‘Bee’ smart with pesticide usage
Bees have had it hard lately. Since 2006, greater attention has been paid to high levels of bee loss — an average loss of 37.6% in the winter of 2006-07, as stated in a report commissioned by the Apiary Inspectors of America.
Though the winter of 2013-14 harbored a loss lesser than previous years at 23.2% of managed bee colonies in the U.S., as reported by the Bee Informed Partnership, that number is still high. Various groups are calling for action to help lower bee losses and keep them low.
Andy Joseph, state apiarist with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, describes the bees’ plight as “death by a thousand paper cuts.” Colony collapse disorder got many people aware of bees’ high death rate, but Joseph says the disorder is really a small fraction of what is affecting bee colonies. The biggest factor is the varroa mite.
This mite can physically damage bees, as well as trasmit the varroa virus complex,” which can harm bee health. While various methods of control exist, determining the level of infestation and following label directions are important.
Joseph cites other factors of bee loss, including poor nutrition and pesticide use. Since 1979 in Iowa, beekeepers have registered their hives according to the Iowa Bee Rule. Though this is not required in Iowa, it includes contact information and apiary location saved in a directory that commercial pesticide applicators are required to view on the first of every month.
When commercial applicators plan to apply pesticide labeled as “toxic to bees,” and the plan is to apply it within a one mile radius of an apiary location, they must do so before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m., in hope of avoiding the time when bees are most active.
Registering your hives online can help protect them from commercially applied pesticides, but there are more steps you can take for pesticide protection.
First, Joseph recommends talking to your neighbors. All over Iowa beekeepers house a few colonies here, a few colonies there, so neighbors of apiary locations may not realize hives are close by. By having a friendly conversation with your neighbor, you can help work out plans and ideas of how to keep both parties happy.
Second, hive location can be very important in avoiding pesticide effects. Joseph recommends avoiding fencerows. “That’s just asking for pesticide exposure,” he says. Instead, look for a more central location, away from row-cropped fields.
If you feel your hives have experienced pesticide-related losses, Joseph says to contact the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s pesticide bureau. You can learn more at.
Steps farmers can take
As a farmer without bees, there are steps you can take to help curb high colony losses, as well. Though noncommercial pesticide applicators aren’t required to check the online database of hive registries, it’s not a bad idea to follow the same guidelines the commercial applicators do. By checking the registry and being conscientious of where and when you spray, you can help keep bee losses down.
Joseph also stresses to make sure to follow label directions when applying pesticides. “Bees can get substantial nectar from soybeans,” he says, which can lead to bees staying in the beans while they’re flowering. This makes pesticide applications problematic during this time in soybean development. If pesticide needs to be applied in soybeans during flowering, Joseph recommends doing it after 6 p.m. to minimize bee loss.
“Be aware there are a whole lot of bees out there,” he says, estimating 4,000 beekeepers and 40,000 hives in Iowa. With hives scattered across the state, taking steps to ensure their safety is critical.
With bees’ nutrition also in question, Joseph is excited about the growing popularity of cover crops. With more acres being paved and fewer crops being grown, there is much less diversity among plants than there used to be in Iowa. This makes less food for bees, and can affect their health. Growing cover crops can help improve diversity, and also fetch a premium when marketing the varietal honey. One plant Joseph would like to see used is buckwheat, as it creates a unique, dark honey, similar to sorghum or molasses, and would command a higher price.
With many factors causing higher-than-optimal bee losses, it’s important to be doing a better job than may seem normal with your hives. With bees needing help and struggling, you can find assistance through Joseph’s office at 515-725-1470 or the IDALS website.
Other resources include the Iowa Honey Producers Association at, and local clubs scattered throughout the state. To register your apiary locations or seek locations near you, search for “IDALS sensitive crops,” or visit .
Dittmer is a Wallaces Farmer intern.
“Iowa’s bee population has declined significantly due to a number of factors. More steps need to be taken to protect our valuable pollinators.”
Iowa Department of Agriculture
and Land Stewardship
This article published in the July, 2014 edition of WALLACES FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2014.
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