Pollinator issue like staring at the barrel of a crisis
James Cook spends much of the year chasing the bloom of flowers, hauling hives of bees to pollinate crops. It's his passion, but not the idyllic pursuit it would seem. "I guess I look at myself as the next generation of beekeepers that are starin...
James Cook spends much of the year chasing the bloom of flowers, hauling hives of bees to pollinate crops.
It’s his passion, but not the idyllic pursuit it would seem.
“I guess I look at myself as the next generation of beekeepers that are staring down the barrel of what is going on around us. And I will tell you from first hand experience it is terrifying,’’ said Cook, of Birds and The Bees Honey, LLC, of Barrett, Minn.
Beekeepers in Minnesota lost 40 to 50 percent of their hives last season, Cook told a gathering of 65 people at the Moonstone Farm near Montevideo on June 14.
Cook drove a truck loaded with 8.5 million dead bees to the farm. It was one stop in a journey that has since taken him to Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
The “Keep the Hives Alive’’ tour that Cook helped lead called attention to the pollinator crisis we are facing today. The dead bees were collected from the hives of beekeepers, including 2.5 million from his own.
Cook blames what he calls a “toxic environment’’ created by the widespread use of neonicotinoids and other pesticides with being a big part of the problem. He said his moment of epiphany came when he returned to Barrett from California with 1,500 hives of healthy bees. A farmer was planting corn around his holding yard. Within 30 minutes he witnessed the first signs of toxicity in the hives.
Over the next two days he documented the loss of over 50 percent of the population in each of the hives. “I’ve never heard of a virus or pathogen capable of doing something that quickly,’’ said Cook. “Some craziness is going on out there.’’
Pesticides, parasites, viruses and other pathogens, as well as a lack of habitat and foods for pollinators are all cited as factors in the crisis facing our pollinators, according to the Pesticide Action Network of Minneapolis, which helped support the Keep the Hives Alive tour.
Organizer Lex Horan of PAN said the stop at Moonstone was held to focus on the good things that are going on out there to turn things around for pollinators.
Moonstone Farm, which raises organic beef, was held up as one obvious example. Owners Audrey Arner and Richard Handeen have converted 240 acres of traditional row crop land into a perennial landscape of grasses and woody plants. They’ve planted nut and fruit bearing plants as well as a vineyard. They use no pesticides.
“Great habitat for bees,’’ said Handeen. He and Arner noted that they have gone against the grain: Their farm remains an island of perennial cover amidst corn and soybean fields.
Yet they and others pointed out that other farmers are looking for ways to add more perennial cover, and reduce their impact on the landscape. The “Keep the Hives Alive” tour visited a Brookings, S.D. farm one day earlier where the owners practice no till and do not use pesticides on 1,000 acres.
At Moonstone, Peg Furshong with Clean Up our River Environment, and Robin Moore, with the Land Stewardship Project, told about efforts to help farmers add perennials to their farms as part of the Chippewa Watershed Project’s efforts in the watershed.
The “Save the Hives’’ visit to Moonstone Farm also highlighted many of the things that individuals can do on their own to benefit pollinators. Kristine Sundberg, Patricia Hauser, and Julie Moore spoke about how Shorewood became the first of 20 Minnesota communities who have adopted “pollinator friendly’’ ordinances to encourage the planting of more flowering plants.
Erin Rupp,an educator, founded“Pollinate Minnesota” and convinced state legislators to pass laws to protect pollinators from pesticides. She told the gathering at Moonstone that native bees and pollinators are at as great a risk as are honeybees. “The problem is bigger than the honeybee problem,’’ said Rupp.
Beekeepers are experiencing losses of 40 to 50 percent of their bees year after year, but Cook said there is a lack of beekeepers willing to stand up and talk about the issues they are having.
Not him. “I’m James Cook. I’m a beekeeper and we’re having problems,’’ he said.
The next morning he fired up the truck and carried the millions of dead bees and the story of his experiences and headed east to his next stop.