Protecting Georgia’s Pollinators
A state plan for promoting a large, healthy, and diverse pollinator workforce[*]
Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male parts of a flower to the female parts of the same or a different flower. This is necessary for the production of seed and fruit in many crops. The annual value of pollination to Georgia is over $360 million. While many insects such as flies, beetles, moths, butterflies, and wasps can be important pollinators, bees out-perform them all because of their dietary need for pollen and nectar, their hairy bodies that carry pollen grains easily, and their rapid flight from flower to flower. Species such as bumble bees and honey bees can be managed on a large scale for handling the high-acreage pollination demands of modern agriculture. But as important as managed bees are for pollination, the services provided free by non-managed wild bees are at least equally valuable. Pollination is an ecosystem service, a gift from nature, with economic returns similar to rainfall or soil fertility; therefore, pollinators require proactive stewardship from all Georgia stakeholders including beekeepers, farmers, land managers, homeowners, pest control operators and applicators.
Pollinator stewardship centers on maintaining healthy managed bee colonies, minimizing pesticide exposure, and conserving and supplementing pollinator habitat. Many of the principals discussed below apply equally to urban or rural areas.
Honey Bee Decline and CCD
Since 2006 U.S. beekeepers have been experiencing annual winter colony die-offs of around 30%. Although hive numbers can be quickly restored in spring by splitting surviving colonies, the extra labor and expense are unsustainable and pose a threat to the long-term availability of colonies for spring pollination. Many factors have been implicated in bee decline, but scientists agree that the most important ones include:
· parasitic varroa mites
· viruses spread by varroa mites
· pesticide exposure
While the media and general public may refer to bee decline as “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD), this term is better reserved for those cases where large numbers of adult bees disappear from a colony during active times of the year. Whether from winter die-off, CCD, or other malady, the health of honey bees has suffered greatly in recent years.
The Role of Beekeepers
Regardless of the number of hives maintained, the responsibility for the health and welfare of those bees rests ultimately with the beekeeper. This responsibility includes taking steps to ensure that bees are healthy, practicing good neighbor skills, and protecting bees from pesticide exposure.
Keeping Honey Bees Healthy
· Year-round, be sure that colonies are adequately provisioned with honey and pollen. Feed supplemental sugar syrup or protein supplement if natural supplies are low.
· Replace failing queens at earliest opportunity.
· Make varroa mite control the top priority. Reduce mite pressure on bees by using screen hive floors and genetically mite-resistant queen stock.
· Treat colonies for varroa mites no later than the end of July. It’s especially important that the bees are healthy that will be forming the future winter cluster.
· Consider doing an additional varroa mite treatment in late winter / early spring to further safeguard bee health.
· Use only currently labeled miticides and prioritize use of miticides that have no known deadly interactions; these include Apivar (amitraz), Api-Life VAR (thymol), and ApiGuard (thymol).
· Do not use the miticides Apistan (tau-fluvalinate or fluvalinate) and Check-Mite (coumaphos) together or in quick succession as bee-lethal synergies may result.
· Similarly, avoid treating bees with Apistan or Check-Mite anytime they might encounter the agricultural fungicides prochloraz or chlorothalonil in the field.
· Do not neglect brood diseases such as American foulbrood (AFB), European foulbrood (EFB), and chalkbrood. Preventative antibiotic treatments can reduce incidence of AFB and EFB; similarly, queens selected for hygienic behavior may help. Colonies expressing AFB symptoms should be burned to eliminate the source of the inoculum. Although EFB and chalkbrood are less virulent, burning contaminated combs of EFB and chalkbrood are good sanitation practices.
· Reduce infestations of small hive beetles (SHB) with any of the in-hive adult beetle traps available on the market. Inoculate soil in front of hives with commercial preparations of predatory nematodes to control SHB larvae.
· Do not stock yards with more colonies than local floral resources can support.
Being a Good Neighbor
· Place hives so that bee flight paths do not cross sidewalks, playgrounds or other places where bees could disturb pedestrians, livestock, or pets.
· Provide adequate sources of water, especially in dry weather, so that bees do not visit your neighbor’s swimming pool. Feed bees water with entrance feeders if necessary to minimize their motivation to forage for water.
· If you rent hives for pollination, remove hives in a timely manner after the contract is fulfilled.
Protecting Bees from Pesticides
· Establish apiaries in safe locations. Hives should be physically located as far away as possible from areas receiving pesticide applications.
· Obtain permission prior to placing hives on land owned by others. Be sure that the landowner and pesticide applicators know the location of your hives.
· Post your name and contact information in a highly visible place so that the landowner or applicators can contact you.
· Use the “Bee Aware” flag to clearly identify hive locations near agricultural fields and rights-of-way. The flag should be placed near the hives and in a location visible to individuals operating ground or aerial application equipment.
· Be knowledgeable of crop production practices in your area. Be prepared – even on short notice – to move hives during periods of heavy pesticide application.
· Urban beekeepers should locate hives as far away as possible from street frontage receiving mosquito fog applications. It may be advisable to loosely cover hives with tarps overnight then remove tarps first thing in the morning.
· If it is not possible to move bees before an imminent pesticide application, temporarily net hives or screen entrances to restrict flight. However, this practice may not be advisable during extreme heat.
· Relocating hives may be the only practical response to pesticide kill from unknown point sources.
The Role of Pesticide Users and Applicators
Communication, cooperation, education and common sense are the best ways to avoid unnecessary bee kills. Farmers, pesticide applicators, and beekeepers can all mutually benefit by subscribing to these practices:
· Beekeepers, farmers, and landowners should exchange names and contact information, hive locations, crops grown near the hives, potential pesticide applications, and expected timing and notification procedures for applications.
· Establish apiaries in safe locations. Beekeepers should locate hives at least four miles from known areas receiving pesticide applications.
· Use an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach for managing crop pests. IPM uses all available tactics including cultural controls, biological controls, host plant resistance, and the judicious use of insecticides so that economic losses and environmental side effects are minimized.
· Monitor insect pest populations to determine if infestations require pesticide treatment. Economic treatment thresholds have been established for commonly occurring insect pests in crop production systems.
· If hives are being rented for pollination, the grower and beekeeper should enter into a mutually binding and protective contract that specifies dates in and out, fees, minimum colony strength, procedures for notifying about pesticide applications, and limits of liability.
· Use the “Bee Aware” flag, a unified flagging system that denotes hive locations near agricultural fields. The flag should be placed near hives in a location highly visible to pesticide applicators, whether ground-based or aerial.
· When possible, use selective pesticides that have minimal impact on non-target species. This practice protects pollinators and conserves natural enemies. If all recommended pesticides are equally hazardous to bees, use one with the shortest residual effect (see link below).
· If possible, avoid simultaneous field applications of EBI fungicides and pyrethroid insecticides as bee-lethal synergies may result. The combined use of the fungicide propiconazole and insecticide lambda-cyhalothrin is especially hazardous to bees.
· Likewise, the agricultural fungicides prochloraz and chlorothalonil are especially risky to honey bees that have been treated with the miticides tau-fluvalinate, fluvalinate, or coumaphos. Beekeepers most commonly apply these chemicals in late summer / early fall.
· The greatest risk of bee kill occurs anytime pesticides are applied while a crop is blooming and attracting pollinators. If the crop system requires pesticide applications during bloom, it may be better to simply locate hives somewhere else.
· However, it may be possible to work around this problem with careful attention to timing and choice of chemical. Bee flower visitation rates are highest in early morning when flowers are full of nectar; therefore, a pesticide application in late afternoon to early night with a rapidly degrading chemical may control the pest while allowing enough time for residue degradation before bees return the next morning. For more information on pesticide selectivity and degradation times see http://www2.epa.gov/pollinator-protection/residual-time-25-bee-mortality-rt25-data.
· Read and follow all pesticide label directions and precautionary statements. EPA is now requiring a “Protection of Pollinators” advisory box on certain pesticide labels. Look for the bee hazard icon in the directions for use and each application site for restrictions and instructions for protecting bees and other insect pollinators.
· Use caution when applying insecticides to production fields located next to blooming crops or weeds that may attract bees.
· Do not make pesticide applications when the wind is blowing towards bee hives or off-site pollinator habitats.
Pollinator conservation is a mixture of passive conservation and active habitat enhancement. All bees require flowering plants, and most bee species are solitary and nest in tunnels in soil, solid wood, or hollow reeds. Bee conservation involves paying attention to these life basics and supplementing them if necessary. Studies show that maintaining connected “corridors” throughout intensive production areas is important to conserving bees and other beneficial species. Farmers and large landowners are encouraged to think of bee conservation at a scale of the whole farm or even neighboring farms and properties. In practice, there are often suitable non-cultivated spaces around a farm that can be set aside as bee sanctuary. In certain cropping systems, the benefits of enhanced pollinator conservation can exceed the cost of land diverted from production into conservation.
Conserving Bee Forage and Nesting Sites
· Leave significant areas of your property permanently undisturbed for soil-nesting bees. “Undisturbed” means no draining, plowing, or compacting with heavy machinery. Sun-drenched patches of bare soil, roadsides, ditch banks, and woodland edges are prime bee habitats.
· Provide nest-building materials, including mud and waxy leaved plants.
· Leave field edges and rights of way permanently idled in mid-succession blooming plants such as wildflowers, brambles, and hedges. Heavily shaded climax forest is comparatively poor bee habitat.
· At the scale of a small farm or home garden, it’s possible to increase bee nesting sites by providing solid wood pre-drilled with ¼ to ½-inch holes that are at least 3-inches deep. It’s important that the tunnels terminate in dead-ends and not penetrate all the way through the wood. An alternative material is cardboard cylinders of the appropriate diameter, bent in half to produce dead-ends, bundled together, and protected from the weather. Bees will find these nest sites and fill them with young. You will know if the holes are occupied because bees will plaster their entrances with mud or wood paste.
Providing Supplemental Bee Forage Plants
· Sow idled, sunny patches on your property with a mixture of annual and perennial flowering plants that provide bees nectar and pollen.
· Bees need a season-long unbroken succession of bloom. Since many plant species bloom in the spring, focus on those that bloom in mid- to late-summer including Vitex, crape myrtle, Abelia, sages, clovers, and sunflower.
Home gardens, ornamental landscape plantings, native plants and wildlife all benefit from pollinators. Bees of all species are valuable natural assets, and their pollinating activities are worth the effort to protect and preserve. Here are some ways for property owners to help pollinators:
· The flight and nesting behavior of certain solitary bees happens in bursts of extreme activity. In spring or summer you might see bees by the hundreds flying over a patch of your lawn. This activity is caused by the individual activity of many solitary bees, not a big nest of social insects. Close examination will show the ground pocked with scores or hundreds of tunnels. Solitary bees are gentle, and their sting risk is extremely low! Consider leaving them alone and enjoying the spectacle of nature in action. After a few days the activity will die down for another 12 months; meanwhile your tolerance is contributing to a healthy pollinator population.
· Know the beekeepers in your neighborhood. Attempt to work with them if you believe there are too many bees in your yard. Stay calm when bees (or bee-like insects) fly near you. Remember that your neighborhood beekeeper is not only a source of local honey but free pollination for your garden.
· In spring a healthy honey bee colony will attempt to “swarm” or divide and form a new colony. In the first stage of this process the bees cluster on a branch or other object. This is a temporary phase, and the bees will usually relocate to a permanent new site within a few hours. If immediate removal is necessary and if the swarm is safely accessible, it may be possible to hire a local beekeeper to remove it.
· Sometimes swarming bee colonies take up permanent residence inside a hollow structural wall. If these colonies are sufficiently remote from traffic by humans and pets it may be possible to tolerate them indefinitely. However, many times it is necessary to remove them. This is a difficult procedure and involves physically opening the void, suctioning away the bees, cutting out the comb, and reclosing the void. The job can usually be done without killing the colony. Consult your county extension agent for a referral list of local bee removal specialists. Any pesticide applications necessary to finish the job should be handled by a certified pest management professional.
· If you think insects are a problem in your garden or landscape, first identify the insects and determine with your extension agent if remedial action is necessary. If you decide to use an insecticide, make applications in late afternoon to early night, times when bees are less likely to be foraging. If you must use an insecticide, delay application until after the plant is done blooming or after removing the flowers.
· Avoid applications of systemic insecticides to soil around flowers, trees or shrubs that bloom and attract bees. Systemic insecticides are absorbed by roots and can eventually be incorporated into nectar and harm bees.
· If you must apply insecticide for turf pests, first mow your grass immediately before applying the insecticide. The mowing will get rid of weed flowers that may attract bees.
· If you have questions about pollinator protection please contact your local county extension office, the Georgia Department of Agriculture or a pest management professional to develop a practical and effective pest management action plan that considers pollinators.
Protecting Georgia’s Pollinators is an educational initiative supported by the following stakeholders:
Georgia Beekeepers Association
Georgia Association of Professional Agricultural Consultants
Georgia Crop Production Alliance
Georgia Department of Agriculture
Georgia Farm Bureau
Georgia Agribusiness Council
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service
University of Georgia Department of Entomology
Georgia Green Industry Association
Georgia Urban Ag Council
Georgia Golf Course Superintendents Association
Various Commodity Commissions, including:
Georgia Apple Council
Georgia Agricultural Commodity Commission for Apples
Georgia Agricultural Commodity Commission for Peaches
Georgia Cattlemen's Association
Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Grower’s Association
Georgia Crop Improvement
Georgia Seed Development Commission
Georgia Milk Producers
Georgia Pork Congress
Georgia Sheep And Wool Growers
Eastern Cantaloupe Association
Vidalia Onion Committee
Georgia Grown Commission
Georgia Poultry Federation
Georgia Beef Commission
Georgia Forestry Commission
Georgia Structural Pest Control Commission
[*] This publication is a joint product of the University of Georgia Department of Entomology and Georgia Department of Agriculture. Author committee: Jennifer Berry, Kris Braman, Keith Delaplane, Mike Evans, Phillip Roberts, Alton Sparks