Ohh.. The Farmer and the Bee Man Should be Friends


Ray Lackey, 1260 Walnut Ave. Bohemia NY 11716-2176
Phone: (631)567-1936 email:lackeyray@tianca.com

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Major losses of the feral honeybees from the predatory mites have increased the dependence of fruit and vegetable growers upon domestic honeybees; and beekeepers can find rare summer pasture in fruit and vegetable fields; but this relationship is barely amicable in many areas. Long Island beekeepers have also lost bees to pesticide kills. It is not just in dedicated agriculture areas. In the day of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), honeybee kills from pesticides should not exist but beekeepers have claimed record pesticide kills in 1997. This would indicate that better education and cooperation are necessary between these two groups.

Modern machinery for agriculture has led to the eradication of nesting sites for wild pollinators of all types. Block monoculture of crops has caused a feast-or-famine situation where pollinators have excess sources of nectar or pollen for a short time but then starve during other periods so that reproductive cycles are not completed at sufficient success rates to continue the species in that region. These two factors are causing the decline of the wild pollinators in areas of intense agriculture. The backyard gardener and small farmer in mixed-use areas are not so badly affected from loss of habitat because of the variety of plants in the area. Pesticide use, however, in suburban, mixed-use, and agriculture areas are further decimating the wild and domestic pollinator populations.

Two types of pesticides are in general use today that are harmful to pollinators. These pesticides carry warnings on their labels under the "environmental hazards" area. It is illegal to apply these pesticides in violation of these warnings. If these regulations were followed, there would be no major pesticide kills of wild or domestic pollinators. The evidence is that these regulations are not being followed. The reasons for not following these regulations include inconvenience, cost, lack of understanding of the regulations, and lack of understanding of the impact. It is believed that if the impact were understood, the others would be overcome.

Non-residual material: Example - Malathion (TM) is an insecticide used for quick knock-down of insects. Its label directions for bees says: "This product is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment on blooming crops and weeds. Do not apply it or allow it to drift to blooming crops or weeds if bees are visiting the treatment area." The directions do not mention residues.

Residual material: Example - Sevin is an insecticide used on several vegetables and fruits. Its label directions for bees says: "This product is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment or residues on blooming crops and weeds. Do not apply this product or allow it to drift to blooming crops or weeds if bees are visiting the treatment area."

In each case, it is the responsibility of the applicator to protect all bees through proper application. It is not restricted to "domestic" bees and it covers the area, not the crop. Thus, if clover is blooming on the orchard floor, it is illegal to use a non-residue spray when bees are working the clover. The same situation occurs when residential tree sprayers fail to consider blooming shrubs in yards where trees are being sprayed. Since bees are early risers, this would mean that the spraying would best be done in late evening or at night, not always convenient. It would be illegal to apply a residue type pesticide in these situations. Residue-type pesticides are often preferred because they reduce the cost of protecting the crop by reducing the number of applications. Residue pesticides have the added disadvantage that they are carried back to the brood nest and continue to kill successive generations of bees.

Proper use of pesticides thus requires observation beyond the crop itself. One of the best ways to determine if bees are working at the time is to maintain a hive in the area to check before pesticide use. If they have quit for the day or it is too cold for them to work, it is safe to spray. An alternative is to walk the field and its borders, examining crop and weeds, to determine bee activity. Even clean corn fields can have bee activity, seeking the pollen from the tassels as a protein source, thus posing a hazard if a residue-type pesticide is used.

Irresponsible use of pesticides can destroy pollinators nesting over a mile away. When this happens, the hive is at a minimum greatly weakened and stressed by losing the field bees for a week or more. Residue-type pesticides also cause loss of successive generations. Hives weakened by pesticides often will not recover sufficiently before winter to survive. Beekeepers facing the continual depopulation of their hives stop keeping bees in the area, further depleting the pollination forces. This is one reason bees are moved in for pollination and then out after bloom, in spite of the inconvenience and cost.

Beekeepers can generally do nothing to prevent pesticide kills. It is impossible to monitor spraying within a two mile radius of the hive. The low profit margin on honeybees also restricts the amount of monitoring of individual hives, thus delaying discovery of a pesticide kill until it is almost impossible to determine when it occurred, the pesticide used, and the source.

Losses to predatory mites, drought, floods, and pesticide kills, all effect the beekeeper and pollination fees, which have doubled in northwestern USA in the last three years. It is estimated that it costs $80 to maintain a single colony for pollination which is an alternative use to honey production. The farmer and the bee man should be friends. If they aren't, neither one will be in business for long.

(Ray Lackey has been keeping honeybees for over 25 years on Long Island. He has served as President of the Long Island Beekeepers Association. He often speaks at nature centers, parks, schools, scout troops, and adult meetings on honeybees and pollination. He has earned a Master Beekeeper certification from Eastern Apiculture Society, the principle beekeeping organization in Northeastern USA and eastern Canada.)