What is the United States currently doing to protect our honey bees?
The Presidential Memorandum on Pollinator Health directed the EPA and other federal agencies to “work with states.” The Presidential Memo was translated into a White House Task Force Report on Pollinator Health that was released May 2015 (https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2015/05/19/announcing-new-steps-promote-pollinator-health) . While the federal government is directed to “work with states,” the states must work with all of the stakeholders. Facilitators of the MP3 planning meetings must be willing and capable to bring the stakeholders together, to listen to all the needs of the stakeholders, and to guide the stakeholders into developing actions which will result in a strategy where the MP3’s are truly protecting pollinators. The stakeholder planning meetings for the MP3s should not be “rubber stamps” of one industry, one regulatory agency, or one individual. Gathering stakeholders does not mean securing like-minded people to approve the adoption of another states MP3.
Even the AAPCO Committee Report states:
“Development and implementation of managed pollinator protection plans depend on effective engagement of the stakeholders. This involves direct meetings of beekeepers, crop producers, landowners, crop advisors, and others as needed. Identifying and engaging stakeholders can be a hurdle for plan development.” page 3, AAPCO Committee Report
Developing the State Managed Pollinator Protection Plans is not a “mandate” from the federal government. Read the letter from EPA to AAPCO . There is no specific federal funding available for the MP3 planning process. Motivations to complete an MP3 for beekeepers are to correct some of the incorrect statements about bees appearing on pesticide labels. Some labels state honey bees will not forage at less than 55 degrees Fahrenheit. That is incorrect. Honey bees and native pollinators are known to forage at temperatures as low as 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Bees will not forage after 3:00 p.m. is another fallacy on the federal pesticide label. Beekeepers see honey bees working from sunrise to sunset. The 48 hour notice to move bees so pesticides can be applied to a blooming crop is not a reasonable mitigation measure. It reduces the amount of time bees can pollinate a crop. And if the pesticide used has an extended residual toxicity, bees will die when they return to pollinating the crop, still reducing the crop yield due to the loss of bees alive to pollinate the crop. If a beekeeper is willing to move their bees where is their pesticide free forage for the beekeeper to place their bees?
Apiary registrations whether voluntary or mandatory are not the solution to pesticide related bee kills. Voluntary registration, and use of these apiary websites, or sensitive crop registry websites are not enforceable. The very nature they are voluntary gives a false sense of responsibility and communication. The “48 hour notice to move bees” is part of the digital registry programs. If a beekeeper is told to move their bees, and they do not, the responsibility for any bee losses due to the pesticide application falls to the beekeeper. The “48 hour notice to move bees” misses the point of the registry programs. These should be used to open communication, not speak in ultimatums. The registry programs could work better, if they opened a conversation between beekeeper, applicator, and farmer about the pesticides being selected.
o Is there a product to address the pest with a short residual toxicity?
o Can the short residual toxicity product be applied at night?
o How much of the crop has been pollinated, remains to be pollinated, and how will removing bees affect the crop yield?
o What is the pest threshold level as determined by Integrated Pest Management practices?
o If pollination is nearly completed, can the application be delayed a few days, so pollination can increase the crop yield?
The registry programs should “start” a conversation between the agricultural stakeholders for the best management practice that will lead to increased crop yields, and healthy bees available to pollinate the next farmer’s crop. Instead, the “48 hour notice to move bees” is a label directive that has often become an ultimatum that stops communication.
Many beekeepers of a State Beekeeping Association maintain honey bees on their own property, and on their own farms to pollinate their own (and often their neighbor’s) crops. Beekeeping is comprised of three distinct types of beekeeping: backyard, sideliner, and commercial, and should include all of those viewpoints in the MP3 process. State Beekeeping Associations represent ALL beekeepers, and are the group to represent all beekeepers in the state. All beekeepers are involved in honey production and pollination in their state. Their honey bees pollinate local gardens, city floral-scapes, city and state park lands, as well as crops. All beekeepers are involved in honey sales from the local farmer’s market, local and regional grocer retailers, as well as honey wholesalers. State Associations by their very nature represent all beekeepers in their state. Representatives of all state agricultural associations, including apiculture should constitute the composition of the MP3 planning groups. Protecting pollinators does not stop at the crop field edge, but should include protection of pollinators in our cities from mosquito abatement programs. Including city and urban beekeepers, who are pollinating our cities, and backyard and community gardens, provides for the “broad stakeholder consensus” these state MP3’s will need in order to be successful, and protect pollinators.
Adopting another states MP3 was an issue in the AAPCO report as well.
“There are large differences in crop production practices, managed pollinator practices, timing of placement of managed pollinators in and near crops, pest management issues, ownership of crop producing areas and of managed pollinator types across the country. This large amount of diversity makes it unlikely that a single set of pesticide use directions can accommodate all the situations that arise in a way that both reduces all risk to managed pollinators and provides flexibility for crop producers to adequately protect crops.” (page 4, AAPCO Committee Report
This “large amount of diversity” is what should motivate states to create their own Pollinator Protection Plans. A number of states have developed their own MP3s. Some states simply borrowed another states plan, some states created a plan without holding broad stakeholder input. You can find a variety of state plans at http://pollinatorstewardship.org/?page_id=2816 .
What would happen if the bees are gone?
In short, agriculture will suffer, humans will lose a diverse and nutritious diet, and wildlife will lose their food sources. When native pollinators pollinate only specific native plants, with the loss of the native pollinator will also come the loss of the native plant. As State Pollinator Protection Plans are developed we can protect native pollinators as well. The mitigation efforts to protect managed pollinators will protect native pollinators. (There is an INCORRECT and FALSE quote attributed to Einstein stating if the bees disappear humans will follow within 4 years. http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/08/27/einstein-bees/ ) Humans will not starve if pollinators disappear, but we will only be eating wind-pollinated grains, fruits, nuts, and seeds will be rare.
However, we can protect crops AND protect pollinators. We can protect human health AND protect pollinators. While MP3 plans have been focused upon pollinators in agriculture, beekeepers working on these state plans must also be cognizant of the exposure of honey bees and native pollinators to urban and suburban applications of pesticides for mosquito control, and pesticides used on lawns and backyard gardens. We all need to be involved in our local mosquito control boards to ensure honey bees are protected to pollinate backyard gardens, community gardens, and our city parks.
Some of the initial pollinator protection plans did not differentiate between managed and native pollinators. The plans sought to protect all pollinators. Research tells us native pollinators deserve protection as they too contribute to increased crop yields, and support the diversity of a healthy ecosystem. Our 4000 native pollinators are a national treasure deserving protection with managed honey bees. Economic research concerning native pollinators found “California agriculture reaps $937 million to $2.4 billion per year in economic value from wild, free-living bee species . . .About one-third of the value of California agriculture comes from pollinator-dependent crops, representing a net value of $11.7 billion per year . . .” The study estimated “wild pollinators residing in California’s natural habitats, chiefly rangelands, provide 35-39 percent, or more than one-third, of all pollination “services” to the state’s crops.”
According to Dr. Nick Calderone of Cornell University, “The total value of commodities that require pollination was about $81.5 billion in 2010. Honey bees were responsible for $19 billion (23%) and other insects (mostly leaf cutting bees) accounted for another $9.8 billion (12%).” Researcher Krishna Ramanujan reported in the Cornell Chronicle that “honeybees pollinated $12.4 billion worth of directly dependent crops and $6.8 billion worth of indirectly dependent crops in 2010. Other insects, including alfalfa leaf cutter bees, bumblebees, horn-faced bees and orchard bees, added $4 billion and $5.9 billion in directly and indirectly dependent crops, respectively.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization noted the value of pollinator diversity, stating “More than 90% of wild flowers rely upon pollinators for their reproduction (Costanza et al. 1997). Floral diversity is strongly associated with pollinator diversity (Potts et al. 2003a). Pollinators are key elements in food webs; wild flowers provide food for many animals in the form of vegetation, fruit, berries and nuts. Adequate pollination is therefore essential to ensure the survival of animals and birds which feed upon these wild plants.”
Even though honey bees are “immigrants” to the New World, research shows they, and the native pollinators, actually make each other better pollinators. Sarah Greenleaf of UC Berkeley found wild bees make honey bees better pollinators. “When honey bees interact with wild native bees, they are up to five times more efficient in pollinating sunflowers than when native bees are not present . . . In fields where wild bees were rare, a single visit by a honey bee produced an average of three seeds. But as wild bee numbers increased, so did the number of seeds produced per honey bee visit, up to an average of 15 seeds per visit. This was the case when either the richness of the species mix of wild bees increased, or when the absolute number of wild bees increased.”
Pollination affects all of us: the beekeeper, farmer, food wholesaler, food retailer, and food consumer. We must all work together to develop reasonable, agreeable, fair State Pollinator Protection Plans. Beekeepers alone should not bear all of the burden of moving their bees away from pesticides, and a crop in need of pollination, trying to find pesticide-free bee forage to provide high-quality nutrition for their bees, paying for lab testing of bees allegedly harmed by pesticides. Nor should beekeepers be responsible for educating others as to the toxicity of pesticide products to bees (the federal pesticide label should contain all the necessary information, including the toxicities created by mixing a number of pesticides together.).
The MP3 plans already completed are a good place for other states to begin the research for their own plan. One state recommended “rewarding” an agricultural stakeholder for not damaging another’s livestock/crop. Beekeeping and crop pollination is what increases crop yield. A “reward” is not given to the cattle rancher because he did not shoot his neighbor’s sheep. The corn grower is not “rewarded” because he did not chop down his neighbor’s orchard. One agricultural stakeholder should not be paid to protect another’s crop or livestock, or the water supply. The “reward” for keeping bees alive and healthy is crop yield and good neighbor relationships. Suggesting a beekeeper monetarily reward a grower for not killing the beekeeper’s livestock, and damaging their honey crop, further points out all of the responsibility of pesticide related bee kills has been placed upon the beekeeper. Managed Pollinator Protection Plans are an opportunity for all agricultural stakeholders to understand each others needs.
Beekeepers need to keep their bees healthy from crop to crop, from winter to spring. Beekeepers need to keep queen bees healthy, strong, and surviving from crop to crop, from winter to spring.
Farmers need their vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seed crops pollinated in order to have a profitable harvest. Farmers need to protect their crops from 5% of the insects that are harmful to crops and humans.
Cities need to protect their citizens and animals from mosquito-borne diseases. And beekeepers have a need to protect their honey bees from bee toxic pesticides—including herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, adjuvants, surfactants, and the “inert ingredients” in pesticide products.
“For fruit or nut bearing crops, pollination can be a grower’s last chance to increase yield. All post pollination inputs, whether growth regulators, herbicides, fungicides, or insecticides, are generally designed not to increase yield but to conserve losses.” “Pollinator: a grower’s last chance to increase yields,” The Univ. of Georgia, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
We will not starve if pesticide use is reduced. Crops will not be decimated if a true Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program is followed, where only one ninth of the crop management involves chemical applications. We can protect our crops and protect our bees. We can protect public health from mosquito borne diseases and protect our bees.
How can MP3 (Managed Pollinator Protection Plan) more effectively protect honey bees from pesticide exposure?
The goal of the MP3s is to implement best management practices at a personal level, city, county, and state policy level, and at the pest control level. The State Pollinator Protection Plans however, have no regulation or enforcement attached to them. They also have no funding attached to them. This is where all state citizens must take the lead. Once the MP3 is developed and published it becomes a tool to educate how we can all work together to protect pollinators. It becomes an advocacy tool to guide local and state policy to protect pollinators. It becomes a support document to seek project funding for local and state activities from pollinator habitat development, cost share programs for pollinator habitat, roadside pollinator habitat development support, and education projects about the value of pollinators, the history, diversity, and value of beekeeping in the state, research of state’s native pollinators and plants, and so much more.
The MP3s will not instantly solve the problems of the health crisis of honey bees and native pollinators as, again it has no funding or enforcement attached to it at all. The MP3s will be successful, will make a change in the health and sustainability of America’s native pollinators, honey bees, and beekeeping, only with all stakeholders working together to implement the best management practices defined by each state’s plan.
It is important for all citizens to work together to improve the health of pollinators. Each state’s agriculture, park lands, backyard gardens, one third of our food supply relies upon honey bees and native pollinators.
While it would be easier for the Environmental Protection Agency to compile one MP3 plan for the entire country, it is unrealistic. States need to bring together all of the stakeholders and create a Plan that reflects their state, their crops, their apiary programs and apiary research. The MP3 planning process is an opportunity to evaluate the state apiary program, especially if the state does not have one. Do the apiary fees pay for bee inspectors, and lab testing of bees for pest, pathogens, AND pesticides? Do apiary fees fund the bee inspectors sufficiently providing them with the most basic of equipment: rubber gloves, rubbing alcohol, bee veil, and a hive tool?
The MP3 planning process is an opportunity for each stakeholder to learn from each other; to realize without pollination there is no crop yield: be it wind, rain, self-pollination, or insect pollination. Facilitators of the MP3 planning meetings must be willing and capable to bring the stakeholders together, to listen to all the needs of the stakeholders, and to guide the stakeholders into developing actions which will result in a strategy where the MP3s are truly Managed Pollinator PROTECTION Plans.
“Managed honeybees increase onion seed yield and quality,” http://www.lrrd.org/lrrd26/1/gebr26008.htm
“Lack of pollination due to insecticide use affects onion see yields,” http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=5688
“Dept. of Agriculture and Food- bee pollination benefits for avocados,” bulletin 4298, http//:archive.agric.wa.gov.au/PC_91826.html
Pollination and Plant Resources Change the Nutritional Quality of Almonds for Human Health
Pollinator-Friendly Farming http://njsustainingfarms.rutgers.edu/dontkill.html
Increasing cropping system diversity balances productivity, profitability, and environmental health http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0047149
Impact of honey bee pollination activities on Bt cotton production in northern Alabama
Importance of bee pollination for cotton production in conventional and organic farms in Brazil
Improved pollination will improve yields: Some history to back this up
Pollination of soybean by Honey bees
Pollinator decline: US Agro-Socio-Economic impacts and responses
Pollination: a grower’s last chance to increase yields
Enhancing seed production of three brassica vegetables by honey bee pollination in north-western Himalayas of India
Honey bees and blueberry pollination
Managing for higher yields
Organic farming improves pollination success in strawberries
Contribution of pollinator-mediated crops to nutrients in the human food supply
Wild pollinator habitat benefits agriculture
Contribution of insect pollinators to crop yield and quality varies with agricultural intensification
More species of bees pollinate crops, making blueberry farms see increased yield
Insect pollinators contribute $29 billion to US farm income, Krishna Ramanujan, May 22, 2012, Cornell Chronicle
Wild bees make honey bees better pollinators, Liese Greensfelder, UC Berkeley news release (Study author was Sarah Greenleaf, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences issue on Sept. 12, 2006 an EPA funded study), www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2006/08/28_honeybees
Wild Pollinators worth up to $2.4 billion to farmers, Ann Brody Guy, College of NaturalResources at Berkeley, 6-20-2011, www.newscenter.berkeley.edu/2011/06/20/wild-pollinators-worth-billions-to-farmers
“Climate- Smart” Agriculture,” Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, 2010
Society for Range Management-Pollinators in Rangelands http://www.srmjournals.org/toc/rala/33/3
USGS- The Buzz on Native Bees http://www.usgs.gov/blogs/features/usgs_top_story/the-buzz-on-native-bees/
AAPCO Committee Report, and the EPA letter to AAPCO http://pollinatorstewardship.org/?page_id=2816