Mississippi agricultural interests are taking proactive measures to adopt practices that will help to protect honeybees and other pollinators, which have been in the spotlight as result of concerns about the impact of pesticides on those populations.

The effort includes the development of a cooperative Mississippi Honeybee Stewardship Program and a distinctive flag that can be used to mark the location of hives in or near crop fields.

The concern about pollinator insects following a widely-publicized two-year moratorium on use of neonicotinoid insecticide in Europe, and calls by activist groups for a similar ban in the U.S., has become “a very serious issue for our agriculture,” says Randy Knight, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, who discussed the effort at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Agricultural Consultants Association at Mississippi State University. 

“In an effort to be proactive on this issue, we arranged several meetings with the Mississippi Beekeepers Association, the Mississippi Agricultural Aviation Association, the Mississippi Agricultural Consultants Association, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, the Mississippi State University Extension Service, and row crop farmers.

“Our goal,” Knight says, “was to develop a plan in which all parties recognize the need to coexist, and to outline some basic standards on how to achieve a cooperative relationship that will minimize any adverse effects to beekeepers and at the same time not put farmers at risk of yield loss.”  

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The discussions led to the Mississippi Bee Stewardship Program, which was rolled out recently. The two-page document includes basic cooperative standards agreed to by the various parties. 

(Read the entire document Mississippi Honey Bee Stewardship Program.)

An additional component of the program, Knight says, is a ‘Bee Aware’ flag, “which we hope will become so commonplace that no one in agriculture will ever pass one in a field a without thinking about the presence of bees. We hope these flags will be a tool to encourage producers to take precautions when performing any activity that might be detrimental to hives.”

The stewardship program “will create a very important foundation for problem-solving at the local level through education and stewardship,” Knight says. 

“Our next step is to develop a brochure/flyer/communication piece that we will promote to Mississippi beekeepers, row crop producers, and other stakeholders and begin this awareness effort. To succeed, this will need the support of everyone in agriculture.

“We hope this will be a widely adopted and that we can use it as a demonstration to the EPA of the cooperation that can exist between beekeepers and farmers to better protect our bee populations, as opposed to proposing more and more label restrictions on products that we need for our crop production systems.

“Promoting the importance of this program will be another priority for Farm Bureau this year,” Knight says.

Andy Whittington, MFBF environmental programs coordinator, has recently been appointed to serve on the EPA’s Pesticide Policy Dialogue Committee, and will also represent the American Farm Bureau Federation in this dialogue.