“We’re not sure how it will work out,” he says. “We’re working with Bayer to find what that new partnership is going to be like. It’s collaboration, not competition, to try to research this thing.”
“I really don’t see it as competition—it’s more symbiotic,” adds Sue Carson, an associate professor and microbiologist at NCSU.
click image to zoomVicky BoydJim Dempster, an apiarist with Bayer’s Clayton Bee Care facility in Clayton, N.C., shows off a tray of bee-covered honeycomb to journalists at the recent Bee Care Center grand opening.Benefits go beyond North Carolina
North Carolina agriculture commissioner Steve Troxler praised Bayer for locating the center in his home state.
Agriculture contributed more than $77 billion to the state’s economy in 2012 and is expected to top $80 billion when the 2013 estimate comes out, he says.
Although the state is still known for tobacco production, Troxler says specialty fruit and vegetables continue to gain ground.
“If you think about expanding specialty crop production, bees are the pollinators we depend on for pollination,” he says. “If we’re going to increase specialty crops in North Carolina, we have to be sure we have enough pollinators.”
But Troxler was quick to point out that benefits of the center’s work will be felt far beyond his state’s borders.
Neonicotinoids, a widely used class of chemicals, also have been fingered as one of the primary culprits for bee population declines. But David Fischer, Bayer CropScience director of toxicology, blames a myriad factors.
If used according to the product label, he says the soil-applied formulations of the insecticide class are safe for honeybees. By the time the plants bloom and bees forage on their pollen, the insecticide’s systemic activity has long worn off, Fischer says.
The product was first registered in 1994 and beekeepers weren’t reporting unusual die-offs back then, he says.
More recently, foliar-applied neonics have become a tool for citrus growers battling the Asian citrus psyllid, which can spread citrus greening disease. To avoid harming bees, the label recommends not using the products during citrus bloom.
Bayer CropScience is conducting field trials in California citrus with a naturally occurring bee repellant, Fischer says. Results from the first year look promising, but he says additional, larger-scale trials are needed to verify initial findings.
If the repellent proves true, it would allow citrus growers to spray for Asian citrus psyllid during citrus bloom at night, for example, when bees aren’t foraging. The compound is only temporary and would help prevent bees from landing on treated plants until the insecticide’s residual activity wears off.