Corn Dust Research group formed to address honey bee questions

Farm Forum

San Francisco, Calif. – The non-profit Pollinator Partnership (P2) recently announced the formation of the Corn Dust Research Consortium (CDRC), a multi-stakeholder initiative they are coordinating to invest research dollars in reducing honey bee exposure to dust emitted during planting of treated corn seeds. Pollinator Partnership is coordinating the Corn Dust Research Consortium and has invited stakeholders from crop protection, seed production, farm equipment, corn growing, beekeeping, academic, governmental, and conservation organizations to fund and oversee two proposed research projects to better understand ideas for mitigating risks to honey bees from exposure to planter-emitted dust during corn planting.

“It is truly rare to see this kind of large-scale collaboration between disparate stakeholders – each of whom shares equally in the supervision of the project,” said Executive Director Laurie Davies Adams, emphasizing her organization’s enthusiasm for the consortium approach to problem solving. “Public-private partnerships that seek practical solutions for cooperative conservation and commerce represent an improved model. Industry participants are to be commended for providing major funding while sharing responsibility and authority with all CDRC partners.”

Seed lubricant powders such as talc and graphite that are commonly added to facilitate an even flow of seeds through the planter can increase the total amount of dust inside the planter. Modern pneumatic planters, which use air pressure to deliver seeds precisely to the seed furrow, may exhaust this dust into the air, and the emitted particles may in turn be carried some distance downwind. Honey bees may potentially contact seed dust particles when the planter-emitted dust is airborne (i.e., if bees fly through the exhaust plume of a planter), or after deposition on vegetation or other surfaces.

Greater potential for exposure of honey bees seems likely for dust particles deposited on flowers that may be present along the perimeter of fields or even within the fields themselves in some cases (e.g., no-till fields containing flowering weeds or a cover crop). Dust particles on flowers may be available to visiting honey bees for a period of days over a broad area inside and downwind of planted fields. When honey bees visit these flowers, the particles may become attached to their body hairs and transported back to the hive in the same way that natural pollen grains are transported. Whether such exposures result in adverse effects is probably a function of (1) the chemical load of the dust deposits, (2) the intrinsic toxicity of the chemical, (3) the frequency that forager honey bees visit dusted flowers and (4) the degree to which dust particles act like pollen grains in their size, electrostatic activity, etc.

While the CDRC has identified a number of mitigation options, an immediate need for research is focusing on two projects being funded by CDRC.

The first research project is to develop a greater understanding of the use by bees of flowering cover crops and weeds in and around cornfields during spring planting season and how this is influenced by vegetation management practices. The ultimate goal is to develop recommendations for best management practices that growers can follow in order to minimize exposure of forager honey bees to seed dust while maintaining as much forage for honey bees as possible. Native bee communities may also be affected by exposure through forage, an issue not addressed in this research.

The second research project is to evaluate the effectiveness of a new seed lubricant product by measuring deposition levels of pesticide dust in and around fields when commercially available neonicotinoid-treated corn seed products are planted using this new product in comparison to standard lubricants (talc and graphite). The product, developed by Bayer CropScience, has already had some field research in other countries, but none in North America.

The CDRC has taken the following steps: (1) Invited stakeholders from disparate perspectives to contribute funding and share equally in the oversight responsibility; and (2) Ensured that final decisions on technical interpretation of the study findings and content of study reports, publications and presentations will be made by researchers. The research will be conducted in multiple locations during the 2013 corn seed planting season.

“Stakeholders in this consortium are putting aside any preconceived bias,” added Dr. David Inouye, a CDRC member representative.

Research proposals are due Friday, March 1. The CDRC will evaluate the proposals. Funding decisions will be made by Friday, March 15.