The Honey Bee Health Coalition is attempting to draw attention to the importance of honey bees to agricultural crops and the increased stresses that have been reducing populations in overwintering bees during the last decade as part of Pollinator Week.

There are nearly 40 organizations involved in the Honey Bee Health Coalition trying to achieve a healthy population of honey bees and other pollinators. The June 20-27 Pollinator Week is being used as a time to show that agriculture is concerned about pollinators and having pollinators available for food production.

Corn does not require pollination by honey bees, but the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) as a member of the coalition “recognizes the integral role they (pollinators) play in a productive agriculture system,” the organization emphasized in a statement. The reason that the corn growers are expressing their concern is because corn production using seed treated with neonicotinoid insecticide is being blamed by activist groups as a cause for the decline of bee populations. The NCGA and other organizations say there is a lack of credible evidence documenting the connection.

“We are committed to improving the health and viability of pollinators as part of our overall sustainability efforts," said Chip Bowling, NCGA president and Newburg, Md., farmer. "We are also engaged to assure steps being taken to help pollinators are well researched and based on science."

The agricultural community in general appreciates how the Honey Bee Health Coalition is approaching the problem in a holistic manner looking at a broad range of stresses potentially responsible for bee deaths.

"What we know so far is that there are a handful of issues that can cause problems for bees. Severe weather, pests and disease, lack of forage and nutrition, lack of genetic diversity and incidental pesticide exposure may all be causing problems," said Carson Klosterman, a farmer from Wyndmere, N.D., and member of NCGA's Production and Stewardship Action Team.

Klosterman says neonicotinoid seed treatments are actually a good way to limit incidental pesticide exposure because of how and when they are used. For instance, farmers are switching to a pinpoint treatment of insecticide on seed at planting time, rather than a broad spectrum treatment later in the growing season when bees are more active. According to the NCGA and Klosterman, the neonicotinoids have three other distinct advantages:

  1. They are much safer for humans to use.
  2. They are absorbed by plants and translocated via the vascular system, giving effective control of sap sucking and boring insects which other sprayed insecticides might not contact.
  3. They can be applied as seed treatments, so the accurate placement allows less insecticide to be used which is better for the environment.

Klosterman is urging farmers to be proactive by being more aware of bees and getting to know local beekeepers. Proactive communication between growers, applicators and beekeepers is essential to protect honey bees from unintended pesticide exposure. Beekeeper and landowner cooperation based on mutual interests is important to mitigate risks of pesticide exposure to pollinators and to assure continued access to important tools used by farmers.