Insecticide use by nearby cotton farms is causing “devastating” losses for an Australian bee keeper.

Insecticide use by nearby cotton farms is causing “devastating” losses for an Australian beekeeper

One of Australia’s largest commercial honey bee pollinators says he has lost more than 500 hives since 2008 due to insecticide spray drift from cotton farms in the area – and has been relocating many of his bees to mitigate the risk.

“To go out and see all your hives or your bees dead on the ground is really devastating,” said Harold Saxvik, who owns Saxvik Honey and Pollination Service. “You think, do I keep going, and what’s the future in beekeeping if this is going to keep happening? So we made the decision to move all our hives away from the area.”

More more than 80 years, Saxvik’s family has kept bees at Darlington Point in the New South Wales Riverina and is reluctant to move his operation away from the area. However, his business is “booming,” and he said he can’t afford to lose any more hives. In 2017, Saxvik contracted 15,000 beehives throughout the country to accommodate the demand of the almond industry, which anticipates tripled production over the next several years, and the operation pollinates many other crops within the Riverina.

“We produced tens of millions of dollars worth of seed,” Saxvik said. “80 per cent of our production of bees was for seed pollination, and now it’s come to the stage where we’re going to have to move all our plants and all our hives.”

Although Cotton Australia’s chief executive officer Adam Kay said the industry received international recognition for its environmental stewardship and has greatly reduced the number of chemicals it uses, Saxvik blames the emerging industry for the damage to his own operation.

“The cotton industry thinks that we’re a small industry, but when you take the pollination of all the other horticultural crops, we’re a major player and Cotton Australia does not have the right to drive us out,” said Neil Bingley, the president of the New South Wales Apiarist’s Association.

According to Bingley, the biggest concern for beekeepers is Fipronil, a neonicotinoid. This class of pesticides has been restricted in Europe because of their potential harm to pollinators. A “light drift” of the chemical is enough to “kill thousands of hives,” Bingley said.

An effort to keep farmers and beekeepers connected has been developed by Crop Life Australia, which represents the county’s plant science industry. A mobile app called BeeConnected lets farmers register their property and alert area beekeepers when they are undertaking any spraying activity. Beekeepers can also register their local hives, to keep area farmers informed.

According to Kay, the initiative is a great start to help develop relationships between industry stakeholders throughout the region.

“Right across the industry we’ve got great relationships with beekeepers in all the other areas, and what I think we’re seeing here is a new area, the relationships aren’t there,” he said. “Once we get the relationships and the discussions going, I don’t think we’ll see problems in the future.”

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One thought on “Insecticide use by nearby cotton farms is causing “devastating” losses for an Australian bee keeper.

  1. A few more facts about the neonicotinoid insecticide fipronil.

    Fipronil is listed in the US EPA’s Group C cancer
    classification as a possible human carcinogen

    It is a very persistent poison and takes over 100 days for fipronil to breakdown to 50% of the concentration that it was applied at, so if the chemical is reapplied each year, it will build up in the soil.

    It also has considered a high bioaccumulation hazard as it can build up in fish and animal tissues. Once absorbed into the body, it is difficult to eliminate, as much as 50% of the chemical is left
    in the body.

    Fipronil is not water soluble, and has a moderate propensity to adhere to organic matter in soil, and therefore also presents a moderate hazard for moving off site from where it is applied and poisoning surrounding areas. Spray drift is not the only mechanism for contamination of non-target areas.

    Furthermore, being a neonicotinoid pesticide, it is a systemic pesticide, and will be absorbed by all plants through the soil in contaminated non-target areas, rendering every part of the plant in the area toxic. These systemic pesticides translocate through plants and may be found in pollen, nectar, and guttation droplets (small drop of water that plants ‘sweat’ from the tips of the leaves), and can be consumed by pollinators such as bees. The result is a toxic ecosystem where the poison is being exuded slowly over time. Particularly in the case of neonicotinoids, there is evidence that residues can reach high enough concentrations to be hazardous to bees. The length of time that systemic products remain toxic to bees may vary and has not been studied.

    You also don’t need lethal doses of neonicotinoids to adversely affect a bee hive, stored pollen, nectar, or wax comb can become contaminated with pesticides. Severely weakened or queenless colonies may not survive the winter.

    A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that neonics can negatively influence bee health and may make bees more vulnerable to mites and other threats. For instance, a study published in the journal Science found bees exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides seemed less able to navigate their way back to their hives. And another study documented negative effects on populations of wild bees in seed-treated fields and in surrounding meadows.

    A recent study published in Nature found that neonicotinoid pesticides affect honeybee queens. The researchers wrote that the “reproductive anatomy (ovaries) and physiology [of neonicotinoid exposed queens] were compromised.”

    As a toxicologist, I think this information will paint a clearer picture of the neonic problem, it’s far worse than overspray killing the bees dead outright. Slow, sub-lethal cumulative poisoning is less obvious but a more insidious threat.

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