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Delmarva Farmer Columnists
Pollinator protection (Feb. 9, 2016)
By Gordon C. Johnson, Extension Vegetable and Fruit Specialist, University of Delaware
Pollinators, including honey bees, bumble bees, and many native bees are essential for the production of many of our fruit and vegetable crops.
Cucurbit vegetables such as watermelons, muskmelons and mixed melons, cucumbers, summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins and gourds all require bees to move pollen from male to female flower parts to produce fruits.
Many tree fruits including apples, sweet cherries, pears and plums are self-incompatible or may have certain varieties that are self-incompatible and require bees to move pollen between varieties to produce fruit.
Blueberries require bees for pollination and although strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are self-pollinating, they will produce larger fruit when pollinated by bees.
Bees may also aid in pollination of other self-pollinating fruits and vegetables by enhancing pollen release and distribution thus improving yield.
Bees also forage in most flowering crops for pollen and nectar food sources.
For example, honey bees can be found extensively in lima bean fields in our region when they are in flower and they also visit field crops such as corn and soybeans.
Native pollinators are important to many crops.
For example, in squash and pumpkins the native squash bee provides significant pollination.
There has been a general decline in the population of native pollinators due to reduction in habitat as well other stressors.
Beekeepers with honey bee hives have been facing increased bee losses and reduced bee health leading to colony loss and decreased productivity over the last two decades.
A combination of factors have been associated with colony losses including disease and mite pests of bees; lack of genetic diversity and poor bee nutrition; stress in adult bees caused by transportation and overcrowding; and exposure to pesticides both from use in the hives and from exposure during foraging.
Concern over bee health has been a concern nationally and in 2014, the President issued a memo on “Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.”
In this memo the Environmental Protection Agency was directed to engage state agencies in developing state pollinator protection plans to specifically protect managed pollinators.
Currently, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia are developing managed pollinator protection plans and are in the process of getting input into those plans from all segments impacted including beekeepers, landowners, growers, and applicators.
Although the focus of these plans is the protection of managed pollinators, it is anticipated that these plans will also serve to protect all pollinators, including native bees.
Delaware’s draft managed pollinator protection plan includes examples of voluntary best management practices for each group mentioned above to consider.
The following are examples of potential BMPs currently listed in the draft plan.
Beekeepers are being encouraged to work with landowners to choose hive locations, be cognizant of neighboring landowners when placing and moving hives, work constructively with applicators when notified of upcoming pesticide applications, notify landowners and applicators when arriving and when moving hives, and ensure hives are easily visible to applicators.
For landowners and growers: work with beekeepers to choose hive locations, communicate with cropland renters about bee issues, communicate with pesticide applicators on hive locations and proper notification to pollinator managers, consider pollinator impacts when working with advisors making pesticide recommendations, and consider putting in plantings specifically for bee forage.
For pesticide applicators: Use Integrated Pest Management, apply pesticides with caution when crops are in flower, follow all pesticide label requirements regarding pollinators, apply pesticides when bees are not active, avoid pesticide drift, and identify and notify beekeepers in the area prior to pesticide applications.
Working together, beekeepers, growers, landowners, and applicators can help to produce plans that protect pollinators while at the same time allowing for necessary production practices to continue on farms.
Only through constructive communication between land managers, growers, applicators and beekeepers can we solve issues related to pollinator health while maintaining crop productivity.
Let Delaware (and Delmarva) beekeepers, growers, landowners and applicators be the ones to drive the conversation and develop sustainable management techniques that will benefit everyone.
In Delaware, the Department of Agriculture is asking for input to their first draft of a plan by March 15.
It can be found at http://dda.delaware.gov/pesticides/pollinatorplan. Send comments by e-mail or mail to Chris Wade, Pesticides Administrator, Delaware Department of Agriculture, 2320 South DuPont Highway, Dover, DE 19901.
Virginia has an Eastern Shore stakeholder listening session at the Virginia Tech Painter AREC on Feb. 24 and information can be fount at this website: http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/plant-industry-services-pollinator-protection-plan.shtml. Maryland recently held a summit on their plan and information can be found at http://mda.maryland.gov/plants-pests/Pages/pollinator_protection_plan.aspx.
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