CEU Series: Be Aware of Bees When Applying Pesticides

When faced with a pest problem, growers and pesticide applicators have a number of pest management options including cultural, chemical, biological, or physical methods. There are many situations where pest control is necessary and chemical controls must be used. Certain chemistries are known to have negative and long-term impacts on bees, other pollinators, and beneficial arthropods. Others have minimal impacts.

Pollinators are essential to the survival of the majority of flowering plants in our environment and to the production of more than 85 crops. More than $15 billion annually is attributed to the value of pollination of food crops, especially fruits, vegetables, and nuts. It is estimated that pollinators are responsible for 1 out of every 3 bites of food that we eat.

The areas treated for pests are often visited by pollinators; mainly insects such as bees, butterflies, wasps and flies, and also birds and bats. Pollinators visit flowers in their search for nectar and pollen.

Insects are the most common and abundant pollinators. Among the pollinating insects, the honey bee is relied on to perform most of the commercial pollination services in the U.S. and around the world.

As a pesticide applicator, you are critical to reducing pesticide risks to honey bees and other pollinators. Proper pesticide use starts with following the product label. Also, the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Best Management Practices (BMPs) wherever pollinators are present will help prevent harming honey bees, their food sources, water and habitat.

Beekeepers and producers of fruit, nut and vegetable crops are concerned that the availability of managed honey bees is not keeping pace with the growing demand for pollination services. In the U.S., a phenomenon called ‘Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD’ — first discovered in 2006 — has caused mysterious and catastrophic losses of managed bee colonies.

More recently these losses are now commonly referred to as elevated colony losses, or colony losses for short. Today, colony losses remain an important research topic and are under scrutiny as continuous scientific investigations have been unable to pinpoint any one factor that contributes most to these losses. Honey bee diet, lack of quality forage, poor queens, immunity, pests and parasites (especially the Varroa mite – Varroa destructor), as well as pesticide exposure, are among a multitude of stressors that may negatively impact bees.

Certain pesticide active ingredients are known to have negative and long-term impacts on bees, other pollinators, and beneficial arthropods. Others have minimal or no impacts at all.

Scientists across the country have been looking for the cause or causes of elevated colony losses, and have attributed the decline of bees in general, to four broad categories of factors:
• Pathogens (such as fungi, amoeba, bacteria, and viruses that infect honey bee brood and adults)
• Parasites (such as tracheal [internal] and Varroa [external] mites—Varroa mites injure adult bees and brood by direct feeding and transmission of pathogenic viruses)
• Environmental Stressors (such as miticides and antibiotics used inside the hive and pesticides used outside the hive; or malnutrition through lack of nectar diversity); and also
• Management Stressors (such as transportation stress by migratory beekeepers, overcrowding, feeding practices, and genetic fitness of the queen source)

What exactly is causing the increased colony losses remains unknown. It seems that rather than one single factor, there is a mixture, or accumulation, of potentially synergistic causes which contributes to colony losses. A better understanding of how the suspected causes interact and how bees respond to those causes is needed.

Pesticides play an important role in controlling insects, weeds, and diseases on farms and in urban landscapes. The areas treated for pests are often shared by pollinators; mainly insects such as bees, butterflies, wasps and flies, and also birds and bats. Pollinators visit flowers in their search for nectar and pollen. During a flower visit a pollinator may accidentally brush against the flowers reproductive parts, depositing pollen from a different flower. The plant then uses the pollen to produce a fruit or seed.

The western honey bee (Apis mellifera) is conceivably the most important pollinator in Florida and American agricultural landscapes. The honey bee is credited with approximately 85% of the pollinating activity necessary to supply about one-quarter to one-third of the nation’s food supply. More than 50 major crops in the U.S. and at least 13 in Florida either depend on honey bees for pollination or produce more abundantly when honey bees are plentiful.

Rental of honey bee colonies for pollination purposes is a highly sought after service and a viable component of commercial beekeeping and agriculture. Bee colonies are moved extensively across the country for use in multiple crops every year. There are also more than 3,000 registered beekeepers in Florida, managing a total of more than 400,000 honey bee colonies and producing between 10 million to 20 million pounds of honey annually.

Growers also use other managed bee species, such as the bumble bee (Bombus spp) to provide field and greenhouse crop pollination services. Additionally, there are more than 315 species of wild/unmanaged bees in Florida that play a role in the pollination of agricultural crops and natural and managed landscapes. These include mining bees, mason bees, sweat bees, leafcutter bees, feral honey bees, and carpenter bees, among others.
Protecting honey bees and other pollinators from pesticide impacts is important to the sustainability of agriculture. Consequently, pesticide applicators must determine if there is a clear hazard to managed or wild populations of bees. Potential exposure of bees to pesticides can vary greatly depending on the type of pesticide, formulation, application method, label restrictions, and other factors. The goal in using a pesticide is to achieve maximum benefit (success) with minimum negative impact, and these factors should always be considered in pesticide selection.

Agriculture in Florida is a multi-billion-dollar industry, occupying over nine million acres of the state’s total land. Much of the U.S. depends on Florida for its winter supply of produce. However, Florida’s favorable environment also supports a multitude of crop pests, and their management is a year-round component in agricultural production. The pests include various insects, mites, fungi, weeds, and other undesirable organisms. Collectively, these pests can cause severe damage, and some also spread diseases that can result in significant crop and financial losses. While IPM has been systematically implemented in many of Florida’s major cropping systems, Florida farmers must continue to rely heavily upon crop protection materials for high-yielding, cost-effective crop production.

Insects are the most common and abundant pollinators. Among the pollinating insects, the honey bee is relied on to perform most of the commercial pollination. As a pesticide applicator, you are critical to reducing pesticide risks to honey bees.

There are many situations where pest control is necessary and chemical controls must be used. Certain chemistries are known to have negative and long-term impacts on bees, other pollinators, and beneficial arthropods. Others have minimal impacts. The pollinator-protection language that is required to be on pesticide labels will outline how best to minimize these impacts. The EPA bases the labels they approve for pesticide products on a risk-benefit analysis. It is important to work within the system established so that pesticide applicators can have the appropriate tools to help manage pests while safeguarding pollinators, the environment, and humans. The bottom line is that the label is the law—it must be followed.

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