What steps can beekeepers take to protect their colonies from pesticide injury?

Choose low hazard apiary locations. Do not place bees adjacent to crops likely to be sprayed with an insecticide. Know the risks. Many crop pests can be controlled without endangering bees. Attend crop pest management training sessions to stay informed about crop pests and control measures used by growers and applicators. These sessions also provide an opportunity to establish communication links with growers and applicators. Maintain positive working relationships with applicators. Risk management decisions can best be made when both parties understand each other’s needs. A communication link should be established prior to the spray season rather than during peak activity when both parties are busy. Register apiaries and post identification. Register your apiaries with your state department of agriculture, Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service or any other agency that helps applicators contact beekeepers. Post your name, address and telephone number in a conspicuous place in your apiaries. Be prepared to protect colonies if necessary. Frequently, pests can be controlled without putting honey bees at risks. If pest control measures are necessary that carry unacceptable risks, know the options for protecting colonies and be prepared to implement them. Options for protecting bees include: 1. Briefly confine bees to their hive with wet cloth when products with short residual activity are applied. This measure is only feasible if a small number of colonies are involved and if the confinement period is brief and early in the morning. Caution! This measure can result in colony injury due to overheating and should be used with care. 2. Disrupt foraging activity temporarily when short residual materials are applied by removing colony covers and offsetting boxes so as to increase colony exposure. This will result in a temporary reduction in foraging. Most bees will remain in the hive to protect their stores and to maintain temperature and humidity in the exposed nest. After a few hours to one day, colonies will adjust to the change and resume foraging. This method is safer than confining colonies but is not recommended if bees are located in or adjacent to fields that will be treated. 3. Move bees to another location at least four miles from the treated area when highly toxic products with extended residual activity are applied to blooming crops. Moving populous colonies during hot weather can result in considerable bee mortality and should be avoided if possible. Moves should be made in the early morning when temperatures are cool and the bees are least active. Provide educational resources to growers and applicators. There are many ways to alleviate bee poisoning. Often, severe losses can be avoided by relatively simple modifications of pest control programs. Talk with growers and applicators about how to reduce bee injury and provide them with reference materials, such as this FAQ, on protecting bees. – Marion Ellis, University of Nebraska