More research needed not more restrictions

The most precious acres on my farm dont produce a single crop. Instead, they raise bees.

Thats because Im an alfalfa-seed growerand without bees, our farm would go out of business.

Id say that our bees are a lot like employees, except that theyre more like family: We dont give them paychecks but we do provide food and shelter.

As the Environmental Protection Agency considers new regulations on pesticides in the name of aiding bees, the experience of our family farm may be instructive. It has helped me come to believe that instead of letting the misinformed passions of environmental lobbyists force us into banning safe and useful products, we should adopt regulations that both help bees thrive and enjoy the backing of responsible research.

The pesticides at the heart of the current controversy are called neonicotinoids, or neonics for short. They became popular in the 1990s, replacing other types of pesticides that appeared to have possibly adverse effects on birds and mammals.

In recent years, some people have argued that neonics hurt honeybees. The proof behind this claim is weak. Last year, the Washington State Department of Agriculture said that lack of forage and a parasite called the varroa mite pose much bigger threats to honeybee populations.

Moreover, wild-eyed claims that neonics cause colony-collapse disordera phenomenon in which entire colonies of honeybees suddenly diehave not survived scientific scrutiny. As it happens, the global population of honeybees has been increasing for decades. In the United States, where it has suffered fluctuations, weve also seen improvements in recent years.

Even so, the European Union has imposed a moratorium on neonicscausing concern that the EPA may try to follow suit, even if scientific research and the experience of farmers suggests that neonics and bees can coexist.

I apply neonics on my farm. Im not a major user of these productsother farmers depend on them much more than I dobut they are one of the tools I use to fight pests.

Killing bees is the last thing I want to do.

Bees are the opposite of pests. Theyre pollinators. Without their help, our alfalfa plants would not produce seeds. And thats what I do for a living: Produce the seeds that other alfalfa farmers will plant on their own land.

So for me, bees are an essential resourcejust as important as water, soil, and sunlight.

Our bees arent honeybees, which are native to Europe but were brought to North America long ago. Instead, we rely on alkali bees, which are native to our region. They look similar to honeybees, with black and yellow stripes, but several of their behaviors are different. They dont sting, for example. Moreover, they dont build hives. Instead, they dig tunnels and live underground, preferably in salt flats.

To accommodate them, weve turned over large portions of our farm to the bees. We maintain bee beds. The largest on our farm takes up 13 acres. We try to create ideal conditions for the bees, with a gentle system of sub-irrigation in the salty soil they love.

Millions of bees occupy each acre. Its possible to walk across these bee beds, but only with great care. Driving on them is strictly forbidden. It crushes their nests.

Our bees are a vital resource. Their homes may be the most valuable acres on our farm, in fact. If the bee beds were to disappear, we could not simply start over next year with new alkali bees. It would take years to rebuild their habitat.

So you can call me a farmerbut Im also a beekeeper. And I think it would be a big mistake for the EPA to put new limits on neonics, especially when our best scientific data suggest that crops, bees, and neonics can flourish together under proper management. This is certainly the result that I observe with my own eyes.

The policy that would benefit bees the most right now is not a new restriction, but rather new research. We already know a lot about bees, but theres still much to learnand the more we learn, the better well balance what is already a strong and sustainable partnership.

Mark Wagoner is a third generation farmer in Walla Walla County, Washington where they raise alfalfa seed and bees. Mark volunteers as a Board member for Truth About Trade & Technology / Global Farmer Network (

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