Pollination is mutually beneficial to both pollinators and plants, resulting in the production of seeds necessary for many plants to reproduce. However, today’s production practices can potentially lead to an unhealthy environment for pollinators to survive in and do their job: pollinate.
All too often, there is conflict between row-crop farmers and beekeepers. Beekeepers often see farmers as indiscriminate users of pesticides who don’t care about killing their bees, while farmers see managed beehives as an annoyance that they are forced to consider when managing their crops. In truth, however, commercial agriculture and managed honeybee colonies are mutually beneficial to one another.
Agricultural crops benefit from the extra pollination provided by bees. Even a self-pollinated crop like soybeans can benefit from honeybee visits, which can increase yields by up to 18%. Crop fields benefit honeybee colonies by providing a reliable pollen source throughout the summer when other flowers may not be blooming. Soybean pollen is high quality and contains antioxidants which may improve colony health, aiding bees in surviving exposure to environmental toxins.
What are some practical steps soybean producers can take to avoid a negative impact on pollinators and maintain good relationships with their beekeeping neighbors?
Communication Is Key
- Check FieldWatch to identify the location of nearby beehives or specialty crops. Beekeepers register their hives on this site to allow pesticide applicators to be aware of their presence.
- Talk to your neighbors. An open dialogue is generally the best way to avoid misunderstandings.
- Explain the true risks associated with the pesticides being used. All pesticide labels are developed with protection of non-target species in mind.
Always Read and Follow Label Directions
- Pesticide labels are the law. The labels are developed with pollinators in mind, and ones with particularly high impact on pollinators will carry a pollinator warning.
- Labels often recommend spraying at a time when bees are less likely to be visiting, generally early morning or late evening.
- Follow label instructions to limit off-target movement. Observe wind speed, application rate, nozzle type and other label restrictions.
Follow Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Practices
- Use the most specific pesticide possible for the target pest. Don’t apply a broad-spectrum insecticide if one is available to target the specific problematic pest.
- Observe economic thresholds. Several sources are available to determine if pesticide application is economically viable. If insect damage does not reach the threshold, chemical application will likely result in a negative ROI.
Communication Is Key
- This looks strikingly like point number one, for a good reason. Good communication will prevent a multitude of ills.
- Explain the need for crop protection to maintain the global food supply. Farm and ranch families account for only 2% of the U.S. population. There are a lot of misconceptions out there.
- Tell the story of modern agriculture in a positive way. With the adoption of genetically modified crops, which reduce insecticide use, crops are safer for pollinators than they were 30 years ago.
From beekeepers to farmers to consumers, everyone benefits from a healthy pollinator population. There is understandable tension between farmers and beekeepers who are suspicious of products that potentially could harm their bees. Following a few common-sense steps and maintaining open communication will help limit the potential negative impacts on pollinator populations and neighbor relations. By working together, we can help ensure the continued availability of crop protection products and a safe and healthy food supply for generations to come.