State program aims to keep bees safe from pesticides

In an effort to prevent honeybee kills from toxic pesticides, the state is rolling out a new program to help beekeepers, farmers, and chemical sprayers to communicate and see where active hives are located.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture is partnering with FieldWatch, a national not-for-profit organization that maintains beehive registries and enables farmers and sprayers to see where hives are located and communicate to beekeepers about impending spraying events.

Matt Beal, chief of the ODA Division of Plant Health, said in a prepared statement that FieldWatch has proven to be successful in other states.

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“This technology is cutting-edge and will bring applicators and producers together to communicate their needs as we work toward our shared goal of the safe use of pesticides in our state,” Beal’s statement reads.

Before chemicals are sprayed on a field, applicators need to consider where the nearest beehives are, whether the field is in bloom and whether the chemical being sprayed is toxic to bees, according to Terry Lieberman-Smith, Fairborn resident and president of the Ohio State Beekeepers Association.

Lieberman-Smith said the farmers and applicators “don’t want to kill the population that is the silent partner of agriculture.”

“A beekeeper would register by providing where their apiaries are located. When an applicator or farmer goes to look to see who is within a half a mile of where they plan on spraying their crops, they can find out if there’s a beekeeper nearby,” Lieberman-Smith said.

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If they know chemicals will be sprayed nearby at a certain time, beekeepers have options. Lieberman-Smith said they can screen the bees in, or move them to another location.

“No one involved in agriculture wants to damage livestock or field crops,” she said. “For a beekeeper, their bees are their livestock. If … even four or five hives are wiped out, you’re looking at over 240,000 bees that are not going to be available to pollinate the fields.

The registry is free and works on a voluntary basis.

Rusty Strader, a beekeeper in Champaign County, works at Fairborn Cement Company, where he pushed to have a 30-acre tract of land to be converted into a natural area, creating more foraging areas for bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

“I was probably one of the first ones to sign up for it,” Strader said. “Before you could type in an address. Now it’s like Google Earth, it gives you exact GPS coordinates.”

Strader said he became a beekeeper after learning of the perils that the pollinators were facing. He said it’s not a profitable business, but it’s worth it from an environmental standpoint.

“This benefits the beekeepers but it also benefits the farmers,” Strader said. “For some farmers, especially like soybeans, they can get a 10 percent yield increase by having honeybees in that area. So there are positive gains for farmers.”

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