Pesticide use can have negative impacts on wild and managed bees living and foraging in agricultural areas. Some pesticides are deadly even at low doses, while others can have less overt, yet equally troublesome effects on bees – compromising navigation, foraging, and reproductive abilities, which may contribute to long-term population decline. While insecticides cause the most obvious risks, other pesticides can also harm bees. Even treatments which may not immediately seem as though they should pose a risk to bees, such as fungicides and adjuvants, can create environments that are toxic to bees.
While different parts of the Bee Better Production Standards aim to protect bees from pesticide use on farms, we encourage strategies and practices that minimize or outright prevent the need for pesticides to be used.
Bee Better Certified encourages strategies and practices that minimize or outright prevent the need for pesticides to be used. Photo: US EPA, Office of Pesticide Programs
An Ounce of Prevention
While our program does not require farms to adhere to an integrated pest management (IPM) protocol, our Production Standards reflect an IPM philosophy. An IPM approach involves taking preventative actions to limit the likelihood of pests harming crops. By using non-chemical tools, including cultural and biological control options, growers can prevent many of the scenarios that would necessitate chemical interventions.
Many primary and secondary crop pests can be kept below damaging thresholds with cultural and biological control approaches alone. These approaches include choosing resistant crop varieties, crop rotations and sanitation practices designed to minimize year-to-year buildup of insect pests or diseases, as well as practices that support beneficial insects that prey on or parasitize insect pests.
What does Bee Better do to encourage preventive pest management?
Bee Better growers are required to develop a written scouting and monitoring protocol for insect pests and diseases and to demonstrate via documentation that scouting and monitoring occurs (Standard 2.1a). Regular monitoring for insect pests and diseases helps Bee Better growers anticipate pest problems before they exceed economic thresholds and make informed, appropriate decisions about pest management.
In addition, Bee Better growers must implement and maintain at least two preventive non-pesticide pest management strategies. Many different types of practices, including habitat enhancement practices that support conservation biocontrol as well as many other physical, cultural, mechanical, and biological control practices, qualify for this standard (see Appendix J of the Bee Better Production Standards for a list of approved preventive practices).
What are some key preventive pest management practices?
Choosing resilient and resistant crops. The first line of defense for crops is selecting and planting varieties that are well-suited to local soil and climate conditions and that have some resistance to major insect pests or diseases. Choosing the right varieties for local conditions helps crops stay healthy with minimal additional intervention.
Monitoring and Scouting. By scouting for pest and disease problems, and regularly observing crop conditions growers can anticipate pest problems before they occur, carefully consider all available management techniques, and integrate different approaches to keep pest populations at acceptable levels.
Regularly scouting for pests and disease is an important component of preventative pest management strategies that aim to reduce reliance on pesticides. Photo: Xerces Society
Cultural practices and mechanical control. Techniques that disrupt pest habitat, reduce their ability to colonize a crop, and/or reduce crop injury, are critical pieces of preventive pest management. Using physical barriers such as row covers to prevent colonization of a crop, trap cropping, and sanitation, can be combined to keep disease and insect pest populations under control without chemical interventions.
Timing and rotation. Techniques such as adjusting planting or harvest dates to avoid pest injury, and rotating annual crops are other important strategies for reducing disease and insect pest pressure, particularly for pests with narrow host ranges. Crop rotation can disrupt pest habitat by reducing the availability of the preferred crop host, preventing buildup of host-dependent insects and pathogens over time.
Using natural predators. Conservation biological control (CBC), or the creation of habitat that supports natural enemies of crop pests, is an effective preventive management technique encouraged by Bee Better. By providing food and shelter for natural enemies in and around crop fields, whether in permanent habitat plantings or temporary in-field insectary plantings, CBC enhances populations of beneficial insects that help keep pest populations at acceptable levels.
By using a mix of tools and strategies, Bee Better Certified farmers are preventing harm to bees by preventing the widespread use of pesticides.