TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Adhering to pesticide labels is nothing new to farmers and professional applicators, but they need to be on their toes concerning stricter EPA labels to protect pollinators.
All products containing neonicotinoids now have additional application restrictions or mandates, said Sherman Takatori, program manager for pesticide applicator licensing and training with Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
“Pollinators are under the magnifying glass by EPA. This is a big issue for the Environmental Protection Agency,” he said during a workshop at Agri-Action in Twin Falls on Thursday.
Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides that affect the central nervous system of insects, causing paralysis and death and are considered toxic to bees.
New labels for products containing “neonics” carry an icon of a honey bee inside a red diamond to alert pesticide users of the products’ potential hazard to pollinators and specific application restrictions.
The new labels instruct applicators to minimize exposure to bees and other pollinators when they are foraging on pollinator-attractive plants around the application site and to minimize drift onto hives or off-site pollinator habitat, Takatori said.
Farmers with crops under a contracted pollinator service “must” notify the owner of the pollinator colony at least 48 hours before a planned application so bees can be removed, covered or otherwise protected.
“Most do that anyway, but that’s a mandate on the label. There is no room for discussion,” Takatori said.
All bee colonies in Idaho have to carry the name of the entity who placed the colony, their address and phone number. Farmers and applicators should take down that information in advance and call the phone number to make sure it is correct and working, he said.
Hobbyist bee keepers are exempt from that state requirement, but are required to keep the bees in their own field, he said.
The “neonics” are not to be applied when bees are foraging, typically when plants flower, shed pollen or produce nectar. Applications during those times can be potentially damaging to the bees.
“Even if it’s a backyard or feral colony, you have to follow the restrictions,” Takatori said.
Certified organic pesticides can be just as toxic to pollinators, and farmers and applicators have to be just as careful, he said.
“Certified organic doesn’t mean it’s safe. It will kill bees as well, just kills them ‘naturally,’” he said.
Applicators using old product labels should get a new label and follow the restrictions, he said.
They should consider using a product formation that is less risky, such as an all liquid formation as opposed to products containing liquid soluble powder, which has an extended residual toxicity. Products with extended toxicity will have more restrictions, such as not applying it when bees are “visiting” the area, not just foraging, he said.
Farmers and applicators should take an assessment of the area before application, checking to see if there are plants that attract pollinators and looking for hives or nesting areas, foraging bees, and water sources. Foraging bees need an awful lot of good clean water, he said.
Applicators also need to monitor weather, temperature, wind speed, and wind direction and pay attention to weather forecast beyond application time. Dew or rain can re-liquify the insecticide on the plant and effect toxicity, he said.
During application, they should be watching for bee activity, which can vary at different times of the day, and stop spraying if bees are foraging. Care should be taken in refilling, mixing or loading the insecticide, cleaning up spills that could attract bees.
Correct spray nozzles and pressure should be used and weather and environmental conditions considered to avoid drift.
After application, applicators should properly dispose of the mix and rinse and wash water, clean up spills and fill in puddles, as bees are attracted to water.
They also need to be aware the restrictions don’t just apply to honeybees but other pollinators as well and don’t just apply to the site being sprayed but could extend to areas outside the application site.