BeeCheck can save valuable pollinators

The majority of Americans pay little attention to pollinators – bees, butterflies, wasps, moths, and other insects – in their day-to-day activities. However, without pollinators, many crops simply would not grow. A large variety of fruits and vegetables would become scarce or incredibly expensive, and the cost of other products, including clothing (as cotton is bee-pollinated), would also be impacted.

According to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, “[h]oneybees pollinate more than 90 cultivated crops with a combined annual value of $10 billion. Nebraska crops dependent upon bees for pollination include: alfalfa, vetch, sweet clover, sunflower and other seed crops.”

In fact, over 70 percent of the world’s crop plants depend on pollination. In addition to the crops listed above, many fruit and vegetable crops, such as cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkins, apples, bananas, blueberries, coffee, potatoes, almonds, pears and cherries, among many others, also require pollination to produce. Additionally, wildlife like deer, quail, pheasants and other animals depend on the production of berries and fruits for food.  

Many human actions, such as pollution and conversion of natural habitat, have impacted pollinators and their ability to provide ecosystem services. In our modern agricultural world, drift (or unintentional off-target contamination) from aerial spraying of pesticides has become a major threat to our pollinators. According to the Xerces Society, “Most insecticides (and a handful of fungicides and herbicides) can kill bees directly or have sublethal effects that reduce the number of offspring a female bee can produce.” (See How Neonicotinoids can kill bees for the latest information about this class of pesticides.)

The best thing we can do for pollinator conservation is to avoid using pesticides.  Unfortunately, avoiding pesticide use, particularly in today’s precision farming world, is not an option for most farmers. Accordingly, when pesticides are used, Xerces Society and others stress that it is critical to take steps to reduce their drift and maintain buffer zones between sprayed areas and pollinator habitat areas.

In order to reduce instances of pesticide drift, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture has created Nebraska DriftWatch, a free online registry and map for commercial specialty crops. DriftWatch is designed to to reduce occurrences of drift by promoting communications between producers of specialty crops, beekeepers, and pesticide applicators in support of their mutual stewardship activities.

Recently, DriftWatch has increased its functionality by creating a separate registration system for beekeepers called BeeCheck. BeeCheck allows beekeepers to place themselves on the DriftWatch map with the other specialty crop applicators, so that applicators and producers registered with DriftWatch are aware of the hives and can take extra precautions to reduce drift in those areas. If you or anyone you know keeps honeybees, take a look at the registry at DriftWatch-BeeCheck, and consider putting your hives on the map!

For more information, check out this handout or contact Craig Romary of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture at 402.471.6883 or craig.romary@nebraska.gov.