Agriculture’s Increasing Dependence On Pollination, Coupled With A Lack Of Crop Diversity, May Threaten Food Security And Stability

Catch the Buzz By Alan Harman August 12, 2019

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New research suggests global trends in farming practices are undermining the pollinators that crops depend on and putting agricultural productivity and stability at risk,

An international team of researchers has identified countries where agriculture’s increasing dependence on pollination, coupled with a lack of crop diversity, may threaten food security and economic stability.

The study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, is the first global assessment of the relationship between trends in crop diversity and agricultural dependence on pollinators.

Using annual data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization from 1961 to 2016, the study showed that the global area cultivated in crops that require pollination by bees and other insects expanded by 137%, while crop diversity increased by just 20.5%.

This imbalance is a problem, the researchers say, because agriculture dominated by just one or two types of crops only provides nutrition for pollinators during a limited window when the crops are blooming.

Maintaining agricultural diversity by cultivating a variety of crops that bloom at different times provides a more stable source of food and habitat for pollinators.

“This work should sound an alarm for policymakers who need to think about how they are going to protect and foster pollinator populations that can support the growing need for the services they provide to crops that require pollination,” said David Inouye, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Maryland and a co-author of the research paper.

Globally, a large portion of the total agricultural expansion and increase in pollinator dependence between 1961 and 2016 resulted from increases in large-scale farming of soybean, canola and palm crops for oil.

The researchers expressed concern over the increase in these crops because it indicates a rapid expansion of industrial farming, which is associated with environmentally damaging practices such as large monocultures and pesticide use that threaten pollinators and can undermine productivity.

Particularly vulnerable to potential agricultural instability are Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia, where expansion of pollinator-dependent soybean farms has driven deforestation and replaced rich biodiversity that supports healthy populations of pollinators with large-scale single-crop agriculture (monoculture).

Malaysia and Indonesia face a similar scenario from the expansion of oil palm farming.

“Farmers are growing more crops that require pollination, such as fruits, nuts and oil seeds, because there’s an increasing demand for them and they have a higher market value,” Inouye says.

“This study points out that these current trends are not great for pollinators, and countries that diversify their agricultural crops are going to benefit more than those that expand with only a limited subset of crops.”

In Europe, farmland is contracting as development replaces agriculture, but pollinator-dependent crops are replacing non-pollinator-dependent crops such as rice and wheat (which are wind pollinated).

The study says increasing need for pollination services without parallel increases in diversity puts agricultural stability at risk in places such as Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Austria, Denmark and Finland.

In the U.S., agricultural diversity has not kept pace with expansion of industrial-scale soybean farming.

“This work shows that you really need to look at this issue country by country and region by region to see what’s happening because there are different underlying risks,” Inouye says..

“The bottom line is that if you’re increasing pollinator crops, you also need to diversify crops and implement pollinator-friendly management.”

https://www.beeculture.com/catch-the-buzz-agricultures-increasing-dependence-on-pollination-coupled-with-a-lack-of-crop-diversity-may-threaten-food-security-and-stability/

That Big Rig You're Passing Might Just Be Full of Bees

Jalopnik By Andrew P. Collins June 25, 2019

Illustration: GMG Art Department/Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

Illustration: GMG Art Department/Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

There are still cowboys driving livestock across America in 2019. While most of us are snoozing, they’re rolling up to dark fields with trucks full of creatures that are critical to our nation’s agriculture: thousands and thousands of bees.

“Very few people know that this happens, and it happens as a necessity of the way our agriculture’s done,” Apiarist and filmmaker Peter Nelson explained to me. “I see bee trucks when I’m on the road, but most people don’t recognize them because it looks like a truck with boxes covered by a net.”

Nelson’s new movie The Pollinators is all about the bee industry, its huge role in our food system and the dire situation it’s in today. After months embedded with beekeepers documenting the complicated logistics of hauling bees from one end of the country to another, and years raising bees in his own backyard, he’s become something of an authority on the subject.

After watching his film myself, I have a whole new appreciation for this fascinating biological and economic ecosystem. I will now impart some of this wonder to you, before getting back to the part about trucks filled with bees driving down the highway at night.

Bees: We Fear Them, But We Must Love Them (Or We Starve)

Crops that make some of our favorite foods—almonds, broccoli, blueberries, avocados, apples—all need to be pollinated, and they’re pollinated by bees. But it takes armies of the insects to tend the immense commercial farms that get those foods to grocery stores. Since pollination only happens in certain seasons, it’s not practical for most farmers to stock and feed their own bees year-round. There definitely aren’t enough wild bees to get it done. And that’s why we’ve got a bee industry.

Photo: Peter Nelson ( The Pollinators )

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

Wild and farm-raised bees have slightly different lifestyles, but they have a lot of the same problems. Wild bees have to contend with their feeding grounds being paved and plowed for crops they can’t eat. Bees that work for humans for a living are at risk of being poisoned by pesticides designed to protect the plants that the bees are hired to pollinate. And all of them can succumb to parasitic varroa mites. These are tiny bugs that ride on bees and drink their blood, identified by the USDA as one of a bee’s biggest threats.

The importance of both natural and commercial pollination is well documented, as are the threats to their systems. If you want to dive deeper into the science of the situation, The Center for Biological Diversity’s paper Pollinators In Peril from 2017 might be a good place to start.

More recently, the plight of pollinators is starting to sneak its way into pop culture. Even PornHub is using its platform to make people realize how important bees are. But to truly appreciate what’s happening, you’ve got to wrap your head around the scale and significance of the bee industry.

Why Are We Trucking Bees Around, Exactly?

There are more than 90 million almond trees in California. They need to be pollinated every year, and it takes over 31 billion bees to make that happen.

Since there aren’t enough natural pollinators to take care of today’s commercial crops, just like there’s not enough rain to water them without the help of irrigation, the rental bees are brought in. Those same bees could get booked in every other corner of the country too, pollinating different crops in different seasons.

Photo: Peter Nelson ( The Pollinators )

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

After almond season, the bees might get shipped up to the pacific northwest for apples. Then Massachusetts for cranberries, Maine for blueberries, or, some go to North and South Dakota to relax and focus on making honey, as highlighted by an article in The Conversation that notes many beekeepers are based there.

Nelson told me there are approximately 2,000 beekeepers with “more than 300 hives,” which he also explained was about the threshold from where a hobbyist or sideliner beekeeper becomes a serious commercial player. “The biggest beekeeper in the country is about 100,000 hives,” he added.

And how many bees does that entail? The typical hives Nelson had seen tended to house about 25,0000 bees. But bee colonies expand and contract over the course of a year. An Oregon State University paper cited by GrowOrganic stated that you could have between 10,000 and 60,000 bees living together.

If bees are comfortable, they can multiply fast. A typical worker bee only lives for about 40 days, but population growth can be fast in the right conditions. A queen can lay up to 1,500 eggs a day when the environment is optimized. So a beekeeper renting hives to farmers could be working with many generations of the insects, at the same hive, over the course of a year.

Photo: Peter Nelson ( The Pollinators )

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

Today beekeepers at big scale make most of their money from pollination services, as opposed to 20 years ago, Nelson told me, when honey production was more lucrative. But as farms expanded and natural bee habitats have contracted, the demand for rental bees has gone up.

Pollination fees vary. “Last year ranged from $175 to $225 per hive for almond pollination,” said Nelson. “And that’s the biggest pollination in the country. Honeybees are essential to almonds, so they command a higher price.”

Almond crops need two hives per acre to be pollinated completely, so the dollar figure starts to swell pretty quickly. The Center for Biological Diversity says “more than $3 billion dollars” changes hands for fruit-pollination services in the U.S. every year.

And yet, sometimes commercial beekeeping business relationships are pretty old-school. “a lot of these contracts or agreements are made on a handshake,” Nelson explained. “Dave Hackenberg, [well-known professional beekeeper, credited as the first to raise awareness about colony collapse disorder] he’s been keeping bees my whole life, and he has some of his regular clients that go back 30 years.”

OK, So Here’s How You Haul Bees

Bees are considered livestock, so people charged with moving them are supposed to be comfortable working with animals. Still, transporting bees presents some unique challenges. Like, if you stop on a warm day, your cargo might just buzz away. That, or get trapped in the net covering the truck’s cargo deck, and that’s just a bad day for everybody.

Photo: Peter Nelson ( The Pollinators )

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

If a bee truck crashes, “it’s a mess,” Nelson told me. It happens, and when it does, beekeepers will try to save their wares. If the queen bee stays in the hive, which they normally do, the rest of the bees will buzz back. But the insects can only get back to their hive if it’s in the same place they left it. If a cleanup crew has to move the hives, or replace them, rounding up all the loose bees can be impossible.

Most bee hauling runs don’t end in that kind of disaster, but they are a lot of work. Let’s say a big rig’s worth of bees need to get from Georgia to California early in the year, for the start of the almond season.

Bees are generally loaded up for transportation at nighttime. That’s partially because the cold slows them down, but mainly on account of that geolocation phenomenon I just mentioned. If the bees go to bed in one place and wake up in another, they apparently don’t care, and go about their business pollinating in the new spot. But if you move the hive while the bees are active, they get confused and lost.

Photo: Peter Nelson ( The Pollinators )

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

Before being heaved onto the deck of an empty flatbed trailer, bees are often calmed down with smoke. (Bees: They’re just like us!) The trick is that beekeepers go around their hives with smoke-dispensing canisters to make the insects think there’s a forest fire.

You might imagine that would send them into an apocalyptic panic, but apparently it has the opposite effect. Kind of. The bees gorge themselves on honey, either in preparation for evacuation or just resignation that doomsday is near, and become significantly more docile than they usually are.

Smoke also “blocks pheromones and makes it harder for them to sting,” says Nelson.

With the bees toked out, about 400 to 425 palletized hives can be stacked onto a semi-truck trailer with a forklift. Multiply that by 25,000 bees per hive, and yeah, you could have more than 10,000,000 on a truck easily.

Once the bees are rolling, their humans like to keep them in motion as much as possible during the day since the wind discourages them from going outside. If beekeepers do have to stop, they try to do it at high elevation where it’s cooler and bees will be more motivated to stay indoors. Once again, I am realizing how bee-like my own existence is... I don’t like to leave the house unless the weather’s soft, either. Also, if my house moved I would definitely get lost.

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

Speaking of weather, that’s the last, and most critical, factor bee haulers have to worry about. If it’s too warm, the bees will escape and die. If it’s too cold, the bees will die. If it rains or snows, that presents its own set of problems.

“The thing that they’re all watching is weather... The almond pollination, that’s probably the riskiest one,” Nelson explained, “because a lot of the distances they cover are long. From Florida, Georgia, Alabama, all the way to Central Valley, California. And then also because of the weather that time of year (January and February) is a little more volatile.”

Beekeepers will even pre-run their hauling routes, just like Baja racers, to scout good spots to stop and plan their pacing. “A lot of beekeepers will go these exact routes beforehand,” Nelson added, “so they’ll know places where, ‘OK if you need to pull off, this is a good place, because it has an elevation that’s a little bit higher, so it might be cooler and better for the bees to stay in the hive,’” for example.

A 2018 Agweek article cited Miller Honey Farms Vice President Jason Miller as stating his companies hives “lose about two percent of their bees each time they’re moved,” and also mentioned that bee farmers sometimes have to get creative when it comes to finding places to park the bees in down time. The Miller operation apparently rents potato cellars in Idaho as their bees’ winter home.

Photo: Peter Nelson ( The Pollinators )

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

But even if beekeepers manage to keep their bees alive through the cold months, and get them on-and-off trucks safely, they still have to deal with bee bandits.

Yes, beehive theft is a thing. National Geographic recently reported that $70,000 worth of buzzing gold (bees) was heisted from a California farm. In 2016, somebody made off with $200,000 worth of bees in Canada and similar crimes have happened in England, New Zealand and elsewhere.

In the U.S., California’s Rural Crime Prevention Task Force deals with this kind of thing. “These cases are hard to crack because bees don’t have VIN numbers like cars, and we can’t track them by their DNA,” Detective Isaac Torres of the Task Force is quoted saying in that Nat Geo article. But stolen bees do get found, and the California State Beekeepers Association apparently “offers a $10,000 reward for information resulting in the arrest and conviction of a bee rustler.”

How Do We Befriend The Bees, And Earn Their Trust And Respect?

If you’ve read this far, you’ve got an understanding of how hard bees and their keepers have it. Some even say forcing bees to work for us at all is exploitive and wrong. But short of trying to topple the bee industry, it is possible for people to proactively be part of a pollination solution.

Photo: Peter Nelson ( The Pollinators )

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

“One of things I like to suggest to people is to support their local beekeepers,” Nelson told me when I asked him how I could help the bees. “Buy[ing] honey locally, certainly buy[ing] U.S. honey,” helps our bee economy, but planning a garden that’s pollinator-friendly if you have the space for it, and minimizing the use of pesticides around your house goes a long way too.

Not all pollinating bees are honeybees that can fly five miles or get carted thousands of miles across the country. Some local pollinators might just hang out in your yard.

Making good food choices, as in buying food that’s pollinated sustainably, can be difficult to do. It’s a very positive step in helping the environment, though. And now that you know that, you might have some more research to do. But at least, next time you see a truck with stacks of boxes covered by a net, you’ll know what it’s up to!

For a longer look at the life of bees on the road and the people making a lot of your food happen, you really should try to see The Pollinators movie, which you might be able to catch at a film festival soon.

https://jalopnik.com/that-big-rig-youre-passing-might-be-full-of-bees-1834383949

Quantum Dots Track Pollinators

The Optical Society By Stewart Wills February 18, 2019

A bee, caught after visiting a flower whose pollen grains had been labelled with quantum dots. The glowing dots show evidence of the bee’s travels, and how the pollen attaches to it, when the insect is examined under the microscope in UV light. [Image: Corneile Minnaar]

A bee, caught after visiting a flower whose pollen grains had been labelled with quantum dots. The glowing dots show evidence of the bee’s travels, and how the pollen attaches to it, when the insect is examined under the microscope in UV light. [Image: Corneile Minnaar]

A particularly sobering aspect of global environmental degradation is the rapid decline of insect populations. One recent study in the journal Biological Conservation estimated that 40 percent of the world’s insect species could go extinct within the next three decades, owing to habitat loss due to agriculture and urbanization, pesticides, climate change and other insults.

Quite apart from playing havoc with the food web, declines in certain insect populations threaten the bugs’ crucial role as pollinators. Humans rely on insects to pollinate more than 30 percent of food crops—a huge service that nature provides free of charge.

That makes it essential to understand which insects are pollinating which plants—even to the point of tracking individual pollen grains from flower to flower via their insect vectors. But a robust, useful system for labeling the tiny grains, which are subject to the vicissitudes of wind and weather in addition to the mazy paths of insects, has been fiendishly difficult to devise. Now, a pollination biologist in South Africa has hit upon a novel answer: tag the pollen with fluorescent quantum dots (Meth. Ecol. Evol., doi: 10.1111/2041-210X.13155).

Dots, flowers and pollen

Quantum dots (QDs) are luminescent semiconductor nanocrystals that, when excited by light of a specific wavelength (such as UV), re-emit at visible wavelengths, with the specific emission wavelength depending on the size of the quantum dot. They’ve found use in a wide variety of contexts including biomedical study (see, “Quantum Dots for Biomedicine,” OPN, April 2017). Indeed, the pollination biologist behind the new study, Corneile Minnaar of Stellenbosch University, South Africa, reportedly got the idea for pollen tracking with QDs from a paper on their potential use in targeting and imaging cancer cells.

Corneile Minnaar, applying a solution of lipid-tagged quantum dots to the business end of a flower. [Image: Ingrid Minnaar]

Corneile Minnaar, applying a solution of lipid-tagged quantum dots to the business end of a flower. [Image: Ingrid Minnaar]

To use QDs to track individual pollen grains, Minnaar—who began the work as a Ph.D. student at Stellenbosch, where he’s now a postdoc in the lab of pollination biologist Bruce Anderson—first had to figure out how to tie the dots to the pollen. To do so, he began with commercially available, nontoxic CuInSexS2−x/ZnS (core/shell) QDs with four different emission wavelengths: 550 nm (green), 590 nm (yellow), 620 nm (orange) and 650 nm (red). Next, Minnaar chemically tied the QDs to an oleic‐acid ligand molecule that would latch onto the lipid-rich “pollenkitt” that surrounds pollen grains—the same substance that makes pollen stick to the coats of pollinators like honeybees.

Minnaar then took the lipid-doped QDs and dissolved them into a volatile hexane solvent, and micro-pipetted drops of the solvent onto the pollen-rich anthers on flowers of four different plant species. The ligand-bearing QDs quickly stuck to the pollenkitt on the grains, as expected, and the volatile hexane rapidly evaporated away. The result: flowers packed with potentially trackable, QD-labeled pollen.

Building an “excitation box”

The next problem to be solved was how actually to read the signal from the tagged pollen. While Minnaar says he started with a toy pen with a UV LED light to excite the fluorescence in the dots, he clearly needed something a bit more scalable. To get there, he used a 3-D printer to create a black “quantum-dot excitation box” that could fit under a dissection microscope, and that included four commercial UV LEDs, a long-pass UV filter, and supporting housing. In a press release accompanying the work, Minnaar said the UV box could “easily be 3D-printed at a cost of about R5,000 [around US$360], including the required electronic components.”

Minnaar tested the ability of the pollen grains to hold onto the QDs by agitating samples in an ethanol solution, and found that the grip was firm. Also, in a controlled, caged experiment, he trained honeybees to move from tagged to untagged samples of a particular flower species, and found that labeling the grains with the QDs had no effect on the grains’ ability also to stick to the bees.

Robust system

The general robustness of the system suggests it could serve well in tracking pollinators in wild settings, quantifying parameters such as pollen loss and the importance of certain species to sustaining specific kinds of plants. That said, there are still a few limitations, according to the paper. One is that right now, “there are only four commercially available, distinguishable quantum dot colors in the visible range,” which could limit studies to only four plant species at a time. And, while initial tests were encouraging, more work needs to be done to determine whether the labeling and application process has effects on pollen viability that could complicate experiments or affect pollinator behavior.

One other, unavoidable drawback, notwithstanding Minnaar’s clever microscope setup, is the sheer labor of counting and checking the glowing pollen grains to amass experimental data. That's a task likely to while away the hours of grad students for years to come, irrespective of the technique used to label the grains. “I think I've probably counted more than a hundred thousand pollen grains these last three years,” Minnaar said.

Source: British Ecological Society

https://www.osa-opn.org/home/newsroom/2019/february/quantum_dots_track_pollinators/

Your Call's One Planet Series: Why are flying insects dying off at alarming rates?

KALW Radio     By Rose Aguilar and Malihe Razazan    October 22, 2017

Listen to a great commentary on a recent study showing decline in flying insect populations and pollinator declines in general. Speaking are Dr. Neal Williams (UC Davis) and Dr. Dave Goulson (University of Sussex)


The Monday October 23, 2017 broadcast of Your Call: One Planet Series

LISTEN: http://kalw.org/post/your-calls-one-planet-series-why-are-flying-insects-dying-alarming-rates#stream/0

Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth, but since 2006, honey bees and other pollinators have experienced rapid population declines. New research has found that the flying insect population in nature reserves across Germany has plummeted by 75 percent in the past 25 years.

Scientists warn that this trend can lead to an ecological Armageddon. What is causing this? And what can be done to stop it? Join our next Our Planet series on Your Call, with Rose Aguilar, and you.

Guests:

Neal Williams, professor of Pollination and Bee Biology in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at UC Davis

Dave Goulson, biologist, conservationist, and professor of Biology at the University of Sussex

Web Resources:

LA Times: Wild bees are least abundant where they're most needed, study says

The Guardian: Warning of 'ecological Armageddon' after dramatic plunge in insect numbers

http://kalw.org/post/your-calls-one-planet-series-why-are-flying-insects-dying-alarming-rates#stream/0

Insectageddon: Farming Is More Catastrophic Than Climate Breakdown

The Guardian   By George Monbiot    October 20, 2017

‘Flying insects are the pollinators without which a vast tract of the plant kingdom, both wild and cultivated, cannot survive.’ Photograph: Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Which of these would you name as the world’s most pressing environmental issue? Climate breakdownair pollution, water loss, plastic waste or urban expansion? My answer is none of the above. Almost incredibly, I believe that climate breakdown takes third place, behind two issues that receive only a fraction of the attention.

This is not to downgrade the danger presented by global heating – on the contrary, it presents an existential threat. It is simply that I have come to realise that two other issues have such huge and immediate impacts that they push even this great predicament into third place.

One is industrial fishing, which, all over the blue planet, is now causing systemic ecological collapse. The other is the erasure of non-human life from the land by farming.

And perhaps not only non-human life. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, at current rates of soil loss, driven largely by poor farming practice, we have just 60 years of harvests left. And this is before the Global Land Outlook report, published in September, found that productivity is already declining on 20% of the world’s cropland.

The impact on wildlife of changes in farming practice (and the expansion of the farmed area) is so rapid and severe that it is hard to get your head round the scale of what is happening. A study published this week in the journal Plos One reveals that flying insects surveyed on nature reserves in Germany have declined by 76% in 27 years. The most likely cause of this Insectageddon is that the land surrounding those reserves has become hostile to them: the volume of pesticides and the destruction of habitat have turned farmland into a wildlife desert.

It is remarkable that we need to rely on a study in Germany to see what is likely to have been happening worldwide: long-term surveys of this kind simply do not exist elsewhere. This failure reflects distorted priorities in the funding of science. There is no end of grants for research on how to kill insects, but hardly any money for discovering what the impacts of this killing might be. Instead, the work has been left – as in the German case – to recordings by amateur naturalists.

But anyone of my generation (ie in the second bloom of youth) can see and feel the change. We remember the “moth snowstorm” that filled the headlight beams of our parents’ cars on summer nights (memorialised in Michael McCarthy’s lovely book of that name). Every year I collected dozens of species of caterpillars and watched them grow and pupate and hatch. This year I tried to find some caterpillars for my children to raise. I spent the whole summer looking and, aside from the cabbage whites on our broccoli plants, found nothing in the wild but one garden tiger larva. Yes, one caterpillar in one year. I could scarcely believe what I was seeing – or rather, not seeing.

Insects, of course, are critical to the survival of the rest of the living world. Knowing what we now know, there is nothing surprising about the calamitous decline of insect-eating birds. Those flying insects – not just bees and hoverflies but species of many different families – are the pollinators without which a vast tract of the plant kingdom, both wild and cultivated, cannot survive. The wonders of the living planet are vanishing before our eyes.

Well, I hear you say, we have to feed the world. Yes, but not this way. As a UN report published in March explained, the notion that pesticide use is essential for feeding a growing population is a myth. A recent study in Nature Plants reveals that most farms would increase production if they cut their use of pesticides. A study in the journal Arthropod-Plant Interactions shows that the more neonicotinoid pesticides were used to treat rapeseed crops, the more their yield declines. Why? Because the pesticides harm or kill the pollinators on which the crop depends.

Farmers and governments have been comprehensively conned by the global pesticide industry. It has ensured its products should not be properly regulated or even, in real-world conditions, properly assessed. A massive media onslaught by this industry has bamboozled us all about its utility and its impacts on the health of both human beings and the natural world.

The profits of these companies depend on ecocide. Do we allow them to hold the world to ransom, or do we acknowledge that the survival of the living world is more important than returns to their shareholders? At the moment, shareholder value comes first. And it will count for nothing when we have lost the living systems on which our survival depends.

To save ourselves and the rest of the living world, here’s what we need to do:

1 We need a global treaty to regulate pesticides, and put the manufacturers back in their box.

2 We need environmental impact assessments for the farming and fishing industries. It is amazing that, while these sectors present the greatest threats to the living world, they are, uniquely in many nations, not subject to such oversight.

3 We need firm rules based on the outcomes of these assessments, obliging those who use the land to protect and restore the ecosystems on which we all depend.

4 We need to reduce the amount of land used by farming, while sustaining the production of food. The most obvious way is greatly to reduce our use of livestock: many of the crops we grow and all of the grazing land we use are deployed to feed them. One study in Britain suggests that, if we stopped using animal products, everyone in Britain could be fed on just 3m of our 18.5m hectares of current farmland (or on 7m hectares if all our farming were organic). This would allow us to create huge wildlife and soil refuges: an investment against a terrifying future.

5 We should stop using land that should be growing food for people to grow maize for biogas and fuel for cars.

Read at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/20/insectageddon-farming-catastrophe-climate-breakdown-insect-populations?CMP=share_btn_fb

Related: Warning Of 'Ecological Armageddon' After Dramatic Plunge In Insect Numbers

Warning Of 'Ecological Armageddon' After Dramatic Plunge In Insect Numbers

The Guardian    By Damian Carrington   October 18, 2017

Three-quarters of flying insects in nature reserves across Germany have vanished in 25 years, with serious implications for all life on Earth, scientists say

Flying insects caught in a malaise trap, used by entomologists to collect samples. Photograph: Courtesy of Entomologisher Verein Krefeld

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists.

Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.

The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardised ways of collecting insects in 1989. Special tents called malaise traps were used to capture more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects at 63 different nature reserves.

The malaise traps set in protected areas and reserves, which scientists say makes the declines even more worrying. Photograph: Courtesy of Courtesy of Entomologisher Verein Krefeld

When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak.

Previous reports of insect declines have been limited to particular insects, such European grassland butterflies, which have fallen by 50% in recent decades. But the new research captured all flying insects, including wasps and flies which are rarely studied, making it a much stronger indicator of decline.

The fact that the samples were taken in protected areas makes the findings even more worrying, said Caspar Hallmann at Radboud University, also part of the research team: “All these areas are protected and most of them are well-managed nature reserves. Yet, this dramatic decline has occurred.”

The amateur entomologists also collected detailed weather measurements and recorded changes to the landscape or plant species in the reserves, but this could not explain the loss of the insects. “The weather might explain many of the fluctuations within the season and between the years, but it doesn’t explain the rapid downward trend,” said Martin Sorg from the Krefeld Entomological Society in Germany, who led the amateur entomologists.

The amateur entomologists also collected detailed weather measurements and recorded changes to the landscape or plant species in the reserves, but this could not explain the loss of the insects. “The weather might explain many of the fluctuations within the season and between the years, but it doesn’t explain the rapid downward trend,” said Martin Sorg from the Krefeld Entomological Society in Germany, who led the amateur entomologists.

Goulson said a likely explanation could be that the flying insects perish when they leave the nature reserves. “Farmland has very little to offer for any wild creature,” he said. “But exactly what is causing their death is open to debate. It could be simply that there is no food for them or it could be, more specifically, exposure to chemical pesticides, or a combination of the two.”

In September, a chief scientific adviser to the UK government warned that regulators around the world have falsely assumed that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes and that the “effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored”.

The scientists said further work is urgently needed to corroborate the new findings in other regions and to explore the issue in more detail. While most insects do fly, it may be that those that don’t, leave nature reserves less often and are faring better. It is also possible that smaller and larger insects are affected differently, and the German samples have all been preserved and will be further analysed.

In the meantime, said De Kroon: “We need to do less of the things that we know have a negative impact, such as the use of pesticides and the disappearance of farmland borders full of flowers.”

 As well as being pollinators insects provide food for birds and other animals and help control pests. Photograph: Kevin Elsby/Alamy

Lynn Dicks at the University of East Anglia, UK, and not involved in the new research said the work was convincing. “It provides important new evidence for an alarming decline that many entomologists have suspected is occurring for some time.”

“If total flying insect biomass is genuinely declining at this rate – about 6% per year – it is extremely concerning,” she said. “Flying insects have really important ecological functions, for which their numbers matter a lot. They pollinate flowers: flies, moths and butterflies are as important as bees for many flowering plants, including some crops. They provide food for many animals – birds, bats, some mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Flies, beetles and wasps are also predators and decomposers, controlling pests and cleaning up the place generally.”

Another way of sampling insects – car windscreens – has often been anecdotally used to suggest a major decline, with people remembering many more bugs squashed on their windscreens in the past.

“I think that is real,” said Goulson. “I drove right across France and back this summer – just when you’d expect your windscreen to be splattered all over – and I literally never had to stop to clean the windscreen.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/18/warning-of-ecological-armageddon-after-dramatic-plunge-in-insect-numbers#img-2

EPA Honors Fifth-Grader from Everett, Washington for Protecting Bees and Other Pollinators

Environmental Protection Agency News Releases from Region 10   June 14, 2017

St. Mary Magdalen School 5th grader Elizabeth Sajan’s project “Bee Happy We Happy” helps protect bees and other pollinators and encourages her Everett, Washington community to promote bee health by planting bee-friendly flowers, keeping “weeds,” becoming a beekeeper, reducing pesticide use, and including water sources in a garden. Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized Elizabeth Sajan, a 5th grade student at St. Mary Magdalen School in Everett, Washington, for her outstanding work to promote and protect bees and other pollinators in her local community. Elizabeth’s project is among 15 student projects from 13 states to receive the 2016 President’s Environmental Youth Award for their environmental education and stewardship achievements.  EPA presented the award at a ceremony today at St. Mary Magdalen School.

“Today, we are pleased to honor these impressive young leaders, who demonstrate the impact that a few individuals can make to protect our environment,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “These students are empowering their peers, educating their communities, and demonstrating the STEM skills needed for this country to thrive in the global economy.”

As part of the 5th grade science curriculum, Elizabeth learned about pollination and the importance of bees. The topic struck her curiosity and after encouragement from her teacher, Elizabeth embarked on an independent project to educate herself and her community about bee health and beekeeping.

“I am so proud of Elizabeth for taking a topic we were learning about in class and transforming this topic into a passion,” said Julie Tyndall, Fifth Grade Teacher at St. Mary Magdalen School. “She educated the community about the importance of bees as pollinators, how it will affect our lives if bees disappear, and what we can do to help bees thrive in our communities.” 

During her project “Bee Happy We Happy,” Elizabeth did extensive research including reviewing articles, Washington State University Extension videos on pollination and pollinator protection, a TED talk, visiting a local nursery to understand cultivation, and reaching out to organizations and scientists as direct sources. Her research included sources such as the community horticulture wing of the department of pest management of Washington State University Extension, a chemical engineer in Oregon, and a biotechnologist in pharmaceuticals, which helped her to understand chemicals being used in modern agriculture and managing balanced biodiversity. 

Following her research, to engage her community, Elizabeth created an awareness flier, and set out to distribute it across her school and community. Elizabeth shared actions that her community members could take to promote bee health, such as planting bee-friendly flowers, keeping “weeds,” becoming a beekeeper, reducing pesticide use, and including water sources in a garden. She presented to her classmates and principal, and provided fliers to homeroom teachers to discuss with their science classes. At her local grocery, she engaged customers at the door by giving out her flier and discussing her concerns about bee health and how individuals could make a difference in protecting pollinators. Elizabeth plans to continue to get the message out to her family, friends and community to develop more “bee helpers” in her community. 

President’s Environmental Youth Awards information:  https://www.epa.gov/education/presidents-environmental-youth-award

https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-honors-fifth-grader-everett-washington-protecting-bees-and-other-pollinators

With Busy Bees in the Lead, "Pollinator-Friendly" Approach Vital for Healthy Agricultural Ecosystems UN

CATCH THE BUZZ - Bee Culture Magazine    June 6, 2106

A bee does its business in Kenya’s Kerio Valley. Photo: FAO/Dino MartinsAs bellwethers for ecosystem health and biodiversity, bees play a crucial role in agriculture and ending hunger, and “pollinator-friendly” approaches are therefore highly encouraged, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“A world without pollinators would be a world without food diversity – and in the long run, without food security,” José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General, said late last week during a visit to Slovenia’s national beekeepers’ festival.

FAO, as well as some 53 countries, has supported Slovenia in the promotion of declaring May 20 as the World Bee Day at the last regional Conference of Europe.

The technical committees of FAO and the FAO Conference in 2017 would be one of the first concrete actions in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to Mr. Graziano da Silva.

Honey bees, he noted, are the world’s most famous pollinators, a group of species whose members fly, hop and crawl over flowers to allow plants – including those that account for over a third of global food crop production – to reproduce. Their absence, however, would remove a host of nutritious foods from our diets, including squash, strawberries, carrots, apples, almonds, cherries, blueberries and cocoa.

Moreover, ecosystem health and biodiversity also depend on more than 20,000 species of wild bees which have links to specific flowering plants and are more vulnerable to climate change.

“Bees are a sign of well-functioning ecosystems,” said Mr. Graziano da Silva, adding that “to a great extent the decline of pollinators is also a sign of the disruptions that global changes are causing to ecosystems the world over.”

Land-use change, pesticide use, monoculture agriculture and climate change are some facts that have threatened bee populations.

Fostering robust pollinator communities ensures a diversity of environmental homes for them and supports traditional agricultural practices that benefit them, he noted.

“Pollination is one of the most visible ecosystem services that make food production even possible,” said the FAO Director-General.

Improving pollinator density and diversity have direct and positive impact on crop yields. In this regard, the FAO-backed International Pollinators Initiative – knowledge, guidelines and protocols – has been supporting countries in monitoring pollinators and better understand threats, information needs and data gaps since 2000.

Welcoming Slovenia’s leadership in apiculture, Mr. Graziano da Silva also urged all countries to take up “pollinator friendly” approaches towards farming and appreciate the important role of bees and other pollinators, and make their pollinator-friendly choices, he added.

“Without bees, it would be impossible to achieve FAO’s main goal, a world without hunger,” he said.

http://goo.gl/btucxM

Increasing pollinator numbers and diversity a possible way to increase crop yields

Phys.org    By Bob Yirka  January 22, 2016   

Apis mellifera on Phacelia tanacetifolia. Flower strips along crop fields attract pollinators and can increase the number of pollinators in the focal crop. Here, a honey bee is seen approaching a lacy phacelia in bloom, a highly attractive plant to bees (note the blue pollen baskets on the hind legs). This material relates to a paper that appeared in the 22 January 2016, issue of Science, published by AAAS. The paper, by Lucas Alejandro Garibaldi at Instituto de Investigaciones en Recursos Naturales, Agroecología y Desarrollo Rural (IRNAD) in Río Negro, Argentina, and colleagues was titled, "Mutually beneficial pollinator diversity and crop yield outcomes in small and large farms." Credit: Sondre Dahle

A large team of researchers with members from across the globe has found that small farms with higher densities of pollinators produce more food than those with lower densities—for larger farms, the difference in yield was more closely related to pollinator diversity. In their paper published in the journal Science, the team describes their study and analysis of multiple farms in Asia, South America and Africa over a five year period and what they learned about ways to increase crop yields in the years ahead.

Some scientists have predicted that the amount of food grown will have to double by 2050 to keep up with a growing world population, and one way to do that, the  with this new effort contend, is by narrowing or closing the  gap (the difference in yield between the most productive  and the least). One way to do that, they believe, is by increasing the number of pollinators on small (less than 2 hectares) farms and increasing diversity on larger farms.

The researchers came to this conclusion by conducting a five year study of 344 farms of all sizes, looking at 33 crops in particular, all of which need pollinators to bear fruit. The team monitored pollinator visits for each field counting numbers of pollinators broken down by species to allow for calculating diversity. In analyzing the data that was collected, the researchers found that the yield gap on small farms was approximately 47 percent and that there were far fewer pollinators visiting lower yield farms than the higher yield ones, suggesting that increasing pollinator numbers on less productive farms would likely bump up yields. The researchers note this is important because approximately 2 billion people around the world rely on food from such small farms. With larger farms, the story was different, rather than pollinator density making a difference, it was diversity—farms with a higher degree of different pollinators, such as bees, beetles, wasps, butterflies, etc. had higher yields. This suggests of course that lower yield producing large farms could bump their yields simply by attracting more different kinds of pollinators.

The researchers suggest that farms of any size could attract more pollinators by planting strips of plants, such as flowers, close to crops that are very attractive to pollinators or by changing pesticide application patterns to minimize exposure to .

    Explore further: Pollinator decline not reducing crop yields just yet

More information: L. A. Garibaldi et al. Mutually beneficial pollinator diversity and crop yield outcomes in small and large farms, Science (2016). DOI: 10.1126/science.aac7287

Abstract 
Ecological intensification, or the improvement of crop yield through enhancement of biodiversity, may be a sustainable pathway toward greater food supplies. Such sustainable increases may be especially important for the 2 billion people reliant on small farms, many of which are undernourished, yet we know little about the efficacy of this approach. Using a coordinated protocol across regions and crops, we quantify to what degree enhancing pollinator density and richness can improve yields on 344 fields from 33 pollinator-dependent crop systems in small and large farms from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For fields less than 2 hectares, we found that yield gaps could be closed by a median of 24% through higher flower-visitor density. For larger fields, such benefits only occurred at high flower-visitor richness. Worldwide, our study demonstrates that ecological intensification can create synchronous biodiversity and yield outcomes.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-01-pollinator-diversity-crop-yields.html#jCp

USGS Pollinator Research and Monitoring

 Download at: http://gallery.usgs.gov/videos/988

The USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, located in the Northern Great Plains state of North Dakota highlights their current and ongoing research on land use and pollinator health. 

This part of the country represents critical summer forage habitat for commercial beekeepers and their honey bees. Colonies located here in the summer produce honey and go on to pollinate many crops throughout the country, particularly almonds in the Central Valley of California. Researchers at Northern Prairie are studying how diversity and abundance of pollen (protein) resources differ with land use and result in varying outcomes for honey bee colonies. This research fits within the Presidential Memorandum on pollinators and the subsequent "National Strategy to promote the Health of Honey Bees and other Pollinators" created by the Pollinator Health Task Force. USGS scientists are measuring colony health, productivity, and survival of colonies in varying landscapes, and collaborating with the USDA to evaluate conservation program lands for their contribution to the honey bee diet. 

This research will be useful in equipping land managers and policy makers with the best-available science to improve forage and habitat for pollinators.

Videographer: Clint Otto, USGS
Credits:
Kirk Mason filmed, edited, and produced the video 
Feature Speakers: Clint Otto, Matthew Smart, Sarah Scott
Zac Browning and Bret Adee provided filming locations

More pollinator research at: https://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/

Small Farms Benefit Significantly From a Few Extra Pollinators

  January 21, 2016

American Association for the Advancement of Science

A white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) pollinating a sunflower (Helianthus sp.).

This material relates to a paper that will appear in the 22 January 2016, issue of Science, published by AAAS. The paper, by Lucas Alejandro Garibaldi at Instituto de Investigaciones en Recursos Naturales, Agroecología y Desarrollo Rural (IRNAD) in Río Negro, Argentina, and colleagues was titled, "Mutually beneficial pollinator diversity and crop yield outcomes in small and large farms." Credit: Arnstein Staverløkk

Higher numbers of pollinators can significantly increase crop productivity of small-sized farms, while large farms experience a similar yield benefit only if increases in pollinator density are accompanied by diversity, a new study finds. More than two billion people are reliant on small-scale agriculture in developing nations, and while much evidence demonstrates that pollinators can beneficially affect crop yield, how these helpful critters affect small-scale farms compared to larger farms is mostly unknown. To gain more insights, Lucas Garibaldi et al. analyzed 344 fields of small and large holdings in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, recording the number of pollinators (density), their biodiversity, and the yield of each crop over a five-year period. For small holdings less than two hectares, their analysis found that yield gaps -- the difference between crops that yielded the most produce compared to those that yielded the least -- could be closed by 24% through higher pollinator density; the authors note that the remaining 76% of the yield gap may be partially closed by technologies that optimize other agricultural factors, such as nutrients and water. In contrast, for larger holdings, a similar yield benefit from pollinator density only occurred if accompanied by high pollinator diversity. The authors suggest that large crops may benefit less from pollinator density because these are more likely to be pollinated by flower visitors with longer foraging ranges, which are usually generalist species, such as honey bees. Although pollinator dynamics are being increasingly threatened in agroecosystems because of declining floral abundance and diversity, the authors note that there are opportunities to reverse the trend by a number of different means, including planting flower strips, more targeted use of pesticides, and restoring natural areas adjacent to crops.

EPA Releases the First of Four Preliminary Risk Assessments for Insecticides Potentially Harmful to Bees

January 6, 2016
First-of-its-kind assessment delivers on President Obama’s
National Pollinator Strategy

WASHINGTON-- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a preliminary pollinator risk assessment for the neonicotinoid insecticide, imidacloprid, which shows a threat to some pollinators. EPA’s assessment, prepared in collaboration with California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, indicates that imidacloprid potentially poses risk to hives when the pesticide comes in contact with certain crops that attract pollinators.

“Delivering on the President’s National Pollinator Strategy means EPA is committed not only to protecting bees and reversing bee loss, but for the first time assessing the health of the colony for the neonicotinoid pesticides,” said Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “Using science as our guide, this preliminary assessment reflects our collaboration with the State of California and Canada to assess the results of the most recent testing required by EPA.” 

The preliminary risk assessment identified a residue level for imidacloprid of 25 ppb, which sets a threshold above which effects on pollinator hives are likely to be seen, and at that level and below which effects are unlikely. These effects include decreases in pollinators as well as less honey produced. .  

For example, data show that citrus and cotton may have residues of the pesticide in pollen and nectar above the threshold level. Other crops such as corn and leafy vegetables either do not produce nectar or have residues below the EPA identified level. Additional data is being generated on these and other crops to help EPA evaluate whether imidacloprid poses a risk to hives. 

The imidacloprid assessment is the first of four preliminary pollinator risk assessments for the neonicotinoid insecticides. Preliminary pollinator risk assessments for three other neonicotinoids, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran, are scheduled to be released for public comment in December 2016. 

A preliminary risk assessment of all ecological effects for imidacloprid, including a revised pollinator assessment and impacts on other species such as aquatic and terrestrial animals and plants will also be released in December 2016.

In addition to working with California, EPA coordinated efforts with Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency. Canada’s Imidacloprid pollinator-only assessment – also released today – reaches the same preliminary conclusions as EPA’s report.

The 60-day public comment period will begin upon publication in the Federal Register. After the comment period ends, EPA may revise the pollinator assessment based on comments received and, if necessary, take action to reduce risks from the insecticide. 

In 2015, EPA proposed to prohibit the use of pesticides that are toxic to bees, including the neonicotinoids, when crops are in bloom and bees are under contract for pollination services.  The Agency temporarily halted the approval of new outdoor neonicotinoid pesticide uses until new bee data is submitted and pollinator risk assessments are complete.

EPA encourages stakeholders and interested members of the public to visit the imidacloprid docket and sign up for email alerts to be automatically notified when the agency opens the public comment period for the pollinator-only risk assessment. The risk assessment and other supporting documents will be available in the docket today at:
http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketBrowser;rpp=25;so=DESC;sb=postedDate;po=0;dct=SR;D=EPA-HQ-OPP-2008-0844.

EPA is also planning to hold a webinar on the imidacloprid assessment in early February.  The times and details will be posted at:  http://www.epa.gov/pollinator-protection/how-we-assess-risks-pollinators


ABJ Extra read at: http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=5fd2b1aa990e63193af2a573d&id=32f0d5d858&e=cb715f1bb5

Why Pollination And Pollination Protection Are Important

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey    January 1, 2016

If you haven't already seen it, you need to watch it.
 


"Pollination and Protecting Pollinators" is a 51-minute documentary by Washington State University (WSU) Cooperative Extension that explores how valuable honey bees are, why they're crucial, and what we need to do to protect them.

County Director Timothy Lawrence of Island County, WSU Extension, served as the co-executive producer of the documentary, as well as the writer and the primary  narrator. 

The Whidbey News-Times, in its May 23, 2010 edition, described Lawrence as an expert on honey bee health:

"Tim Lawrence has the credentials of an old-school extension services director, with a master's degree in rural sociology, a doctorate in environmental sciences and 20 years of experience working with extension programs in three states."

Some background: Tim and his wife, noted WSU bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, were formerly based at the University of California, Davis, where Cobey served as the manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. Together they operated a commercial queen production business, Vaca Valley Apiaries, in Vacaville, Solano County.

But back to the documentary.

You'll learn about pollen, nectar and how pollen is transferred. You'll learn why honey bees are considered the best of all the pollinators but why honey bees are not the "best pollinators for some crops" and why.

You'll learn about almond pollination, along with many of the other crops that require bee pollination, including apples, cherries, plums, blueberries and cranberries. No bees? No almonds. No bees? No cranberries.

You'll learn who developed the Langstroth Hive and why it's important. Hint: the Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth (1810-1895) discovered "bee space." You'll learn what "bee space" is.

You'll learn what Moses Quinby of New York did. Hint: Quinby (1810-1875) is considered the first commercial beekeeper in the United States. You'll learn how many hives he maintained in the Mohawk Valley region of New York.

You'll learn why Lawrence says "we won't starve if bees disappear."

And finally, you'll learn what you can do to help the bees.

"Do your part and we can all do this together," Lawrence says. Good advice. And timely advice as we begin the new year. 

 

 


Read at: http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=19847 

Herbicides, Not Insecticides, Biggest Threat to Bees

AGFAX   By Bonnie Coblentz    December 17, 2015 

People who care about honeybees know that insecticides and pollinators are usually a bad mix, but it turns out that herbicides used to control weeds can spell even bigger trouble for bees.

Jeff Harris, bee specialist with the MSU Extension Service and Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station researcher, said herbicides destroy bee food sources.

“When farmers burn down weeds before spring planting, or people spray for goldenrod, asters and spring flowers, or when power companies spray their rights-of-way, they’re killing a lot of potential food sources for bees and wild pollinators,” he said.

Harris said the direct effect of these chemicals on bees is so much less of an issue than their loss of food supply.

“Disappearing food is on the mind of beekeepers in the state,” he said. “That is even more important to them than losses of bees to insecticides.”

Johnny Thompson, vice president of the Mississippi Beekeeping Association, is a cattle and poultry farmer in Neshoba County who has been in the bee business for the last 10 years.

“Before we got back into bees, I sprayed pastures by the barrel to kill weeds. As a cattle farmer, weeds are a nuisance,” Thompson said. “I’m trying to grow grass for the cows to eat and not weeds, but as a beekeeper, those weeds are not weeds. That’s forage for the bees.”

Today, Thompson said he uses the bush hog more than he sprays herbicides to keep the food supply for bees intact on his land.

“If you kill everything the bee has for food, you may as well go in and spray the hive directly. The bees are going to die,” he said. “All the emphasis is being put on insecticide, but the greater risk to bees are the herbicides.”

He has made management changes for the sake of his bees’ food supply, but he recognizes the tension between current agricultural management practices and pollinators’ best interests.

“When you travel through the Delta or the prairie part of the state in February, the row crop land is purple with henbit blooming. By the end of March, it’s all gone because farmers burned it down with chemicals to try to kill everything in the field before they plant,” he said.

“They burn it down early because weeds in March or early April are a reservoir for insect pests to the crops that will soon be planted,” Thompson said.

Crops in the field, especially soybeans, are great sources of bee forage, and farmers and beekeepers can coordinate to protect both of their interests. 

“We moved bees to the Delta this summer to make soybean honey,” Thompson said. “We’re working with the growers to try to put the bees in areas that are fairly protected and won’t get directly sprayed.”

But farmland is not the only place bees find food. Yards, roadsides, golf courses and power line rights-of-way are other places bees forage when plants are allowed to bloom naturally.

“We need to stop looking at them as weeds and instead look at these plants as forage,” Thompson said. “I can manage around the insecticides, but if herbicide use means there’s nothing for a bee to eat, there’s no reason to put a hive in an area.”

http://agfax.com/2015/12/17/pollinators-herbicides-not-insecticides-biggest-threat-to-bees/

EPA Calls For Less Ethanol Next Year. Let's Hear It For The EPA!

Bee Culture - Catch The Buzz   December 15, 2015

The US EPA has changed direction on ethanol production for next year. Its ethanol mandate for 2016 requires less use of biofuel, thus a greater demand for fossil fuel. This is probably a good thing for lots of people, but think about this. It puts the EPA, that stands for Environmental Protection Agency, right in bed with big oil. Less ethanol used, more gasoline used. Does that make sense? For 2016, EPA wants 18.1 billion gallons blended into the nations fuel supply. That’s 4.1 billion fewer gallons than last year. First, let’s look at the numbers here. You get 2.8 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn. The US averaged 168 bushels of corn per acre in 2015. That comes to 471 gallons of ethanol per acre. Taking 4.1 billion gallons of ethanol out of the equation reduces the acres of planted corn next season by 8.7 million acres. That’s just about 10% of the 81.1 million acres of planted corn last year.

Why would EPA want to use more fossil fuel next year? Well, after careful study, The National Academy of Science, the UN and the Environmental Working Group found that corn ethanol may actually have higher emissions than petroleum-based gasoline, which doesn’t even account for the fossil fuels required to raise, harvest and transport all that corn. It’s a better bigger picture.

Plus, there’s all that subsidy money that farmers are getting to raise all that corn. Tens of billions since the 1980s when this all started. About 40 percent of the corn raised in the US goes into ethanol production, causing corn-based grocery foods to cost US taxpayers about $40 billion more than needed a year.

Another plus for this is the reduced use of seed applied pesticides on all those millions of acres. And herbicide, and fungicides. If big ag was smart, they’d use that 8.7 million acres to meet that federal mandate of 9 million acres of increased pollinator forage needed next season. Of course, the land freed up from all that corn would probably be a killing field for all those pollinators because of lingering pesticides left over from years of applications.

From the beekeeping industry’s perspective, that’s a boatload of poison that won’t get into the system, and, perhaps, some of this now-idled land will eventually find its way back to producing something edible, and safe for our bees.

Anyway you look at it, 8.7 million fewer acres of corn next year has got to be a good thing.

http://www.beeculture.com/catch-the-buzz-epa-calls-for-less-ethanol-next-year-lets-hear-it-for-the-epa/