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Corn Dust Research Calls for Measures To Support Honey Bee Health

10 March 2014

US – The non-profit Pollinator Partnership (P2) 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 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.

The preliminary results and provisional recommendations are expected to inform best practices for the 2014 planting season. Additional research in subsequent seasons will be needed to replicate and substantiate the findings.

Questions Addressed

The first question 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 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.

First Year Findings

With respect to the foraging question, the research found that across all three sites honey bees collected pollen largely from trees and woody plants (apple, hawthorn, willow, maple, etc.) during the time of corn planting. A second finding indicated that the highest levels of insecticide residue primarily occurred during the two-week period of peak corn planting. It will be important to replicate this work to ensure that these two findings occur consistently and not just during the 2013 planting season.

In assessing the effect of the alternative lubricant, BFA, as a replacement for talc or graphite to separate corn seeds in the pneumatic planters, the CDRC tests showed that when the BFA lubricant was used, total dust and pesticide load in the dust were reduced while pesticide concentration was increased, when compared to the use of conventional lubricants. Further research is needed to determine the overall effectiveness of Bayer’s new lubricant in both reducing dust and dust-borne pesticide.

The CDRC is awaiting final data from one part of the Guelph research. The Guelph researchers received funding from other sources and had a wide spectrum of assessments they conducted. It will be important to have all data in hand to test provisional recommendations and to affirm the results of 2013.

The goal of the CDRC is to be as helpful as possible in influencing the practices of all stakeholders with respect to the 2014 growing season; therefore, several practical solutions that the research highlighted are offered as provisional recommendations (see page 23). 

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. All stakeholders have shared the responsibility for transparency, open deliberation, and unbiased assessment throughout 2013. They will now begin the tasks of follow-up evaluation, information dissemination, and adaptive management in 2014.

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.

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.


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