Bailey Nurseries’ recently announced that it has eliminated foliar treatments of container and bareroot products with three neonicotinoid insecticides — Dinotefuran, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided that these three insecticides need labeling that highlights the measures necessary to better protect pollinators and achieve label clarity and consistency across chemical class.
Plant Health Manager Jean-Marc Versolato, who has been involved in industry-wide discussions regarding this issue, reviewed related research shares background information on neonicotinoid insecticides. Here are his thoughts:
“Recently we all have seen a spate of media reports and commentaries regarding neonicotinoid insecticides and their potential impact on bees. Many of these stories provide important information for us to consider and reflect upon. We have also received several questions from our valued customers about the use of neonicotinoid insecticides in nursery production.
“Growing plants, tending crops and managing greenhouses and landscapes are roles for responsible stewards, and our industry’s access to and use of insecticides must be approached with the same level of respect. Neonicotinoids are insecticides capable of killing various insects and, when used appropriately and as directed by the approved EPA labels, are useful tools in the fight against invasive insect species and in ongoing efforts to manage pests.
“Some recent reports suggest that plants treated with neonicotinoid pesticides are connected to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) of bees, a phenomenon in which worker bees do not return to their hives after foraging. However, research and peer-reviewed publications, including those from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the EPA, strongly contradict the finger pointing at neonicotinoids. Rather, the research suggests that CCD of managed hives is likely caused by a combination of factors including pests and parasites – similar to the 1987 introduction of the destructive Varroa mite, the #1 bee killer according to the USDA – combined with bee pathogens including diseases and viruses. Other factors include nutrition problems caused by large monoculture associated with the disappearance of wild flowers.
“Certain bee management practices, like the constant stress of transporting hives to new locations by beekeepers, loss of natural habitat and climate change, conclude the list. This complex issue of pollinator health is that of managed bees, not those found in and around home yards and landscapes. In 2011, CCD in managed bees was linked to corn or sunflower seeds treated with neonicotinoids. Fortunately, our native bees do not appear to be impacted by CCD despite dealing with many of the same parasites and pathogens and having similar exposure to pesticides. This is not to say that pesticides play no role in CCD; the truth is that we do not have all of the answers at this point.
“Research has shown that neonicotinoids represent a tremendous advancement over older pesticide treatment options. When used properly, neonicotinoids effectively control problem insects, while exhibiting less impact on non-target insects (including bees). Their ability to provide residual control means fewer applications and less applicant exposure. Other alternatives are more harmful to the environment, and beneficial insects do not provide the same level of control, require repeated applications, leave pesticide residuals on the foliage, impacting the aesthetic value of the plant material, and may also cause more plant phytotoxcicity.
“Our industry recognizes the importance of having effective pesticides with low environmental impact. Neonicotinoids, when used properly, are vital to the success of our industry. They are important tools in defending trees, shrubs and plants against destructive invasive species (like the Japanese Beetle, Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, Emerald Ash Borer and Asian Longhorned Beetle), in dealing with invasive and often chemical-resistant whitefly species and preventing the spread of these and other pests. In some cases, neonicotinoids are approved regulatory treatments for certification and interstate movement of nursery and greenhouse crops. In others, they are critical to managing the development of pesticide resistance to other modes of action.
“Based on the current science, combined with the public interest, the EPA will continue to allow application of neonicotinoids with appropriate guidelines because of the fact that neonicotinoid insecticides are among the safer chemicals available to combat many pests. The image below is the language that now appears on the label of three neonicotinoid insecticides (Dinotefuran, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam) produced after February 2014. These insecticides are used in the agricultural and ornamental industry. Please note that the bee picture that will also appear on the labels.”
How Can We Help?
“As a proud participant in United States agriculture, we certainly understand the importance of pollinators to the agricultural industry and our natural environment. Our industry must lead the way by providing solutions to improve the health of the bees we enjoy in our own backyards. Bee nutrition and health in general can be improved by advocating for mass planting of perennial shrubs in and around municipalities. Diversity of flowers over a long period of time (spring, summer and fall) will improve bee immune systems. Providing artificial habitat options and managing them accordingly will also improve bee survival over our long winters.”