In the process of developing the stewardship program, Catchot says, “We’ve had a lot of meetings with beekeepers, USDA, farmers, ag aviators, and others — all the interest groups have had a seat at the table. The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation has been instrumental in bringing everyone together and in developing the cooperative agreement and some best management practices.

“This isn’t law, it isn’t binding — it’s completely voluntary — but it incorporates measures we believe will protect these pollinators. It has been adopted by the Mississippi Beekeepers Association, and we think it could become the model for bee stewardship efforts across the U.S.”

The Mississippi groups, Catchot says, are “trying to show the EPA and the rest of the world that there are many things that can be done locally without mandates from the government. We’re going to use this as a benchmark for cooperatively dealing with the problem and showing that beekeepers and row crop farmers can coexist.”

In talking with farmers, he says, “Most just haven’t been aware of this issue. There has been almost no communication by beekeepers with farmers about bee kills, and many ag aviators haven’t been aware of the problem. They say they are completely willing to cooperate in bee protection efforts, but that beekeepers need to be more forthcoming about hive locations.

“We would like for beekeepers to provide GPS coordinates for locations of their hives,” Catchot says, “but they are quite competitive about sites for their hives, and there has been some resistance to this. The ag aviators maintain a database of sensitive areas, and GPS locations can help them to avoid spraying near hives.”

Beekeepers are also being asked to put weatherproof labels on their hives that show contact information, Catchot says, and to provide maps of hive locations. “The farmer should also have the beekeeper’s cell phone number, so he can let the beekeeper know when applications will be made.

“Communication between parties is going to be extremely important,” he says. “In many cases, farmers and beekeepers don’t really talk to each other about what’s going on. They need to work together on choosing sites for hives — the farmer knows his land, and where hives are least likely to be sprayed.

“Too often, we see hives right on the side of turnrows, where they’re likely to be sprayed or drifted on at some point.  We know that bees forage up to 2 miles routinely, so why not move hives 100 yards or so off the field?”

Farmers will be encouraged to talk with their employees about bees and the need to avoid hives when making applications,” Catchot says.

One tool that will be used to increase awareness of hive locations is the “Bee Aware” flag that has been developed by the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.

“These will be distributed to beekeepers to place near hives,” Catchot says, “so everyone working in the field will see the flag and be aware that hives are nearby and need to be protected. We put information about this flag on our blog, and we’ve had calls from around the nation about it. We believe it will be a valuable tool.

“The ‘Bee Aware’ program is a major educational effort, to help make farmers, beekeepers, aerial applicators, and others aware of the issue and to encourage their participation in protecting these pollinators.”

In discussions with the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, Catchot says, “We need to start thinking outside the box on this issue. The new farm bill is loaded with conservation incentives. What if a farm bill rewarded conservation of bees? What if growers of self-pollinated crops (who have don’t require the service of commercial pollinators) were identified as “bee friendly” farmers and were rewarded by steps they agreed to take to go the extra mile in improving pollinator health on their farm?

“This would provide financial incentive to do even more. These may sound like pie in the sky ideas, but I believe the case could be made.”

In summary, Catchot says, “There is so much that can be done through educational efforts. I have been pleasantly surprised at just how supportive our row crop farmers have been since this issue has been brought to their attention.

“Moving forward, coexistence is key, and that will start through education and awareness. Several years ago, I never would have thought that I would be talking about bee safety on turnrows or at farmer meetings — but I am now.”