Bee pollination declining with increased use of pesticide

January 21, 2019 GMT

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) — Bobby Coy and his son, Richard Coy, owners of Crooked Creek Bee Co., in Jonesboro, began noticing a decline in bee pollination after nearby farmers began using the pesticide dicamba on nearby crops during the past three years.

It’s gotten bad enough to force the Coys to move their operations to southern Mississippi to escape the effects of the dicamba spray, The Jonesboro Sun reported .

The herbicide has been used by farmers who plant soybean and cotton crops that have been genetically modified to be tolerant of the chemical because it is effective in killing pigweed.


But dicamba does damage to other soybean crops, along with watermelons, pecans, peaches, tomatoes and other vegetables and other plants essential for bee-pollination and for migrating butterflies.

The Coys also own Coy’s Honey Farm, the state’s largest honey producer. Both have been hit hard by the chemical, he said. Healthy bee hives produced 100 pounds of honey a year, which Coy bottled and sold.

“There’s not enough here for bees to eat,” Bobby Coy said.

He said they will move to Wiggins, Mississippi, some 30 miles north of Gulfport.

“It began showing up in 2016,” he said, referring to the damage to redvine, a flowering plant essential to pollination. “It 2017, we saw more and in 2018 it was even worse.”

The Coys have operated their bee farm near Jonesboro since 1981.

Farmers began using dicamba on Arkansas soybean and cotton crops in 2016.

Leroy Baumgarner, owner of Baumgarner Farms in Jackson County, said he stopped growing tomatoes in anticipation of problems associated with dicamba. He now grows watermelons.

He’s not had problems with drift from the herbicide, but the only farmers who use dicamba are at least 10 miles from him.

“I know if it got onto my crops, it would wipe me out,” Baumgarner said. “People grow soybeans around me, but they aren’t using dicamba. Yet.

“I hope they do away with it,” he said.

The chemical has drawn enough criticism over the last few years that the Arkansas Plant Board has stepped in to help regulate it. Board members passed a motion to restrict spraying of dicamba between May 21 and Oct. 31. They also recommended imposing a one-mile buffer zone for applications around research stations, organic crops, specialty crops, non-tolerant dicamba crops and other sensitive crops.


The broad spectrum weed-killer has been in limited use since the 1940s and first registered in 1967.

Dicamba producers modified the chemical and made it more volatile. Farmers who use the herbicide must plant dicamba-resistant seeds that have been genetically modified to withstand application.

The state plant board received more than 1,000 complaints about the herbicide in the past two years.

The Arkansas Agriculture Department is accepting comments during a 30-day period about the chemical and its use in the state. A hearing will be held at 9 a.m. Feb. 20 at the Embassy Suites, 11301 Financial Centre Parkway, in Little Rock.

Bob Midles, a spokesman for the agriculture department, said the department doesn’t do research on environmental impacts of dicamba and instead relies on the Environmental Protection Agency’s findings and any warnings on dicamba container labels.

“If somebody brings (complaints) to the plant board, they need to include research and data,” Midles said. “That’s part of the process to go through for tighter regulations.”

He said private firms, agencies and universities are more apt to conduct research about dicamba.

The National Pesticide Information Center, a team of scientists who study pesticides, toxicology and risk, said dicamba is considered a “moderate” toxin. The application is easily airborne and if inhaled, people may experience dizziness, coughing, vomiting, stomach cramps, muscle spasms and central nervous system disorders. The symptoms are short-lived, the center said, and last only for a few days.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit organization that advocates for endangered species, reported that by the end of this summer, more than 60 million acres of monarch butterfly migratory habitat in the southern and midwestern U.S. will be destroyed by dicamba applications. The center reported that the monarch butterfly population has declined by 80 percent since farmers began using the herbicide.

The center also noted declines in populations of crickets, grasshoppers and bees.

Leon Swihart, owner of Swihart Orchards in Leachville, said his pecan crop didn’t bloom for the first time in more than a decade last season, but he is not yet ready to blame dicamba for the loss.

“I can’t say,” Swihart said. “Pecans won’t bloom every 10 to 20 years. I don’t know if it was because of dicamba this time.”

Coy said he also has a bee farm in Missouri.

“We’re moving to the coast of Mississippi,” he said. “There’s a lot of timber there. There won’t be dicamba.”


Information from: The Jonesboro Sun,