Cotton is largely self-pollinating but attractive to bees. Pollination by bees can increase seed set per boll. Photo by Judy Biss


On January 12, 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final Policy to Mitigate the Acute Risk to Bees from Pesticide Products.  This policy outlines EPA’s label statements designed to mitigate acute risks to bees from pesticides.  The recent UF/IFAS publication, Pesticide Labeling: Protection of Pollinators, provides an in-depth look at the new EPA policy.  This article provides an overview of the ways beekeepers, agricultural producers, and state and federal agencies all play an important role in sustaining this critical component of food production.

Why is Pollinator Protection Important?

Pollinator Protection was formally recognized at the federal level in 2014 when the President of the United States signed an official memorandum entitled: Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators  which outlines specific steps needed to increase and improve pollinator habitat. These steps are geared towards protecting and restoring populations of not only honey bees, but native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies all of which are vital to our nation’s economy, food production, and environmental health.

The western honey bee is conceivably the most important pollinator in American agricultural landscapes. The honey bee is credited with approximately 85% of the pollinating activity necessary to supply about one-quarter to one-third of the nation’s food supply. Over 50 major crops in the United States and at least 13 in Florida either depend on honey bees for pollination or produce more abundantly when honey bees are plentiful. Rental of honey bee colonies for pollination purposes is a highly demanded service and a viable component of commercial beekeeping and agriculture. Bee colonies are moved extensively across the country for use in multiple crops every year. There are also over 3,000 registered beekeepers in Florida, managing a total of more than 400,000 honey bee colonies and producing between 10–20 million pounds of honey annually.”  UF/IFAS publication Minimizing Honey Bee Exposure to Pesticides

The Bee Informed Partnership nationwide, estimates of the total economic value of honey bee pollination services range between $10 and $15 billion annually.  Other bee species are important pollinators as well.

“Growers also use other managed bees species, such as the bumble bee to provide field and greenhouse crop pollination services. Additionally, there are more than 315 species of wild/unmanaged bees in Florida that play a role in the pollination of agricultural crops and natural and managed landscapes. These include mining bees, mason bees, sweat bees, leafcutter bees, feral honey bees, and carpenter bees, among others.”  UF/IFAS Publication Minimizing Honey Bee Exposure to Pesticides

How do pesticides harm bees and other pollinators?

There are a number of pesticides approved for use on our agricultural crops.  These pesticides are made up of different active ingredients designed to target different pest insects in a number of different crops.  The effects of these pesticide products on bees varies from having no effect, to acute harm, quickly killing individual bees or entire colonies, to chronic and even sublethal effects, leading to long term physiological or behavioral impairment and eventual death.  It is suspected that exposure to pesticides is one of the many environmental and biological factors causing elevated bee colony losses each year.

How can Beekeepers and Pesticide Applicators protect Pollinators?

There are a number of best management practices that both beekeepers and pesticide applicators can adopt to minimize or eliminate harm to both managed and wild pollinating insects.  The following recommendations were provided in the UF/IFAS publication, Minimizing Honey Bee Exposure to Pesticides:

Recommendations for Beekeepers:

  • Develop and maintain one-on-one communication with growers whose crops your bees are pollinating, or from which they gather nectar for honey production.
  • Work with growers to reach written agreements providing permission to place hives close to crops for honey production, or for crop pollination. (see referenced publication for further detail).
  • Stay in touch with the grower; clear and regular communication is the best way to avoid pesticide problems.
  • Beekeepers should take the time, upon disclosure of the pesticides to be used, to understand the label and potential hazards to bees.
  • Beekeepers should advise the grower immediately if they observe bee kills or any unusual bee conditions.
  • Do not place bees in crops without a written agreement to do so from the grower.
  • When granted permission to keep hives in or by a crop, do not “sublet” and allow other beekeepers to bring in their hives.
  • Do not assume that because you have worked with a grower before, you can bring your hives in again without written permission.
  • Beekeepers should be available and ready to be on location to work with the grower as needs may arise.
  • Keep the grower informed of hive locations, status, and concerns, and be willing to remove hives promptly if the need arises. If a pesticide application must occur while the bees are on site, the beekeeper should be willing and able to move the bees to the agreed-upon holding zone, or out of the area altogether.
  • Beekeepers should strive to understand the farm and crop dynamics of their chosen site.
  • Hives should be escorted on and off the target bloom appropriately, so that target-pests can be treated during non-bloom times without risking damage to colonies.
  • Follow regulations to register as a beekeeper with FDACS-DPI (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – Division of Plant Industry)
  • Register hive locations with the “FDACS-DPI “Bee Locator website. Ensure that the information is accurate and kept current. Also, the website can be used to locate alternative bee forage.
  • Communicate with fellow beekeepers working in the area of the apiary to share information, facilitate communication with growers, encourage adoption of recommendations, facilitate movement of hives, and identify holding locations for temporary foraging.
  • Be a good partner with growers. Be flexible and work to develop a long-standing relationship.
  • If producing honey, reward growers who work with you. Consider financial remuneration or in-kind rewards.
  • Recognize an apiary’s total potential foraging area and inform neighboring growers within the area of the presence of the colonies. Additional knowledge of potential pesticide exposure within the foraging area would be of benefit.

Recommendations for Pesticide Applicators:

  • Pesticide applicators are required to follow the label. The label is the law, and it was written in such a way to minimize product impact on pollinators.
  • Consult the FDACS-Division of Plant Industry (DPI) geographic information system (GIS) tool to identify beekeepers with hives in your area.
  • Use pesticides only when needed.
  • Develop a pest management plan that considers the likelihood of bees foraging during bloom.
  • Do not contaminate water.
  • Consider less toxic compounds.
  • Consider less toxic formulations.
  • Before treating a field with pesticides, determine the presence of other blooming plants and weeds (such as clover, Spanish needle, etc.) that might attract bees. In some instances, bees have been killed even though the crop being sprayed was not in bloom
  • Know your farm and your crop. Understanding your crop and its pollination requirements might be the best tactic in deciding how to use pesticides and minimize the exposure to pesticides of non-target pollinators likely to be visiting your crop site and nearby areas.
  • Notify beekeepers. If beekeepers are notified in advance of application, colonies can be moved away from the treatment area. Florida law requires every apiary or bee yard to be plainly marked with the owner’s name, address, and telephone number.
  • Agreements and notification. Cooperation between applicators, growers, beekeepers, Extension workers, and government officials is necessary to control problem crop pests and protect pollinators from pesticide exposure.

What are some of EPA’s Activities to Protect Pollinators?

Below are a few of EPA’s actions to protect pollinators from pesticide exposure as listed on their website: EPA Pollinator Protection.  Please visit their web-page for the complete list.

  • Implemented a policy in 2017 that protects bees from agricultural pesticide spray and dust applications, while the bees are under contract to provide pollination services. The policy also recommends that states and tribes develop pollinator protection plans and best management practices.
  • Prohibited the use of certain neonicotinoid pesticides when bees are present.
  • Expediting the re-evaluation of the neonicotinoid family of pesticides, as well as other pesticides.
  • Temporarily halted the approval of new outdoor neonicotinoid pesticide uses until new bee data are submitted and pollinator risk assessments are complete.
  • Expediting the review of new Varroa mite control products.
  • Established guidance and best practices for regional, state and tribal inspectors conducting FIFRA inspections of apparent cases of pesticide-related bee deaths.
  • Developing a new risk management approach for considering the impacts of herbicides on monarch butterfly habitats and protecting milkweed from pesticide exposure.
  • Working with pesticide manufacturers to develop new seed-planting technologies that will reduce dust that may be toxic to pollinators during the planting of pesticide-treated seed.

How does EPA’s “Policy to Mitigate the Acute Risk to Bees from Pesticide Products,” Protect Pollinators?

The following highlights are taken from the UF/IFAS publication: Pesticide Labeling: Protection of Pollinators

  • The EPA finalized its Policy to Mitigate the Acute Risk to Bees from Pesticide Products in January 2017. It describes methods for addressing acute risks to bees from pesticides. Applications of acutely toxic pesticides would be prohibited under certain conditions when bees are most likely to be present. While the restrictions focus on managed bees under contract pollination services, the EPA believes that these measures will also protect native bees and other pollinators that are in and around treatment areas.
  • The policy generally applies to all products that meet all of the following criteria:
    • liquid or dust formulations as applied;
    • outdoor foliar use directions on agricultural crop(s) that may utilize contract pollination services; and
    • maximum application rate(s) that result in risk estimates that exceed the acute risk LOC (level of concern) for bees of 0.4 (based on contact exposure). The acute risk LOC of 0.4 is the level that is 40% of the dose that caused one half of bees to die in relevant acute toxicology studies.
  • The EPA intends that with the 2017 policy, pesticide registrants with labels for products registered for foliar application to a flowering crop(s) with an application rate that exceeds the honey bee acute risk level of concern (LOC) of 0.4, submit amended labels to reflect the acute risk mitigation language.
  • The label restrictions outlined in the policy would not replace more restrictive chemical-specific, bee-protective provisions (e.g., pre-bloom restrictions) that may already be included on a product label.
  • The policy provides label language for pesticides categorized as Acute Risk, Low Risk, Indeterminate Crop Grown for Seed Risk, and Public Health Application Risk.

Please refer to Pesticide Labeling: Protection of Pollinators for a list of pesticide active ingredients that are subject to this policy.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – Division of Plant Industry-Bureau of Apiary Inspection is the lead regulatory agency for beekeepers in Florida and provides a number of resources for assisting beekeepers and growers in protecting pollinators.  These resources can be found on the website: Honey Bee Protection in Florida

As is evident, everyone has a role to play in protecting the pollinators that assist in providing the abundant harvests of food from agricultural producers to backyard vegetable gardens.  With planning and open communication both crop farmers and beekeepers can remain productive for years to come.

For more information, please see these resources used for this article:


Judy Biss