This column deserves a disclaimer upfront. The honeybee vs. neonicotinoid issue is a hot potato. Emotions flare for those who think they harm bees and have no value, vs. those that think if used responsibly, they still serve a vital role in helping protect crops in the germinating and seedling stage from primarily secondary insect pests. Others argue that if it’s your field that gets destroyed, there is no such thing as a ‘secondary’ pest.
To prevent further tension names and a few details are left out of this discussion, but the take-home message is the same. It revolves around a conversation I had recently with someone in the ag seed and chemical industry.
“So you don’t think the data that is used to show that these seed treatment insecticides are no longer needed isn’t factual?” I began.
“I didn’t say it wasn’t factual,” the person responded. “I believe it is biased, or if you prefer, unbalanced. The conclusions you reach can depend upon how you set up the experiment.”
At issue was a report issued in the recent past citing that 12 university specialists saw no economic benefit from soybean seed insecticide treatments.
“I asked more questions about some of those tests,” the person said. “In at least one case, planting was in mid-May or after - never earlier. No, you may not see as much chance for damage planting then. But most people plant in late April to early May when they can. The later it goes in the season, the less chances that some pests that are most damaging when seed sits in cool, wet soils will be as large a threat.”
“But bees are important, right?” I inserted.
“Of course they are important. And the industry and farmers needs to be conscious of them, and do what we can to minimize any problems, but we don’t need people making conclusions based on limited data that isn’t indicative of typical situations that many farmers encounter.”
It just so happens that I had recently listened to a high school senior give a demonstration about honeybees in an FFA contest. What he said in answer to a question came to mind, and I told the person I was talking with.
“You know, someone asked this student who has honeybees what he thought of neonicotinoid insecticides. If they were trying to trip him up, it didn’t work. He knew all about them. But here was his answer: 'Honeybees are important and I like working with them, but in the overall scope of things, we have to keep the big picture in mind. There has to be a balance so that we can still grow crops and produce food efficiently. We all need to figure out ways to lessen the effects on bees, realizing farmers need the insecticides.’”
I thought the ag industry person would fall off his chair. To say it was a statement out of the mouth of babes is probably playing it down too much. I knew what the ag person was thinking. College-educated people all across the country can’t see the need for balance, but a high school senior who raises bees understands the need for balance and reason? I also knew he was thinking - what is wrong with this picture?
We both ended the discussion thinking that there just might be hope for a solution to this issue yet - it just might take the next generation to find it!