If you still remember a painful encounter with the “business end” of an ill-tempered honey bee, you are likely to have limited appreciation for the value of these unique insects. But, appreciation is indeed deserved.
The honey bee’s well-known contribution of honey is far out-shadowed by its value as a pollinator of food, fiber and feed crops. Research shows at least 128 crops grown in this country are pollinated by honey bees and other pollen distributing insects.
The distribution of plant pollen by insects is known as entomophily. While honey bees are the most recognized (and the most versatile) plant pollinating insect, the fact is there are a number of other native bees, butterflies, moths, flies and beetles that are important plant pollinators as well.
Honey bees are attracted to virtually every flower that produces nectar and pollen. Other bees and insects tend to work blossoms of plants that are native to that insect or bee.
When you consider the fact that many of our most important crops have been imported from other continents, the value of honey bee pollination is amplified. While few crops are 100 percent dependent on bee or insect pollination, the yield (and quality) of many crops is enhanced when pollinators are abundant.
All of our major fruit crops, for example, are almost entirely pollinated by bees and other insects. The economic impact of pollinating bees and insects to American farmers is hundreds of millions of dollars each year and killing these valuable pollinators would be potentially devastating.
So we come to the fact that the bees and pollinator insects need your protection. This has been a difficult season for farmers. All the rains that delayed spring farm work have increased the pressure to protect our crops from a vigorous batch of pests.
At the same time, there’s a short period of time to get all the work done. This increases the likelihood of inadvertently killing valuable pollinating bees and insects as farmers hastily try to get all the work done and get the protective sprays applied before the next rain.
As you hurry to protect your crops, be aware of the importance of protecting the bees that may be in the fields. Pollinating insects are only attracted to plants that are in bloom, within their flight range, whether those blooming plants be crops or weeds.
The most serious risk comes from using insecticides, but some herbicides and fungicides are noted to pose problems for bees. I’ll discuss some practices that are useful to protect bees, but I’ll first note that there is potentially a legal matter.
Ohio regulations state in 901:5-11-02 of the Ohio Administrative Code … “no person shall: (15) Apply or cause to be applied any pesticide that is required to carry a special warning on its label indicating that it is toxic to honey bees, over an area of one-half acre or more in which the crop-plant is in flower unless the owner or caretaker of any apiary located within one-half mile of the treatment site has been notified by the person no less than 24 hours in advance of the intended treatment; provided the apiary is registered and identified as required by section 909.02 of the Revised Code, and that the apiary has been posted with the name and telephone number of the owner or responsible caretaker. (16) Apply pesticides which are hazardous to honey bees at times when pollinating insects are actively working in the target area …”
The names and addresses of registered apiaries are available at the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Division of Plant Industry by calling 614-728-6270. Farmers are urged to contact that number as early as possible to give them enough lead time to respond to your request for information.
So how are you supposed to protect your crops from pests and still protect honey bees and other pollinating insects?
Here are a few suggestions:
1.) Notify beekeepers in advance of planned pesticide applications, in time that they can take precautions to minimize the risk of a bee kill.
2.) Apply pesticides to crops (and weeds) that are blooming only when necessary.
3.) Minimize the drift potential, by making the applications only when weather conditions are favorable and using drift reducing pesticide application technologies.
4.) Read the pesticide labels and use the pesticide product that has the least effect on bees and has the shortest residual effect. Pesticides with known concerns for honey bees are required to have advisory statements on the product label.
5.) Make pesticide applications when the bees are least active in the fields. Early evening and night applications have the least effect on bees.
6.) Immediately clean up pesticide spills and any puddled water from cleanup of pesticide contaminated equipment that might attract bees searching for water.
Apiculture researchers note that of the few thousand bees in a colony, 100 (or so) will normally die each day of natural causes. So, finding a few dead bees near a colony is not a signal of a pesticide poisoning incident. Having noted that, it is important for farmers and pesticide applicators to take all reasonable precautions to reduce the impact of their important crop protection pesticides on honey bees and other pollinating insects.