In an effort to reduce health risks to honeybees, Ontario's agriculture ministry is asking grain farmers to take extra care when planting crops this spring.
A Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs entomologist said that "virtually all corn seed" is treated with a neonicotinoid insecticide, which could pose a threat to the health of honey bees. Tracey Baute said "neonicotinoid contaminated dust" is eventually carried into the air and could be linked to the death of thousands of bees.
Between April and June 2012, Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency received "an unusually high number of incident reports of bee losses" from across southern Ontario, Baute said. The agency said the reports involved 40 beekeepers and more than 200 bee yards.
The agency said the "timing and location of these incidents coincided with corn planting in major corn-producing regions" of Ontario.
Residues of nitro-guanidine neonicotinoid insecticides used to treat corn seed were detected in approximately 70 per cent the dead bee samples analyzed by the agency.
"The information evaluated to date suggests that insecticides used on treated corn seeds contributed to many of the 2012 spring bee losses," the Pest Management Regulatory Agency said in a report.
In Ontario, the ag ministry is asking farmers to better communicate with beekeepers who have hives in their area — bees can forage up to five kilometres from their hive. The ministry also encourages farmers to let local beekeepers know when they plan to plant.
UK bans insecticide
European Union Consumer Commissioner Tonio Borg said his agency will "in the coming weeks" restrict three neonicotinoid pesticides on plants and cereals that attract bees. The measure takes effect Dec. 1 for two years unless decisive new information becomes available.
Beekeepers have reported an unusual decline in bee populations over the past decade, particularly in Western Europe, according to the European Food Safety Authority.
The head of the EU Parliament's environmental committee acknowledged that "precise data is still lacking" but applauded the consumer agency's action.
Commercial beekeeper Tom Congdon, from Cottam, Ont., southeast of Windsor, owns Sun Parlor Honey. He has 2,000 commercial colonies spread across Essex and Wellington counties.
He claims some bees were poisoned by insecticides in the fields last year and that other bees brought pesticides and insecticides back to the hives. Congdon claims that dust was coming off the planted fields and drifting to dandelions too.
This year, he's working with local farmers, the University of Guelph and OMAFRA to study the effect pesticides have on bees.
"We’re going to place four colonies in two different locations and the University of Guelph and OMAFRA ... will do some research on the toxicity of the dust and collect dead bee samples from around the colony at planting time," he said.
Farmers are also being asked by OMAFRA to plant in the early morning or evening on windy days, when bees are less likely to be foraging.
'We cannot afford to neglect the role that pollinators play in agriculture.' — Tracey Baute, OMAFRA
"We cannot afford to neglect the role that pollinators play in agriculture and society in general," OMAFRA entomologist Tracey Baute wrote in a media release. "Planting time can be a frantically busy time but is important to do what we can to help protect the bees from any risks posed by agricultural practices."
Farmer Henry Denotter said modern farm equipment, not the insecticide, is to blame. Denotter said the equipment causes dust.
"Maybe we just have to do a little bit of tweaking to the equipment to minimize the effect," he said. "We need the insecticide. If we lose that, it would be totally detrimental to the grain industry."
He said yields would dramatically fall without the use of insecticide.
Many flowering plants require insects to transfer pollen — which contain sperm cells — to the female part of a flower in order to produce seeds, which are often enclosed in a fruit.
Honeybees, which aren't native to North America, are sometimes hired out and trucked from field to field in order to pollinate farmers' fields.
An international study he co-authored with a University of Calgary professor, found that wild pollinators are just as key to pollination.
Unfortunately, Lawrence Harder said, there is evidence that many wild pollinators are also on the decline.