SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A plea from New Mexico’s pecan growers to use a restricted pesticide against insect infestations is drawing opposition from advocates for the honey bee.
Environmentalists are protesting allowing an emergency exception to a ruling by a federal judge last year that found sulfoxaflor is highly toxic to bees and should be discontinued, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
The pecan growers are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the exception, saying the pesticide is the only way to combat a black pecan aphid infestation that is threatening their crops. The public has 15 days to comment on the New Mexico Department of Agriculture’s proposal, which was filed on the growers’ behalf.
Pecan aphids come to orchards in huge numbers and can cause trees to produce fewer, lighter and dried-out pecans. The bugs reproduce quickly and can build a resistance to pesticides which is why growers prefer to combat them with a variety of chemicals, including sulfoxaflor.
Katie Goetz, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, said the department “advocates neither for nor against the use of pesticides, only for its lawful use.”
Though pecans are wind-pollinated and don’t rely on bees, honey bees can travel as far as three miles for food and therefor can be exposed to pesticides.
“The thing about the insecticides is they are designed to kill insects, that’s what they do,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The pecans guys might be OK for a little while, but in general, farmers aren’t going to do well without pollinators. It really isn’t a choice we should have to make.”
New Mexico is the second most productive pecan-growing state in the U.S., surpassed only by Georgia. New Mexico produced more than 70 million pounds pf pecans last year across 40,000 acres. Excluding livestock, pecans are often the No. 1 food produced in the state, bringing in $141 million in sales in 2014, the most recent figure available.