The neonicotinoid controversy surfaced in Europe a few years ago, and following the moratorium on those materials, has received a lot of attention in the U.S., says Angus Catchot, Mississippi State University Extension professor, who also spoke at the consultants’ conference.

“There is a lot of information — and misinformation —about this floating around in the social media, and it’s rampant on the Internet,” he says. “Unfortunately, it has given voice to a lot of people who have no scientific knowledge or expertise — they can say something on Twitter or Facebook and instantly have the same credibility as someone who’s an expert on the subject.”

Following the European Union action to put a two-year moratorium on neonicotinoids, there has been “a lot of pressure in the U.S. to follow the European model,” he says.

“You can’t believe how many people are now involved in this.

“The neonictinoid issue isn’t so much a problem in the South as in the Midwest, where there is wall-to-wall corn and not that much habitat for bees,” Catchot says. “But, this is an issue that is going to affect farmers everywhere.”

While there have been media stories in Europe about neonicotinoid dust clouds from farm fields at planting, he says, the problem isn’t so much dust from soil, but rather from lubricants on seed — mainly graphites and talcs.

“These lubricants get coated with the neonicotinoids that are on the seed and then they’re blown out of the exhaust from air planters. Canada has just banned the use of talc and graphite on seed.

“In tests we’ve conducted here in Mississippi, we were able to validate these claims. Traces of neonic-contaminated lubricant are, in fact, drifting downwind and settling on wildflowers where bees may be foraging.  We were able to reduce this by using an experimental seed lubricant. 

“We’ve also been investigating just how many bees are in the crops we grow in Mississippi and what time of day they are present,” Catchot says. “Bees aren’t as much of a factor in pollinating our corn, cotton, soybeans, which are self-pollinating. Still, there are bees in the fields and many beekeepers rely on these crops in our area to sustain their hives.

“To date, our findings would indicate that bees are only a factor when crops are flowering — and soybeans, by far, have more bees per acre during that period than cotton and corn.

“Although not part of the study, we have observed numerous bees in grain sorghum fields during the flowering period and are actively advising our clientele at farm meetings to avoid pesticide applications when bees are most active.”

To determine that, he says, “We have initiated time-of-day studies across the Mid-south to verify peak activity in our major row crops. Our preliminary results indicate that most bees will be in the crops from 10 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. The fewest bees were noted in the morning and evening.

“If we can move our crop spraying until later in the evening, then we have the entire night and most of the next morning for the residual to wear off before bees start foraging again. This will make a tremendous difference in acute bee kills, which is a problem at times because of the high spray environment in the Mid-South cropping region.”