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The Birds and The Bees

Pam Smith
By  Pam Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Farmers need to take another look at protecting bees and other pollinators from planter dust. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan. It's not open to negotiation.

Pets have been named after favorite Cardinals players. I have willingly checked my children out of school to watch crucial World Series games involving the Redbirds. My wedding included vows promising to my Chicago Cubs-loving husband that the rivalry could exist, but never come between us.

So it is nothing short of a miracle that I got a warm, fuzzy feeling about the Kansas City Royals this week. It's all over a swarm of bees that briefly delayed the team's 3-2 win over the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday.

According to news reports, a swarm of honeybees descended in the dugout area during an exhibition matchup at Surprise Stadium. Kansas City manager Ned Yost, his coaches, some players and fans had to take cover.

Let's pause here to rerun a highlight tape from exactly one year ago when another swarm of bees made a visit to the Royals dugout as the team played ... wait for it ... the Angels. In that instance, the invading bees were exterminated on the field. Yost didn't like that call, the manager threw a fit and wasn't having it this season.

This time, Yost insisted the game wouldn't go on until the bees were saved. Miraculously, Lowell Hutchinson, 71, a retired beekeeper from St. Joseph, Missouri, was sitting behind home plate and volunteered to help corral the invasion. Yay Lowell!

Skeptics might say this chance to atone was a bit convenient. I'm a beekeeper and I can't imagine anyone contriving a rerun that involved bees, so I'm going with divine intervention. Besides, Lowell reportedly wrangled the bee swarm into a trash bag with his bare hands. If he'd shown up in a bee suit, I might believe the conspiracy theories.

Instead, I'm using this tale as an agricultural metaphor. The first story I wrote for DTN (four years ago) was about bee deaths associated with talc exiting planters.

Here's how that happens: The majority of seed treatments contain, among other things, neonicotinoid insecticides. Minute amount of this insecticide can dust off and taint the talc used in the planter. Talc is used to lubricate seed to enhance seed singulation. Contaminated talc that leaves the planter can land on flowering spring plants such as dandelions. Foraging bees feed on those flowers and inadvertently take the pesticide-laden dust back to the hive.

There are many other ways pesticides are being implicated in pollinator problems. In my opinion, neonicotinoids have hijacked the whole discussion and there are more issues than pesticides. However, that doesn't remove the fact that those who use talc in planters can correct the issue, help bees and hopefully reduce the number of strikes against the industry.

Last week during Commodity Classic, I attended a screening of a new documentary film from the Bee Understanding Project sponsored by the Honey Bee Health Coalition (…). A farmer, beekeeper, entomologist and crop consultant change jobs for a day to better understand the challenges facing each sector.

Questions and comments from the audience made me realize that many growers still do not realize planter talc is part of the issue or don't believe it. Bayer CropScience has released a replacement for standard planter talc and graphite that goes a long way toward correcting the dust-off problem. Read about it here:…

That's the good news. The question of where do you obtain this Fluency Agent turned out to be more difficult than I expected. My calls to machinery dealerships and retail seed outlets invariably wound up in a discussion as to why I'd even want to replace talc. Sigh...

I found two regional seed companies -- Beck's Hybrids and Burrus Hybrids -- offering the new Bayer Fluency Agent with their seed. There may be more seed companies doing this and I'd welcome hearing about them. DuPont Pioneer details how to use the agent and what vacuum planters are involved here:…

Jeff Donald, external communications for Bayer CropScience, answered my email asking about where to purchase Bayer Fluency Agent. "Your crop protection retailer has access to Bayer Fluency Agent through their distributors. Also, John Deere stores have access to the product as well. The John Deere part number is A104580," said Donald.

My guess is more farmers would take a stand to save bees if they are more aware, have access to easy tools and alternatives are cost comparable.

I'm encouraging you to do take this bee-friendly step willingly this season. Canadian farmers are already mandated to take such measures. If it helps, imagine the crowd buzzing its approval as they did for Yost. A footnote is required here -- no one got stung.

Meanwhile, if the Royals get swarmed during spring training again next year, I may have to consider sharing my Redbird loyalty with those Kansas City bee boosters.

Pamela Smith can be reached at



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Don Ready
3/12/2016 | 9:08 AM CST
The details are always tricky. Here in Ontario we have a mandated 50% neonic reduction and next year you must show a need through IPM testing to use neonics. The fluency agency does reduce dust load by about 80% but the neonics concentrate on the agent so the net reduction is not great. An even bigger issue is soil dust kicked up by the planter and sucked in. It carries a large neonic load. Neonics are water soluble so they can concentrate near the soil surface as moisture moves up in drier weather. I noticed a watershed in study in the US that showed neonic concentrations of concern. Neonics are hell on aquatic environments. I use these products but I am not alarmed at losing them. There are too many side effects. We all survived the loss of Lindane. Cover crops and better rotations work for me on my no-till operation.