Aerial application of seeds, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides are some of the key elements of modern industrial agriculture. These large-scale farms plant fields of monoculture crops on precision-leveled ground using heavy equipment and little manpower. Many fields are irrigated, and herbicide use has largely replaced cultivation for weed control. Aircraft are employed to distribute seeds or chemicals when time constraints or soil conditions make application from the ground impractical. For example tractors can’t be driven in flooded rice fields and soybeans planted in narrow rows grow so closely that they would be damaged if cultivated by tractor.
Aerial applicators as well as farmers using ground-based spray equipment pay particular attention to honey bees in the area of their spraying. If they are distributing insecticides, they spray early in the morning or late in the evening when the honey bees are not actively foraging. They are careful not to spray directly onto the hives and to avoid drifting of the spray. However, it is not always obvious that bees are present in a particular field, since they regularly fly two to three miles from the hive to forage. Large-scale die-offs of honey bees from chemical poisoning do occur at times. Insecticides used in boll weevil eradication programs were deadly to honey bees in the area. Beekeepers are still unsure of the safety of some systemic insecticides, like imidacloprid, in common use today. Modern agriculture practiced on an industrial scale is efficient in the production of large quantities of food and fiber. It does impact the honey bees and native pollinators, though. Much of the impact results from the large size of the monoculture fields with no margin for pollinator habitat. Beekeepers and farmers understand that they share in the benefit of healthy bees. Today’s photo shows a high-performance aerial applicator passing low over one of our bee yards in the still air shortly after dawn to spray an adjacent field.