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Reducing risks of insecticides to pollinators and increasing understanding between farmers and beekeepers

by Robert Koch, Extension Entomologist

As soybean aphid populations continue to increase and decisions are being made to apply insecticides to some fields, steps can be taken to help reduce unintended risks to pollinators (such as honeybees, native bees, butterflies and hover flies), which may occur in and near soybean fields. Below, I provide some steps that can be taken to help reduce the risk of exposing pollinators to insecticides. In addition, I provide links to two documents that stem from our larger effort to increase understanding and communication between farmers and beekeepers with a goal of reducing risks to pollinators.
Reducing risk to pollinators: Consider the following suggestions to reduce the risk of exposing pollinators to foliar-applied insecticides:
  • Use integrated pest management (IPM) to reduce the need for insecticide applications, and use scouting and economic thresholds to ensure insecticides are applied only when needed to protect yield. 
  • Communicate with local beekeepers about pesticide applications (products and schedules). Locations of some hives can be found on driftwatch.org
  • If available, use insecticides and formulations with lower risk to bees. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture provides a summary of toxicities of different pesticides to bees (Verified bee toxicity table). 
  • Apply insecticides in early-morning or late-evening, which are time periods generally considered less harmful to most pollinating insects. However, avoid conditions conducive to inversions. 
  • Do not apply insecticides when winds could carry the product onto flowering habitats near fields. Winds speeds in excess of 10 mph may result in drift problems. 
Always read and follow the instructions on product labels. Labels for some products/formulations with high toxicity to bees will provide specific directions for minimizing risk to pollinators.

Increasing understanding and communication between farmers and beekeepers: We recently created two extension publications to increase understanding and communication between farmers and beekeepers.
  • In the first publication, called Let’s see it from both sides, we recognize that farmers and beekeepers have more common than they (or others) may realize, and we examine where tension exists regarding how to best protect honey bee colonies while ensuring profitable crop production. 
  • In the second publication, called Getting to know commercial beekeepers, we provide an overview for farmers and agricultural professionals to better understand commercial beekeeping and beekeepers.

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