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Guest Blog: Pollinators & the rigged neonic seed market

on Tue, 08/11/2015 - 19:38

Farmers are no different from any buyer – they want to know what they’re buying, how much it costs and its expected performance. But in the brave new world of agricultural seeds, where multiple traits and technology are stacked like Microsoft’s operating system, it’s becoming more and more difficult for farmers to separate out what is really needed and discover how much each piece is costing them. In the case of neonicotinoid (neonic) seed coatings used as a pesticide, both the effectiveness and costs are somewhat of a mystery, according to a new paper published by IATP today.

As farm income is expected to drop more than 30 percent from last year, farmers are carefully examining all input costs to see where they can save. With their financial cost and actual effectiveness unclear, neonic seed coatings may be one of those places to cut costs. But the real cost of neonics likely goes well beyond the input price. A growing body of science directly implicates neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides as a contributor to the significant decline of bees and other pollinators. Neonics are applied in multiple ways in agriculture and horticulture but are most prevalent as a seed coating material for commodity crops like corn and soybeans. Based on convincing and mounting evidence, beekeepers, scientists and other individuals concerned about pollinators are working together to spur regulatory action and shifts in the marketplace to reduce the use of neonics.

In May 2015, the White House issued an interagency National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and other Pollinators.  The strategy focuses on efforts to restore honey bee loss, increase monarch butterfly populations and restore pollinator habitats. But the White House plan virtually ignores the on-the-ground farm economics that directly contribute to rising neonic use in seed coatings – specifically the role of a few large companies that have a stranglehold on the seed market. This concentrated market power in the seed industry has allowed a few multi-billion dollar companies like Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto to significantly limit U.S. farmers’ choices around seed coating.

In most cases the seed is coated with neonics whether wanted or not and our paper found that this lack of choice has made it difficult for farmers and their advisors to assess the actual value of these pesticides in crop production, or to understand their true financial and environmental costs. Most farmers understand the value of pollinators to plant growth and the food system and would not intentionally harm them.  However, without credible information on the risks or the freedom to choose their seed coating, farmers are left with little choice but to accept what their seed company delivers.   

The good news is that there are independent seed companies and dealers able today to provide farmers with information and choice around seed coatings. Representing a small segment of a highly consolidated industry, independent seed producers and dealers are able and willing to respond to market changes and farmer preferences associated with not only neonics, but also other areas of market interest, such as non-genetically modified organisms (GMOs), certified organic, cover and specialty crops. But a farmer’s ability to choose what kind of seed coatings they want as part of their crop management system should be the rule, not the exception, in the seed market. 

One of the most basic and necessary aspects of a free market is available and accurate information about products and their efficacy, cost and benefits. It should go without saying, then, that in a competitive marketplace, farmers should receive accurate, up-to-date information from researchers and other farmers at field days about the costs and benefits of neonics and other seed coatings related to both crop production and the environment, including pollinators. Yet, this isn’t happening with neonics or other seed coating ingredients today. We need credible, farmer-led field trials that compare different seed coatings and traits, and that information should be shared with other farmers. And those findings should be compared with the effectiveness and costs of other pest control approaches, such as integrated pest management (IPM), that have proven benefits and economic returns. Only with complete information and choice – about neonics and other crop management tools – can farmers make smart choices that allow them to produce crops and take care of pollinators and the environment.

You can read the full paper: Unknown Benefits, Hidden Costs: Neonicotinoid seed coatings, crop yields and pollinators.

- See more at: http://www.iatp.org/blog/201508/pollinators-and-the-rigged-neonic-seed-m...

Farmers are no different from any buyer – they want to know what they’re buying, how much it costs and its expected performance. But in the brave new world of agricultural seeds, where multiple traits and technology are stacked like Microsoft’s operating system, it’s becoming more and more difficult for farmers to separate out what is really needed and discover how much each piece is costing them.

In the case of neonicotinoid (neonic) seed coatings used as a pesticide, both the effectiveness and costs are somewhat of a mystery, according to a new paper published by IATP today.

Win some, lose some for Minnesota bees

on Tue, 08/11/2015 - 19:38

It’s been quite a roller coaster. After a series of gubernatorial vetoes and late-night negotiations, the Minnesota legislative session came to a close on June 13. This time around, our legislators passed a bundle of worrisome agricultural and environmental policy that had Minnesotans across the state voicing their concerns loud and clear.

Here at PAN, we focused on fighting for state policies to better protect honey bees and other pollinators from pesticides. How did things shake out on our issues? Well, there was some good, some hopeful and some ugly.

5 Things You Can Do to Help Bees this Pollinator Week

on Wed, 06/17/2015 - 23:51

June is full of meaningful occasions, like graduations and Father’s Day, but it also marks National Pollinator Week. It’s a time to bring awareness to the vital role bees, birds, butterflies and other pollinators play in creating a diverse, bountiful food system. In fact, honey bees pollinate one out of every three bites of food we eat — and they’re in serious trouble. This Pollinator Week, will you join in the fight to safeguard our valuable pollinators? Here are five simple ways you can get involved:

1- Know the issue

With so much conflicting information available online, it’s important to

EPA, bees need more

on Mon, 06/15/2015 - 17:59

Last month, on the heels of the rollout of the White House’s plan to protect honey bees and other pollinators, EPA announced its own piece of the plan: a new rule that would limit the use of some bee-harming pesticides when honey bee colonies are contracted for pollination.

EPA’s new rule has made headlines. After years of pressure from PAN and our partners for federal decisionmakers to take the bee crisis seriously, it’s good to see EPA acknowledge the pesticide problem. But EPA’s proposed new rule is remarkably short on meaningful action.

As part of EPA’s proposed new rule, the agency

Swing & a miss on bee-harming pesticides

on Mon, 06/15/2015 - 17:56

Once again, it looks like federal decisionmakers are sidestepping the issue of bee-harming pesticides. The Pollinator Health Task Force, launched almost a year ago by President Obama, released its strategy for addressing pollinator declines last week — without tackling the pesticide problem.

While the plan sets an ambitious goal for reining in honey bee losses, and calls for state plans to increase habitat for pollinators, it fails to directly address the impact of neonicotinoids and other insecticides, despite crystal clear science that these chemicals are impacting pollinators. 

The

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