Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cotton and Bees

Crops grown in today’s modern industrial agriculture employ improved seed, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, irrigation, and heavy machinery. Farmers are keenly aware of industrial agriculture’s impact on the natural world, and most producers are diligent stewards of the environment. They take great care in protecting their land and the wildlife that lives on it. Cathy Foust, Shelby County, Tennessee’s Extension Director, invited me to attend a presentation on protecting pollinators by Dr. Don Parker, Integrated Pest Management Manager with the National Cotton Council. Also attending were several other beekeeping friends, Richard Coy, president of Arkansas Beekeepers Association, Charles Force, president of Memphis Area Beekeepers Association, and Jon Zawislak, apiary instructor with University of Arkansas Extension Service. The audience of interested agricultural producers listened intently as Dr. Parker discussed the impact pesticides make on honey bees and native pollinators. Many of the producers were not aware that honey bees forage cotton fields. Some had not considered the effect of cotton insecticides on beneficial insects; they had only concentrated on killing pests. Cotton growers asked numerous questions of the beekeepers and seemed to be equally interested in protecting pollinators.

Dr. Parker spoke of some of the difficulties involved in protecting beneficial insects while trying to control pest insects with insecticides. One suggestion was to only apply insecticides at night while bees are not flying. Dr. Parker mentioned how dangerous it would be to fly a crop duster at night with cotton fields surrounded by trees and power lines. Such practices are completely unacceptable. Cotton growers and beekeepers were interested in discussions of the effect on beneficial insects when spraying insecticides on crop plants with “indeterminate growth” in which pollinators are continuously attracted by nectar. Here, bees can be poisoned even when the crop is not blooming. Other insecticide spraying challenges exist with plants, like cotton, which have “extrafloral” nectaries secreting nectar outside the flower. Today’s photo: a honey bee and a bumblebee, a native pollinator, share fall goldenrod near cotton fields.

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