I am still trying to understand why neonic-otinoids have not been a problem in western Canada. 40% of all seeded crops in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta are canola. And 100% of the seed is treated with neonics. So, at least 40% of western Canada’s cropland is treated with neonicotinoids every year. (I say “at least” because some of the other crops out here are also treated.) I just attended a meeting in which guest speaker Greg Sekulic, a canola growers’ agronomist, spoke about the importance of bees to the canola growers. Greg spoke about the relationship of canola and bees, which can be boiled down to this: Canola needs bees; bees need canola. What’s good for bees is good for canola. Simple enough. Canola seed is vastly more plentiful if healthy bee populations are around to pollinate it.
Unfortunately, commercial plots of canola can not survive without pesticides. This monocultured oil seed is heaven on earth for the little flea beetles, which seem to imagine that the gods planted all those yellow flowers just for them. In the past, farmers ran across their fields with spray booms – or hired airplanes – to kill the nasty pest. I know, because beekeepers used to lose hives when foliar sprays were used exclusively in the old days. Beekeepers who have never stared in horror in a bee yard as spray planes pass overhead don’t understand this. It would be tragic to go back to the old ways and the old chemicals. I wish farmers would grow canola without pesticides, but I don’t think that will happen in my lifetime. Canola, related to cabbage, is affected by cabbage worms, cabbage root maggots, cabbage pod weevils, aphids, thrips, cutworms, blister beetles, grasshoppers and locusts, lygus bugs, flea beetles and their cousins the striped flea beetles. Poisons will be part of the farming business for a long time.
So we have the odd situation that a hugely important mid-summer nectar source for honey bees has been treated – 100% – with neonicotinoids for years, yet bees are not suffering. Before the hate mail starts again, let me remind you that I know neonicotinoids are poisons and I have written about this many times in the past. One tragic case of neonics sprayed on blossoming orange trees in Florida killed millions of bees and cost beekeepers hundreds of thousands of dollars. (The offending party had not followed label instructions which clearly state no spraying during blooming. The state of Florida slapped a couple of tiny little $1,500 fines on the bad guys who killed the bees – which turned out to be a huge multi-million-dollar conglomerate. You should read the whole story.)
Last winter Ontario beekeepers suffered horrific losses – almost 60% of the hives put into winter died. Some are blaming neonics used on corn seed. Maybe they are right. But southern Alberta beekeepers with their hundred thousand hives sitting in nico-treated canola fields lost only 15% of their colonies. Figuring out this paradox should make a fascinating – and important – research project.