by MATT MCINTOSH
Grain Farmers of Ontario’s new “BeConnected” smartphone app may help alleviate beekeeper concerns over the use of some pest-management products, but according to one Ontario Beekeepers Association spokesman, it falls short of addressing the problems associated with persistent, systemic insecticides.
According to a May 1 press release from Grain Farmers of Ontario, the app – which will be piloted this season – is designed to help beekeepers and farmers connect with one another in an effort to “inform each other of activities planned on the land” and help reduce the impact of pesticides on honey bee populations.
“As we pilot test the app this season, we encourage farmers to start the conversation with local beekeepers the old-fashioned way,” says Henry Van Ankum, chair of Grain Farmers, in the organization’s release. “Cooperating and sharing information at the local level is especially important this year.”
The app is part of the provincial organization’s response to 13 recommendations released in March by the Ontario Bee Health Working Group. One of the recommendations had been to improve communication between farmers and beekeepers during planting.
The working group was convened in 2013 to develop strategies to mitigate honey bees’ exposure to neonicotinoid insecticide seed treatments on corn and soybeans.
North American and European studies indicate that residue from the seed treatments can contaminate dust created by certain types of planters used to plant corn and soybeans. The dust in turn has been blamed for several bee kills in Ontario that took place in recent planting seasons.
Questions about whether the pesticide type might have a chronic impact on bees and the environment have also been raised.
Tibor Szabo, vice president of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, says the app could eliminate some future problems by helping beekeepers and farmers coordinate to protect bees from traditional contact herbicides like 2,4-D. However, he says it will do little to stop bees’ exposure to neonicotinoids.
“Persistent, systemic insecticides are not single-use contact products, are designed to last in plants for a long time, and are a major concern for us,” he says. “Bees can forage pretty far from the hive and are in danger of coming into contact with harmful chemicals from a wide area.”
Part of the problem, he says, is that farmers do not always have much of a choice when it comes to treated and non-treated seed, making the app somewhat irrelevant.
“We might be able to connect with farmers, but it doesn’t mean much if there are no viable alternatives out there,” says Szabo. “We need our other farm associations and government to act together or we will lose our bee industry.”
Increasing the range of seed choice had been another of the Bee Health Working Group’s recommendations. BF