, a relatively recent arrival in the U.S., that has been cited by a USDA report as one of the “most detrimental pests of honey bees and one that is associated with overwintering declines.”

“There are issues of nutrition, there is a lot of loss of habitat for the  bees to have alternate sources of food and there are issues around pesticides, naturally," said Parker. “And, there are issues around the stress that is placed on the bees by shipping them from location to location for pollinator service.

“So, although the science has shown there are multiple issues, there’s been a tremendous amount of focus put on pesticides and a lot of pressure put on EPA  to change the way we look at the registration of pesticides. We have been very concerned because we need these crop protection tools to protect our crops from insect pests.”

One of the pesticides being targeted by activists is sulfoxaflor, the active ingredient in Dow AgroSciences’ newly registered Transform insecticide. On Dec. 6, the Pollinator Stewardship Council filed a lawsuit against EPA challenging the registration of sulfoxaflor, a material that has proven to be effective in controlling plant bugs and similar pests.

Parker said several studies are under way to try to gauge the impact of pesticides on honey bee health, including the impact of materials that are applied to control the Varroa mite.

Science-based decisions

‘Much of this research has not made any conclusions, and we are asking that we wait for the science to come out so we can make science-based decisions,” he noted.

“But it is important for producers to understand there are some groups that are trying to take this action in a different route, and they have filed lawsuits asking for cancellations of product registrations rather than waiting for the science.”

Some of the research is being conducted in the Mid-South – in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. Researchers are making a coordinated effort to look at multiple crops related to seed treatments and trying to do a follow-up to determine if any residual product has been left in plants bees are foraging.

(Note: Coverage of the initial reports from the research at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences will appear in future issues of the Farm Presses.)

NCC leaders believe one answer to the dilemma confronting beekeepers and producers who have cooperated in providing bee forage in the past may be as simple as better communications between the two.

“Many times a beekeeper will ask a producer if he can place bees on his farm, and then no further communications occur until the beekeeper notices there’s a problems with his bees,” Parker noted. “Beekeepers and growers need to have an understanding about the best placement of bees, any applications of pesticides that may be made in the area and the timing of those applications before the bees are placed.”

To see a complete copy of Parker’s paper from the Beltwide Cotton Conferences, click on

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