VT Digger: Art Whitman: Judicious use of neonics appropriate
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Art Whitman, who is president of the Vermont Feed Dealers & Manufacturing Association.
Bees are an important part of Vermont’s ecosystem and protecting them is a high priority for all of us both for pollinating purposes and production of honey.
In an effort to protect and promote a healthy pollinator population, a few years ago the Legislature passed a bill to create the Pollinator Protection Committee which was charged with coming up with recommendations to maintain bee health.
Recommendations from this group included an apiary inspection program, promotion of more diverse forage availability, education around pesticide use, and beekeeper education on disease threats and hive location.
One of the findings of the Pollinator Protection Committee was that Vermont is one of the few states in the U.S. that has not experienced colony collapse disorder. There is no clear understanding what causes colony collapse disorder but it is a very troubling disorder and finding that it has not occurred here was welcome news.
Science has shown that the five main threats to pollinators are the parasitic Varroa mite, a lack of quality forage, poor genetics, pesticide use and inconsistent bee management practices.
Vermont is working to reduce all of these threats in order to strengthen our pollinator population. Increasing the availability of quality forage can be achieved by working with farmers to add flowering plants to their buffer zones and by helping solar farms incorporate flowers into their fields.
Vermont will be instituting a bee hive inventory and inspection program that will be designed to improve management and education of hive owners.
In order to reduce the possible risk of pesticide exposure to bees, Vermont will continue to do water testing, develop educational ads that remind homeowners to follow label instructions when using pesticides and work with farmers to be sure that the use of neonicotinoids does not threaten Vermont’s bees.
The reality is, these pesticides are beneficial when used properly. They allow farmers to get higher yields while planting less land, which means less overall pesticide use. That’s good for the environment. And let’s not forget that bees’ exposure to neonicotinoids (or neonics as they’re called) in fields is limited as the field crops grown in Vermont that use neonics are not pollinated by bees so exposure is accidental.
Our farmers have implemented several best practices that are conducive to bee health, such as no till cropping, the use of cover crops, and planting flowering buffer zones. Some Vermont farmers rely on bees to pollinate their crops. It’s in their best interests to protect them.
Vermonters are doing a good job protecting our pollinators and we should look to improve and enhance these practices. Several beekeepers in Vermont have testified that their losses are as low as they have ever been, around 4 percent even though their bees forage in the middle of high density conventional agricultural land.
One of the many non-farm uses of neonics is to protect public health by preventing ticks and the Powassan virus, which can lead to meningitis, encephalitis and/or death. In addition, they protect the health of our trees by fighting against pests such as the ash borer which has now been found in Vermont and threatens our forest ecology and rural economy.
Every new pesticide introduced is designed either to eliminate a new threat or to reduce the risk of currently used products. Neonicotinoids are much safer than their pesticide predecessors, and as research continues, there’s no doubt they’ll continue to improve. But Vermonters should rest assured. There is no bee-apocalypse.