The number of beekills this spring due to poisoning by pesticides has skyrocketed. In Ohio just this spring we have seen more beekills than I can remember total in the past 25 years combined. Reports from many, many states have been coming into this office in the past couple of weeks. At first they seemed isolated and unsupported. Beekeepers are wary of reporting incidents, and seldom sure of how to proceed or what to do.
The incidents this spring are not the symptoms reported commonly as Colony Collapse Disorder, where bees disappear and a beekeeper returns to what had been a strong healthy hive only weeks before and what’s left is simply lots of brood, a handful of young bees and a queen…if anybody is home at all.
No, the incidents this spring are different…they harken back to the days of massive beekills, when plants in bloom were sprayed on a routine basis, when beekeepers would find entire apiaries wiped out, with pounds and pounds of dead bees, twisting, writhing and dying in front of their hives. Piles of dead, stinking bees were common then, but with the advent of more restrictive regulations and safer-to-use pesticides, much, but not all, of that death-by-pesticide era has gone away.
Until now. This spring the ugly past has returned. We were warned though. Purdue researchers saw this problem last year and brought it to everybody’s attention. Then they looked deeper and further and saw that it wasn’t just a flook, an accident, an anomaly, but rather it has turned into an epidemic. And they brought that to our attention too.
Simply, pesticides, those troublesome neonicotinoids, are applied to corn seeds before they are planted so when the corn begins to grow the pesticide on the seed is absorbed by the new roots and fills the plant with poison for the rest of its life. But the stuff is sticky and doesn’t come out of the planters very well so farmers supply a slippery additive in the form of talcum powder to make those seeds, in airblast seed planters, simply fly right out of the drop chute and into the ground. But there’s the rub. That airblast planter is blowing all that talcum powder and loose pesticide dust everywhere…up into the air to travel where ever something as light weight as talcum powder can travel…feet and yards and yards certainly, maybe miles…nobody knows.
But birds are dying. Robins and crows. And one observer says that wildlife eating the seeds are dying…three seeds will kill a quail is what I’m hearing, but I don’t know for sure. I wouldn’t be surprised. But for beekeepers, what’s happening is that this poisonous dust is landing on everything downwind…dandelions, flowers, water surfaces, everywhere a honey bee can go, that’s where this stuff is landing.
How much of it is going airborne? I don’t have a clue, but every seed is coated with it, and you know how big corn seeds are and there are about 30,000 seeds planted in an acre…and there are, this year, 96,000,000 acres of corn planted in the U. S. And what I read is, is that almost all of those seeds are coated with something that protects the plants. Know how big 96,000,000 acres is….? It’s all of North Dakota and South Dakota, combined. All of that.
But of course all those acres are spread out all over the place. There are few places in this country that are not within drift distance from these airborne poisons. Very, very few. For instance…North Dakota plans on 3.4 million acres of corn this year…that’s 5% of the entire state. And recall, North Dakota is the biggest honey producer in the U. S. I’m thinking there’s no place to hide in that large, very flat state.
If you experience a beekill in your apiary this spring DO NOT simply shrug your shoulders and feel there’s nothing to be done. There is something to be done.
First, take pictures…with today’s newspaper showing so you have a date. Get a witness in the photo so you have someone else to verify your incident. Video a person collecting samples and filling to half a plastic bag and sealing the bag. Freeze the sample as soon as possible. Call you state apiary inspector and report the incident. If your state has a pesticide incident reporting system in place, report it there, too. And tell the feds. There’s two places to go. First, do a direct to EPA email. They have a system in place to document these when reported. The email is beekill@EPA.gov
Tell them what, where and when you found the incident, attach a couple of photos of the scene, record the number of hives affected, the date the incident occurred and any other pertinent data you can include. Tell them you have taken samples, and that you have reported it to your state authorities. And tell them you want something done!
When you finish that, go to this web site http://npic.orst.edu/reportprob.html#env
the National Pesticide Information Center’s page to report a pesticide incident. And do it again.
And then, one more thing.
Send this information to your local beekeeping group, and to your state beekeeping association and tell them to put it on their web page, to send out emails, to put it in newsletters, to get every beekeeper in this country up to speed on what is killing our honey bees (heck, send it to every beekeeper you know and tell them to do the same thing. Let EVERY BEEKEEPER EVERYWHERE KNOW!). This is something YOU CAN DO, whether you never, ever have a problem or not. Help protect honey bees, and beekeepers from this, and any other Pesticide Incident.
This ezine is also available online at http://home.ezezine.com/1636/1636-2012.05.11.14.40.archive.html
(The above brought to you by CATCH THE BUZZ (Kim Flottum) Bee Culture, The Magazine of American Beekeeping, published by A.I. Root Company.)