Tom's Corner

Tom Theobald’s tips for raising mason bees.

Listen to Tom Theobald’s interview, Tips for Raising Mason Bees, on The Organic View with June Stoyer.

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Loss of our common asset – a healthy environment

While this The Hill article  is nearly 3 years old, Pesticide seed coatings: No good for farmers and bees, it surfaced again recently and is even more pertinent today.

In part, it is a strong critique of the Obama task force on pollinator losses. The task force sounded like a good idea at first, and it was, but it was derailed either intentionally or through naivete by putting the EPA and the USDA in charge. This is like putting burglars in charge of a task force investigating home break-ins. The task force report almost completely ignored the major player in the monumental bee losses – the neonicotinoid family of pesticides. Why is this? My view is that it was these two agencies that were instrumental in the decisions which led to what may be the most massive poisoning of the environment in the history of humanity, and they want to be darn sure you don’t find  that out.

Seed treatment is another topic. Ninety percent of neonic use is as seed treatments, and of that 90% only about 5% actually goes into the plant, the rest goes into the soil and groundwater where it poisons the environment widely and for years. Yet seed treatment goes unrecorded and unregulated because the EPA does not consider it “a pesticide use”, excluding it under the ruse of The Treated Articles Exemption.

The reason farmers must use these products and pay a premium price is because the chemical companies have monopolized the seed business.  The farmers buy whatever the corporations choose to sell them, whether they need the neonics or not, and in most cases they don’t  This is marketing, not agronomy.  The neonicotinoids are billion dollar products for the chemical companies because the billions of dollars in environmental damage they cause go unaccounted for – you and I pat that price in the loss of our common asset, a healthy environment.  


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We don’t have regulators, we have enablers

Here is an article about a new study conducted by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides and covered by Canada’s Globe and Mail that calls into question the effectiveness of neonicotinoid pesticides: Study disputes popular pesticides’ effectiveness.  

The new paper, which reviewed more than 200 studies on the topic, found use of the pesticides had little effect on crop yields because, in most cases, the threat to crops from wire worms and other pests was not high enough to justify the expense. Further, the pests quickly developed resistance to the chemicals.

“It doesn’t work now; this is a very important point,” Dr. Bonmatin said by phone from Paris. “The more you use insecticides, the more the pests become resistant.”

Researchers found other methods of pest control are more effective and less harmful to the environment. In addition to crop rotation, these methods include planting pest-resistant crops and the purchase of insurance, which is less expensive than pesticides.

In the United States at least, studies like this one are unlikely to have any effect at all because we don’t have regulators, we have enablers. 

The EPA is merely an extension of the pesticide industry and what we are subjected to is marketing, not agronomy.  Even if individual farmers choose to forgo neonics and fipronil they would be unable to find untreated seed because the chemical industry has created an unchallenged monopoly in the seed business.

This is the corporate state at work and until that stranglehold is broken, nothing will change.

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Neonics pervasive in the Great Lakes tributaries

Here is an article about the most recent paper on widespread environmental contamination with neonicotinoids, Controversial insecticides pervasive in Great Lakes tributaries.  This is by the US Geologic Survey, which has been taking a lead in these assessments for the past several years, unlike the EPA and USDA which seem to avoid any assessments and are strangely silent.  Also, check out this audio piece, Insecticides showing up in Great Lakes rivers, on Ann Arbor’s NPR station, Michigan Radio.

Click image to read full article at Environmental Health News



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Graham White’s interview in Acres U.S.A.

Graham White who keeps bees in Scotland, click the image to read White’s interview in Acres U.S.A. magazine.

I think most of you new beekeepers, and probably many of the older ones as well, have been drawn to bees not only for the fascinating window into the natural world they offer, but because you are aware of the challenges the bees face and you want to help. Help meant getting a colony or two of bees, maybe more. Along with those came a commitment to their management, watching out for their welfare, protecting them from danger. Frequently this required some heavy lifting in the hot sun, but we’ve all done it, maybe grumbled a bit, but we’ve done it, because it was necessary.

What I’m attaching is some heavy lifting of another kind, the kind you do with your brain.  This is an exceptionally candid interview with Graham White, environmental educator and small scale beekeeper from Scotland. This interview will undoubtedly ruffle some feathers, but in my view, almost without exception these are feathers that should have been ruffled long ago. I believe Graham has done this not so much to criticize as to exhort us all to do better, his intentions are positive, not negative. We all need to listen closely to what he says here. smooth out our feathers and give some thought to what we can do better.

In the spirit of full discloser let me say that Graham and I have developed a warm friendship over the years as we’ve fought these pesticide battles together, at great distance by way of Skype. He has as much insight into and understanding of the neonic problems we face as anyone I know and over the years we have been in agreement far more often than not. The Acres article is the result of several hours of interviewing and by necessity many of the points had to be truncated for space. Despite this, everything Graham has to say merits your slow, thoughtful attention.

At least some beekeepers have to do the heavy lifting or it will only get much worse. Last winter, as near as we can estimate, Boulder County hobbyists lost about 80 percent of their colonies. How much worse should we let it get?

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