WINCHESTER -- Last month a report surfaced of neonicotinoid pesticides, causing the deaths of millions of honeybees in Grey County. It has the honey industry talking and asking questions about whether the pesticides used to coat corn seed could be to blame once the chemicals get into the pollen.
Alvin Runnalls is a hobby beekeeper just outside of Winchester. He has been doing it for more than 35 years. Runnalls has heard the stories but isn't sure to what extent the relationship is between neonicotinoids and honey bees. "I am not really sure at this point. I suspect there is some truth to it. I have read studies that say yes neonicotinoids are to blame and others no. But there could be other causes for some producers to lose their colony."
What makes Runnalls an interesting case is that not only is he a beekeeper, but he also has cash crops. He has 75 acres of corn and another 65 of soy. His five hives, roughly 400,000 bees, are completely surrounded by corn. "The bees aren't too well this year, but I don't know if it is because of the neonicotinoids. It could be in part to the things such as mites or even just the general way they are kept here."
Runnalls saw his production drop last year down to just 100lbs of honey, from 700lbs the year before. He is however, expecting a bit of an increase this year.
With his cash crops, Runnalls says that he does spray herbicides early in the season, but that it happens before the bees are active so it shouldn't be a cause to why they have seemed different. "It is puzzling I can't make the connection. They are not flying around the flowers as much."
While Runnalls is not ready to make the connection, other places have. The pesticides were given a two-year ban in Europe and in the United States, Oregon implemented a ban just this past July while a report by the Environmental Protection Agency on their affect is finalized.
Similarly, as a producer, that is what Runnalls would like to see more of. "I'd like to see more research and studies done. I'd hate to have people jump to a conclusion based on a few studies."
While experts seem to think that there is a connection, Runnalls says from what he has seen, in his area that is surrounded by corn, other producers are doing just fine.
Runnalls is a member of the Ontario Beekeepers' Association. They recently released their position on the use of the pesticides.
Their statement said that research with studies done in Quebec and Europe confirm the pesticides, are the cause of acute bee poisoning. What they recommended was that regulations reassess bee safety of all neonicotinoid pesticide products and restrict the use until more is known about how they affect honey bees and their potential risks. They also recommended beekeepers be reimbursed by government for losses to crops bees and equipment for 2012 and moving forward; and that independent research be taken to determine long term affects.
So much like Runnalls, the OBA believes there is a connection but wants to fully understand what and how it is created.
The OBA later stated that they have the objective to have these pesticides removed and replaced with ones that will not harm bees and have the cases of poisonings be further investigated by government specialists.
While Runnalls accepts the opinions of the industry it is hard for him to not be skeptical about what he reads. The fact that his field is so close to his hives and that he has not seen massive deaths, like others in the industry are reporting, keep him skeptical. Still, as more research is done, more light will be shown on this issue and determine exactly what effect neonicotinoids have on bees and why they seem to be affecting some colonies more than others.