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“When you travel through the Delta or the prairie part of the state in February, the row crop land is purple with henbit blooming. By the end of March, it’s all gone because farmers burned it down with chemicals to try to kill everything in the field before they plant,” says Johnny Thompson, vice president of the Mississippi Beekeeping Association.
What looks like weeds to a farmer or landowner is forage for pollinators such as honeybees. Angus Catchot and other researchers at Mississippi State University are part of efforts to find management plans that balance competing needs.
Insecticides – especially those in the neonicotinoid class – have been getting a bad rap in environmental circles. But researchers at Mississippi State University believe herbicides used to control weeds can spell even bigger trouble for bees.
Jeff Harris, bee specialist with the MSU Extension Service and a researcher with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said herbicides can be a bigger threat because they destroy bee food sources.
“When farmers burn down weeds before spring planting, or people spray for goldenrod, asters and spring flowers, or when power companies spray their rights-of-way, they’re killing a lot of potential food sources for bees and wild pollinators,” says Harris, who is based on the MSU campus in Starkville.
Harris said the direct effect of these chemicals on bees is so much less of an issue than their loss of food supply.
“Disappearing food is on the mind of beekeepers in the state,” he said. “That is even more important to them than losses of bees to insecticides.”