Pollinator Stewardship Program designed to fight colony collapse disorder
By Ryan McGeeney
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture
- Arkansas Pollinator Stewardship Program aims to help growers & beekeepers better communicate concerns
- Program intended to combat colony collapse disorder
- Some commercial beekeepers travel with their colonies, pollinating crops across the country
LITTLE ROCK — Entomologists with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture are introducing a new program aimed as preserving the health of the state’s honey bee colonies.
The Arkansas Pollinator Stewardship Program, adapted in 2014 from a program modeled in Mississippi, is now in its statewide rollout phase. The program’s administrators are seeking to help beekeepers, farmers and pesticide applicators better understand the needs of the other parties involved, said Gus Lorenz, extension entomologist for the Division of Agriculture in Lonoke.
“The pollinator stewardship program came about as a way for us to enhance communication between the beekeeper and the agricultural industry, including farmers, applicators, consultants, everybody that’s involved in agriculture, and try to minimize bee mortality,” Lorenz said.
Jon Zawislak, extension apiculturist for the Division of Agriculture, said he hoped the program will promote a shared understanding of honey bees’ place in the agricultural ecosystem, with an eye toward taking steps to reducing potential effects of pesticides on the insects.
For about a decade, ecologists, entomologists and other experts have voiced increasing concern over the phenomenon known as “colony collapse disorder,” in which honey bees and other pollinators have died off in massive numbers in locations around the world. The phenomenon is widely believed to be linked to parasites, diseases, nutrition and the extensive use of pesticides in agriculture.
Zawislak said most commercial beekeepers in Arkansas keep their hives on actively irrigated farmland, because it makes the summers more survivable for the insects, and because the bees require a large geographical area to forage for nectar. A typical honey bee colony will forage within a radius as large as three miles, or more than 28 square miles.
Mark Stoll, manager of the apiary section of the Arkansas State Plant Board, said there are currently about 15 commercial beekeeping operations in Arkansas.
Although the honey bees do not significantly benefit many of the state’s primary crops — rice, corn, wheat, cotton or soybeans — Zawislak said growers typically appreciate the fact that they play an important part in the nation’s food production on a different scale. While some commercial beekeepers use the insects to generate honey for sale, or sell bees to other beekeepers, others take their bees on the road.
“In February, bees from all over the country are taken to California to help pollinate the almond crop,” he said. “It takes about 1.5 million bee colonies.”
“Once they’re done with almonds, they’re already out there, so they move them into a number of other crops as they come into bloom,” Zawislak said. “They may move them up the coast into Washington, where apples bloom. Some of them go back to New England for blueberries and cranberries. Some of them go to the Dakotas and Nebraska where there’s a lot of clover, and they make honey.
“So it’s just this huge circuit that bees are making,” Zawislak said. “While the crops in Arkansas may not necessarily require bees, our farmlands support bees throughout part of the year that move off to other states and pollinate all these other crops. So Arkansas bees help keep food on everybody’s table.”
In addition to distributing pamphlets through county extension offices throughout the state that outline considerations for beekeepers (hive placement and identification) and growers (notifying pesticide applicators of the presence of hives, scheduling applications for as late as possible in the afternoon, and noting wind direction), the program will also make available Bee Aware flags — large black and yellow flags on eight-foot fiberglass poles. The concept is similar to the “Flag the Technology” program already in place, which was developed to prevent the misapplication of herbicides in sensitive crops, Zawislak said.
“The flags serve as a visual landmark, a constant reminder to farmers and growers that there are bees present,” Zawislak said. “So every time they drive their tractor down that turn row and see that flag there, it’s a reminder to be careful when you’re spraying on the side of the farm, maybe to turn the nozzles off.”
Zawislak said because of cost, the flags are intended for commercial beekeepers with concerns about pesticide exposure, rather than backyard hobbyists.
The stewardship program is co-sponsored by the Arkansas Beekeepers Association, the Arkansas Farm Bureau, the Arkansas Agriculture Department, the Arkansas State Plant Board, the Arkansas Crop Protection Association, the Arkansas Agricultural Aviation Association and the Agricultural Council of Arkansas.
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Media Contact: Ryan McGeeney
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service