Planting can be dusty work, but a little housekeeping is in order to protect pollinators this spring. The continued use of insecticidal seed treatments may depend on it.

The problem is planting lubricants such as talc can mix with minute amounts of the insecticides contained within seed treatments. Bees come into the bargain when contaminated dust blows out the planter and lands on a flowering plant. Foraging bees carry the contaminated pollen back to the hive.

This may seem a small and potentially obscure sequence of events, but the seed treatment/talc relationship has fueled a movement that threatens use of neonicotinoid insecticides. Growers in Canada have already seen legislated requirements and restrictions. In the U.S., the EPA has made the re-registration assessments of the benefits and risks of neonicotinoid insecticides a priority because of pollinator health concerns.

Ohio State entomologist Reed Johnson and his fellow researchers spent the spring of 2013 collecting pollen from three bee yards in the Ohio counties of Madison, Union and Clark. As farmers in central Ohio started planting corn coated with the insecticides thiamethoxam and clothianidin, the researchers tracked a telling change in the bee's pollen loads.

     "We did not see those insecticides in the pollen prior to corn planting or after corn planting," Johnson explains. "We only saw them in pollen during corn planting." Many of the insecticide concentrations in the pollen were high enough to cause a bee kill, he adds. 

Talc and graphite seed lubricants are recommended by many planter manufacturers to reduce friction among seeds and improve planting consistency. Seed needs to move smoothly through the planter, or it won't be placed uniformly within each row.

NEW AGENT. Bayer CropScience is marketing Fluency Agent,a new planter seed lubricant that helps reduce the amount of dust emissions containing the active ingredient in seed treatments during planting. In laboratory test's, the company says Fluency Agent reduces total dust emissions by 90% and reduces the release of active ingredient by 65% compared to talc.

Growers in Canada who use seed lubricants are now required to use Fluency Agent, and the product is also available in the U.S., but not as widely. "Although full commercial details have not yet been finalized, we remain confident that Fluency Agent will be made available to farmers for the 2015 planting season," says Kerry Grossweiler, Bayer SeedGrowth equipment and coatings manager. .

PROVIDING THE PRODUCT. Great Plains Manufacturing, for example, makes the Bayer product available to all of its dealers. However,the bulk of its demand and supply is still with Canadian dealers, says Mike McClure, the product development manager for the company.

    "We are primarily selling the talc and graphite mixture seed lubricant to U.S. dealers," he says.

Farmers who use corn seed from Beck's Hybrids might be surprised to discover their seed already contains Bayer's Fluency Agent, says Jim Herr, Beck's processing, inventory and wholesale manager.

After testing the product last summer, the company found a rate of application that improved the flow and uniformity of planted corn seed just as well as talc, Herr says. Since then, it has·added that rate to every corn hybrid available for sale in 2015 as part of its Escalate seed treatment. The company's not advertising Fluency Agent as a replacement for seed lubricants just yet.

    "We are adding this product,but we're not telling our farmers to refrain from using the normal lubricants that their planter manufacturer suggests," Herr explains. "But we are trying to inform our growers that they are welcome to experiment on their farms without talc. If they're willing, we think it's worthwhile and could save them some time and money, and reduce dust:" 

From the Progressive Farmer mid February Special issue 2015
Thank you to everyone who attended the 2015 Conservation Forum. 
We appreciate your support in our effort to inform and educate on topical issues. 
Bees need access to safe water sources, they often risk drowning in birdbaths or being eaten at rivers and lakes among birds, fish, frogs and other wildlife. This is why they often fly around our clothes lines and may even land on us if we are in an outdoor pool on a hot day.
Kim Flottum, editor of the Bee Culture magazine, writes in her book The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden: “Water is used to dissolve crystallized honey, to dilute honey when producing larval food, for evaporation cooling during warm weather, and for a cool drink on a hot day.”
“Bees know exactly where to return for the same water source. Foragers seem to seek water sources that are scented,” Flottum says.
One solution to this problem is to add marbles or pebbles to a bowl or pan and then add water. The marbles give the bees a spot to land so they don’t drown when they come to drink.

Read more:

Make A Bee Waterer And Help Hydrate Our Pollinators
Posted in Nature By Aaron Jackson On June 24, 2014
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Ward Johnson
SaveOurPollinators Foundation, a 501c3 charity