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Pollinator-Friendly Farm Chemical Management

July 27, 2020 | Message from CFFO & OBA

Pollinator-Friendly Farm Chemical Management

We depend on honey bees and other insect pollinators for our fresh fruit and vegetable production. One of every three bites of food rely on insect pollinators. By using pollinator-friendly management practices, growers help beekeepers and support a healthy population of insect pollinators.

This spring, beekeepers in Ontario and Quebec experienced catastrophic colony losses associated with the application of chemicals: herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. A Quebec beekeeper lost 260 hives when an herbicide mix was sprayed on his neighbour’s field on a windy day.

Most seed treatments and crop applications can kill bees. Insect pollinators can also be exposed to chemicals by flying in or near sprayed or planted areas. Pollinators are exposed to these chemicals when foragers consume contaminated nectar, pollen or water, bringing the contaminated feed home, which can also damage the queen, brood and younger workers in the hive. Beekeepers may experience a sudden bee kill but may also, on a daily basis, observe numbers of dead and dying bees at the entrance of the hive.

Tips for Growers

Please consider these actions to better protect honey bees and other insect pollinators:

  1. Read label instructions carefully, and follow best practices as advised in training and licensing courses.
  2. IPM, quality scouting and economic threshold decision tools should be used to minimize chemical use wherever possible. Only spray if necessary.
  3. A crop that is in bloom should never be treated with a pesticide.
  4. Be aware of bee toxicity and where possible, choose a formulation that is not highly toxic to bees. To find out which chemicals are most toxic to honey bees, please check this OMAFRA list
  5. All chemical applications should take place according to label instructions. Spray equipment should always be kept in proper working order, and the appropriate nozzle for the job chosen according to the label direction.
  6. Ground application should be used instead of aerial application whenever possible. Drift control is critical. Consider wind speed effects on drift potential. Also consider whether beehives or pollinator habitat, including flowering weeds, may be downwind, even if the crop itself is not in bloom.
  7. Timing also minimizes risk of pollinator exposure. Spraying after 7 p.m. is the safest option. This allows the spray to dry before the bees are exposed to it the next day. The next safest window is early in the morning, ideally no later than 7 a.m., before foragers become active. 
  8. As a courtesy to your neighbours, before applying a pesticide, advise beekeepers with hives within their flight radius (1-5 km) of your plan so they can decide if they need to take precautions as needed. Please be aware of how difficult, time-consuming and disruptive moving hives can be. For a list of beekeepers in your area, contact the Provincial Apiarist at 1-888-466-2372 ext. 63595 (kozak@ontario.ca).