Unique Stakeholder Group Works to Reduce Honey Bee Exposure

Corn Dust Research Consortium (CDRC) Calls for
Widespread Cooperative Measures To Support
Honey Bees, Beekeepers, and Farmers

San Francisco, California – The non-profit Pollinator Partnership (P2) has released the 2013 Preliminary Report and Provisional Recommendations of the Corn Dust Research Consortium (CDRC), a multi-stakeholder initiative formed to fund research with the goal of reducing honey bee exposure to fugitive dust emitted from planter fan exhaust during mechanical planting of treated corn seed. The report can be found at http://www.pollinator.org/PDFs/CDRCfinalreport2013.pdf with provisional recommendations starting on page 23.

The CDRC participating organizations include the American Seed Trade Association, the American Honey Producers Association, the American Beekeeping Federation, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Bayer CropScience, the Canadian Honey Council, the Farm Equipment Manufacturers Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the Pollinator Partnership, Syngenta, and the University of Maryland. These organizations came together to fund and oversee research projects in 2013 to better understand ideas for mitigating risks to honey bees from exposure to fugitive dust emitted from fan exhaust from machinery during corn planting.

The CDRC funded three research teams, led by Dr. Reed Johnson of Ohio State University, Dr. Mary Harris of Iowa State University, and Dr. Art Schaafsma, University of Guelph on behalf of the Grain Farmers of Ontario. It is hoped that the preliminary results and provisional recommendations will inform best practices for the 2014 planting season. Additional research in subsequent seasons will be needed to replicate and substantiate the findings.

Two research questions were addressed by CDRC-funded research. The first question (Question 1) sought to develop a greater understanding of the use by honey bees of floral resources in and around cornfields during spring planting season and how this is influenced by vegetation management practices. Native bee communities may also be affected by exposure through forage, an issue not addressed in this research.

The second question (Question 2) was to evaluate the effectiveness and deposition levels of pesticide dust in and around fields when commercially available neonicotinoid-treated corn seed products are planted using a new product in comparison to standard lubricants (talc and graphite). Aspects of the product, BFA, developed by Bayer CropScience, had already been evaluated in other studies.

The three research teams took their own approaches to the questions. Their methods and their observations were not identical, nor were they intended to be. The variety of landscape features and differences in grower practices, as well as the timing of the planting, varied according to location. Only one of the research teams, led by Dr. Art Schaafsma, studied the effectiveness of the BFA alternative lubricant for use during treated seed planted with pneumatic planters. Despite these differences, consistencies were observed, particularly with respect to honey bee foraging during planting.

All preliminary and provisional recommendations from the report are based on small sample sizes and one year’s data; all require further testing in the coming year. However, the original goal was to be as helpful as possible in influencing the behaviors of all stakeholders with respect to the 2014 growing season; and several practical solutions that the research highlighted are offered.

The first significant finding of the research, with respect to the forage question (Question 1), was that honey bees collected pollen largely from trees and woody plants (apple, hawthorn, willow, maple, etc.) during the time of corn planting. This was a consistent finding at the Iowa, Ohio and Guelph sites. The second honey bee forage discovery (also Question 1) had to do with the pesticide levels in the honey bee-collected pollen. Across all three sites, the highest residue levels occurred during the approximately two-week planting period.

The second question, (Question 2), tested the effectiveness of the alternative lubricant, BFA, as a replacement for talc or graphite to separate corn seeds in the pneumatic planters often used in corn planting in North America. The CDRC tests showed that when the BFA lubricant was used, total dust and pesticide load in the dust were reduced when compared to the use of conventional lubricants, despite a higher concentration of pesticide in the dust. Further research is needed to determine the overall effectiveness of Bayer’s new lubricant in both reducing dust and dust-borne pesticide levels.

Several steps will need to be taken to achieve a reduction in exposure of honey bees to neonicotinoids used to treat seeds. Many contributions toward this goal are needed from every sector involved in this situation – farmers, beekeepers, pesticide and lubricant manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, seed dealers, government agencies and regulators, extension agents, agricultural and commodity organizations, and agricultural media all need to become involved.

“The CDRC process involved collaborative oversight of practical research through multiple institutions. It has been complex but extremely rewarding. All stakeholders have shared the responsibility for transparency, open deliberation, and unbiased assessment throughout 2013,” said Pollinator Partnership’s Executive Director Laurie Davies Adams. (Contact LDA@pollinator.org) “We feel that the consequences of potential harm to honey bees have been taken very seriously by every institution involved in this collaboration. We have achieved something remarkable and rare – a consortium working together to improve the situation for honey bees through balanced, unbiased, and cooperative engagement in objective science.”

A second year of funded research will focus on follow-up evaluation, information dissemination, and adaptive management in 2014. Interested institutions should contact the Pollinator Partnership at info@pollinator.org. Each of the research teams is expected to publish papers with respect to their individual data sets either as a result of the 2013 work or in conjunction with a second year’s research.

About Pollinator Partnership—Established in 1997, the Pollinator Partnership (P2) is the largest 501(c) 3 non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to the health, protection, and conservation of all pollinating animals. For further information, visit www.pollinator.org.