facebook_pixel

Working to Overcome an Uneasy Alliance

From Cotton Grower Magazine – May 2016

common thread luncheon

Tensions ran high at spring grower meetings in the Mid-South. The friendly – but often shaky – relationship between beekeepers and row crop producers was once again strained, as disputes over pesticide use had resulted in several lawsuits in 2015.  The discourse between the two groups has no doubt intensified in 2016, and members of both camps point to EPA regulations as a primary source of conflict.

Much of their dispute centers on the use of neonicotinoids, as some crop protection products in that category remain in regulatory limbo. Most recently, the use of seed treatments – particularly the dust that escapes those treatments – have fallen under the EPA microscope.

As a retired county agent and current owner of Quinley and Whitworth Pure Honey, Bob Whitworth has a unique – and balanced – viewpoint of the relationship between beekeepers and farmers. He, too, points to misdirection from the federal government as a reason for increased tensions.

“I think I see the trust eroding in EPA,” says Whitworth. “You know, they approved the neonicotinoids, and then they’ve taken some backsteps, and said ‘Well, maybe they’re not safe – the dust does kill bees.’

“We’ve been told that if EPA approves a chemical, then it’s okay to use it within the approved guidelines and you’ll have relative safety. All of a sudden they say that’s not the case with neonics. That is why I see that erosion of trust as a big problem.”

A Memphis native, Whitworth teamed with University of Tennessee IPM Extension Specialist Scott Stewart this winter to discuss ways for farmers and beekeepers to better coexist in the coming year. Still, he understands that there are challenges. For one, he says, more sets of eyes are paying attention now than ever before. That alone can antagonize an already fragile alliance.

“For example, in the Memphis Beekeepers Association, 15 or 20 years ago we had 20 members,” he says. “It was kind of a social thing, you know, we talked about our honey bees, but it was casual. Then these problems started coming for bee populations and, all of a sudden, our membership started growing. Now, I’m quite sure, we’ve got 350 active members. When we have a meeting, there’ll be 150 to 200 people there.”

Those who are newly-interested in pollinator protection are certainly well-intentioned, Whitworth says, but the added scrutiny can cause headaches for farmers.

“The message I was trying to get across this winter was that bees are in trouble, there’s no question about that,” Whitworth says. “And producers are facing problems because there’s so many sets of eyes on the producers that it gets more difficult every year for them to stay clear of the fire of the beekeepers.”

Chasing the Truth

While more and more of the general public become involved in the pollinator debate, they aren’t always being informed by trustworthy sources.

“We’re going away from a science-based society to a media-based society,” says Gus Lorenz, Extension entomologist with the University of Arkansas. “When things come up on the Internet, it’s taken as gospel.”

Both Lorenz and Whitworth cited outside factors – namely, a parasite known as the varroa mite, and the commercial shipping of hives across the country throughout the year – as primary contributors to pollinator population declines.

Lorenz and his fellow Mid-South entomologists Stewart and Mississippi State University’s Angus Catchot noticed a developing trend of poorly-sourced reports on the impact of common pesticides on honeybee populations.

“We felt we needed to get to the bottom of it as quickly as we could, because we saw it was like a freight train rolling downhill. Our goal was to figure out if the neonics are really a cause of the issues to honeybees that we were seeing on the Internet.”

To that end, the three Extension entomologists started out in earnest as beekeepers, keeping their own hives and studying them for several years. Of particular interest was the effect of neonicotinoids and imidacloprids on the health of the hives.

Lorenz says the entomologists ran a series of tests looking at how often and how much neonicotinoids could be found in their hives. Similar studies were conducted looking at imidacloprids. The group also studied the plants themselves, with respect to seed treatments. Essentially, they wanted to see if a seed treatment transferred into the plant’s reproductive parts – turning up in the pollen and nectar, as they had read in seemingly dubious reports. Lorenz presented their findings at winter meetings.

“In summary, there is very little transference of neonics in the reproductive parts of the plant,” he says. “Dust is an issue, but that exposure can be limited and mitigated. And based on the feeding studies, it indicates that neonics are not the boogeyman.

“In conclusion, seed treatments provide virtually no threat to honeybees in the Mid-South. When you go forward and start responding to the EPA discussion and open statement periods, it’s time for you to step up and say something. You should feel comfortable that we’re not hurting honeybees with these seed treatments, based on the work that we have done.”

Lorenz made clear that neonicotinoids can indeed kill bees, noting that if hives get direct exposure to sprays, they will be killed. He also cited pyrethroids and other products as threats to bee health if direct application is made.

“We have to be careful about not spraying and drifting on hives,” Lorenz says.

Preventing Problems

When pressed, both Lorenz and Whitworth say communication is key for farmers and beekeepers to peacefully coexist.

“If you have a beekeeper on your farm, communicate with him,” says Lorenz. “You should also know where the hives are and where potential drift issues could be.”

Lorenz also offered practical advice for protecting the bees on and around farms.

“If you can, apply insecticides late in the afternoon when bees are less active in the field. Communicate with the beekeeper and the beekeeper with you. We can all get along.”

Whitworth says he understands that there are economic considerations in play when asking a farmer to delay an application – say, to wait on a change in wind speed so as not to endanger a hive.

“That’s a tough situation. I realize what they have invested in the crop, and what it costs to move that highboy across the county,” Whitworth says. “But I think the thing we need to avoid is the damage that gives cause for federal regulation change. We don’t want to be so haphazard that we do things that will change the process. We want to keep these pesticides approved.”

Whitworth also suggested that equipment operators make sure the hoppers on their planters are structurally secure so as not to allow seed treatment dust to drift away from the equipment. This practice could be accomplished with simply a roll of duct tape, in some cases.

Ultimately, he says, a little mutual respect goes a long way.

“Just be conscious that the bees are there, and I’ve used the phrase ‘Have a little respect for the bees,’” Whitworth says.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Common Thread Stories
Common Thread

Working to Overcome an Uneasy Alliance

May 11, 2016

As the public becomes more aware of pollinator health, beekeepers and cotton producers come under more scrutiny.

Common Thread

Turning Up the Buzz

July 14, 2015

A White House plan offers more protection for pollinators and monarchs, without major impact for U.S. agriculture.

Common Thread

Dealing With Drought: Reducing Drought’s Impact

June 5, 2015

Some promising water management studies could help maximize yields and protect cotton acres.

Common Thread

Dealing With Drought: A Tale of Two States

June 3, 2015

Despite recent rainfall in Texas, drought continues to take its toll on U.S. cotton production.

Common Thread

CCI Continues to Successfully Build Global Demand for U.S. Cotton

May 18, 2015

After nearly 60 years, Cotton Council International keeps on building demand for U.S. cotton around the world.

Common Thread

MAKE OR BREAK: Silver Linings for U.S. Cotton Acres

April 3, 2015

According to O.A. Cleveland, high yields and demand for quality top the reasons to grow cotton in 2015.

Common Thread

MAKE OR BREAK: Living Under the “Volcano” of China’s Cotton Policies

April 1, 2015

Joe Nicosia says that China’s plan to reduce massive cotton stocks could challenge the cotton market for years to come.

Around The Gin
Product News

Bayer Looking for FiberMax One Ton Club Growers for 2017

November 16, 2017

Cotton growers who produce an average of 2,000 lb/A on 20 or more acres planted to FiberMax varieties in 2017 are eligible to be part of the 13th annual FiberMax One Ton Club.

Product News

Monsanto Delays NemaStrike for Additional Review

November 2, 2017

After finding cases of skin irritation, Monsanto is pulling its nematode seed treatment NemaStrike for further product review.

Product News

Intrepid Trio: Naturally Balanced Nutrition in Every Granule

November 1, 2017

Intrepid Trio contains three essential nutrients for cotton plants.

Product News

Save Time, Increase Efficiencies with Mixmate

November 1, 2017

Mixmate from Praxidyn is a precision chemical mixing system for small farms to large enterprises.

Product News

Crumpler Ironworks & Fabrication

November 1, 2017

Crumpler Ironworks & Fabrication is committed to providing the highest level of service, honesty and integrity, regardless of project size.

Product News

Delivering Proven Performance Across the Cotton Belt

November 1, 2017

Seed varieties, traits and crop protection products from Bayer deliver proven performance to growers across the Cotton Belt.

Product News

Growers Continue to Count on Americot and NexGen

November 1, 2017

Americot is dedicated to working with cotton growers throughout the Cotton Belt to provide elite performing NexGen varieties within the marketplace.

Product News

Deere Adds New Narrow Track Versions to 9RX Tractor Lineup

November 1, 2017

John Deere has added three new 9RX Narrow Track Tractors, expanding its lineup of high-horsepower machines.

Latest News
Common Thread

Working to Overcome an Uneasy Alliance

May 11, 2016

As the public becomes more aware of pollinator health, beekeepers and cotton producers come under more scrutiny.

Common Thread

Examining Cotton’s Points of Interest

April 4, 2016

Experts tackle key issues impacting cotton during Cotton Grower's Common Thread Luncheon.

Common Thread

Look for Savings in the Right Places

March 1, 2016

In a tight market, cotton growers should look for smart savings and efficiencies during the growing season.

Common Thread

Turning Up the Buzz

July 14, 2015

A White House plan offers more protection for pollinators and monarchs, without major impact for U.S. agriculture.

Common Thread

Dealing With Drought: Reducing Drought’s Impact

June 5, 2015

Some promising water management studies could help maximize yields and protect cotton acres.

Common Thread

Dealing With Drought: A Tale of Two States

June 3, 2015

Despite recent rainfall in Texas, drought continues to take its toll on U.S. cotton production.

Common Thread

CCI Continues to Successfully Build Global Demand for U.S. Cotton

May 18, 2015

After nearly 60 years, Cotton Council International keeps on building demand for U.S. cotton around the world.

Common Thread

MAKE OR BREAK: Silver Linings for U.S. Cotton Acres

April 3, 2015

According to O.A. Cleveland, high yields and demand for quality top the reasons to grow cotton in 2015.

Common Thread

MAKE OR BREAK: Living Under the “Volcano” of China’s Cotton Policies

April 1, 2015

Joe Nicosia says that China’s plan to reduce massive cotton stocks could challenge the cotton market for years to come.

Common Thread

The Buzz Continues Over Pollinator Health

March 24, 2015

With a federal plan for honey bee protection in the works, the U.S. cotton industry points to successes and braces for more challenges.

Common Thread

Defensive Specialist Helps Blunt Impact of Cotton Leaf Curl Virus

March 9, 2015

Dr. Jodi Scheffler’s work is helping solve problems and improve cotton production around the world.

Common Thread

Changing the WTO Narrative

March 2, 2015

American cotton has been a favorite target of the WTO for long enough.

Common Thread

Unraveling the Common Thread

January 22, 2015

Cotton Grower is launching an initiative to showcase a broader view of the cotton industry.