Help reduce pesticide risk to bees and other pollinators

A new guide from Michigan State University contains practical advice for fruit growers for reducing pesticide risk to bees and other pollinators.

Pesticides and bees are increasingly in the news, with heightened awareness of the hazards bees may encounter in agricultural landscapes. In fruit farms, growers need bees for pollinating their crops during bloom and most rent honey bee hives from beekeepers to supplement pollination by wild bees and other insects. Because healthy bees are critical for the long-term sustainability of fruit production, it is important growers make bee health a priority and take care when using pesticides for insect and disease control to do the least harm to bees and other pollinating insects on these farms.

A new publication, “Minimizing Pesticide Risk to Bees in Fruit Crops,” number E3245 from Michigan State University Extension, identifies potential pesticide risks to bees on fruit farms and suggests specific strategies that would minimize these risks. It draws on knowledge of bee biology, pesticide action and farming practices to provide advice on a series of common-sense practices growers can follow to reduce pesticide risk to bees. A list of insecticides and fungicides registered for use on fruit crops in the Midwest region provides a risk ranking for each product to allow growers, extension educators and crop consultants to make informed decisions to support bee populations on farms. With clear photographs and illustrations to highlight key points, this new document will be useful for extension programs, pesticide safety training and to inform grower practices during crop bloom.

There are some key take-home messages from the document. First, bees are essential for pollination of many fruit crops, but can be harmed by some pesticides used to manage insects, mites and diseases in fruit crops. Second, growers can reduce pesticide risk to bees through these eight approaches:

  1. Develop and implement a pollination contract with your beekeeper.
  2. Use integrated pest management (IPM) to reduce the need for sprays.
  3. Avoid pesticide sprays during crop bloom.
  4. Apply pesticides after sunset or before sunrise, or when air temperature is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Select the least toxic pesticides and formulations when possible (tables with rankings for insecticides and fungicides are included).
  6. Reduce drift onto areas outside crop fields.
  7. Remove flowering weeds from crops before spraying.
  8. Provide bee-friendly habitat away from crops.

The guide is available from MSU Extension either as a free PDF file from the Resources section of MSU Extension’s Pollinators and Pollination page, or as a printed copy for $5 per copy from the MSU Extension Bookstore (search for publication number 3245). Discounts for bulk purchases are available.

Dr. Isaacs’ work is funded in part by MSU’s AgBioResearch.

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