Sponsored by Disaster In The Making by Dr Henk Tennekes
In this special series called “The Neonicotinoid View”, host, June Stoyer and special guest co-host, Tom Theobald talk to commercial beekeeper, Steve Ellis about an unusual bee mortality event due to corn planting. Steve Ellis owns the Old Mill Honey Company which operates roughly 2,300 hives of bees in Minnesota for honey production and pollination for crops in California. Steve is the secretary of the National Honeybee Advisory Board (NHAB) and has been involved in pesticide issues for the past 15 years.
June Stoyer: Steve, please begin by telling our audience about yourself and your experience as a commercial beekeeper.
Steve Ellis: I have been a commercial beekeeper for the last 32 years. I operate a commercial bee operation that’s migratory between Minnesota and California I call Old Mill Honey Company.
Tom Theobald: What do you think the economic impact is going to be for an operation of your size?
Steve Ellis: I do describe this as an extreme depopulation event. BayerCropLife was out, did a thorough report and investigation of my incident last year. Their conclusion was that (in their report) which they provided me and is public, that the bees had an exposure. The lab results coming back with a chemical detection was indicative and confirmatory of an exposure event to this chemical. Then, they didn’t go as far as to say what effects that exposure event might have on bees.
June Stoyer: What sources of water are available for your hives in this particular location?
Steve Ellis: Water is a question and also another potential contaminant route for Clothianidin. The state came out and took some samples of surface water. What bees are using for water is surface water. Surface water and low kind of kind of sloughy areas where there is roots and moss and things where they can land upon. Bees don’t like to gather water from a big deep water sources because they are really good fliers but they are just terrible swimmers. If they get into water and deep water, they drown pretty easily. They want to go to a wet, spongy kind of source that they can land, stay dry, suck the water up and fly away. So, here I have those kinds of sources that are low, spongy areas. That is where they go. There are a number of identified spots I showed the investigators to take water samples. That is a particular mechanism that this chemical could be getting into the water that they are feeding on and bringing back to the hive as well.
June Stoyer: Tom, could you please recap for our audience exactly what the sub-lethal effects of neonicotinoids are?
Tom Theobald: Just recently we have seen a report that was issued by the EPA and USDA where they essentially put pesticides at the bottom of the list. They said there were many factors associated with the problems we are seeing with the bees but if you look at the science with an open mind, what the science shows us is that these systemic pesticides have a variety of modes of action from very subtle to very dramatic. What we are talking about today is one of the more dramatic, more immediate affects.
Effectively, these systemic pesticides open the synapses. They open the neural connection and the bee is essentially just firing to death -its nervous system has gone crazy. These are neurological toxins. There are many other ways that they can have an effect on a colony of bees that may not show up for weeks. They can interfere with their homing ability, with their memory, with their navigation ability, with their grooming ability. Grooming is very important in a social community like the bees. That’s how the pheromones; the scents are transferred within the colony. The work of Dr. Henk Tennekes in Holland has shown us that the effect on the synapses is cumulative and irreversible. The conclusion from that is that there is no safe dose and in fact, if death is the end point, it takes thousands of times less of this product to produce that same effect if it is administered in tiny amounts over time, which appears to be what’s happening in the environment.
Listen To The Entire Interview:
Read Steve Ellis’s Incident Report Submitted to EPA:
Bee Kill incident in stockpile location Elbow Lake, MN –May 7, 2013 (Official Incident Report to US EPA)
Old Mill Honey Company operates roughly 2,300 hives of bees in Minnesota; during the summer months we operate principally for honey production, and in California during the winter principally for overwintering and paid almond pollination. April is a very busy month for us as the bees are transported from California to Minnesota.
The beehives are located on an approximately 60 acre piece of property owned by a gravel company, currently not in active use. Bees were observed dead in front of the hives, as well as crawling on the ground unable to fly, some exhibited trembling and twitching on their backs unable to right themselves. We observed a farmer out planting corn in the field adjacent to the beeyard (east) wind was blowing from the east SE.
As soon as I realized that this was a pesticide poisoning, I called John Peckham at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) to report a bee kill and request a pesticide inspection to determine the responsible chemical. At 4:00 pm Tuesday May 7th I left a voice mail for him to contact me regarding a bee kill incident. I also called EPA incident officer Bob Miller, and BCS David Fischer.
View Footage From Steve’s Hives
Thursday May 8th, the MDA sent out a field inspector, Mike Fick to sample for pesticide poisoning. I met Mike at 11:00 am and led him to the bee location 4 miles east of Elbow Lake Minnesota. A MDA case file was established: MWF148000103
Mike sampled willow flower blossoms, because these weeds are heavily flowering at the borders of the corn fields. Bees had been gathering nectar and pollen primarily from this one source. Stunned or immobilized bees were observed in large numbers on the willow flowers, and they were brushed off to obtain blossom samples.
While gathering the dead and dying bees on Wednesday with Mike, we observed many healthy bees attempting to fly off with dead or dying bees in an attempt to get them further away from the hives. Two dead queen bees were found and placed with the other dead bees in the sample. Dead and dying bees were observed at distances of several hundred yards away from the hives, indicating that many had flown off to die. Bees immobilized or stunned looking were stuck to the flowers unable to fly, moving very slowly. He asked if they were chilled, not at this temperature (68 F) I replied.
David Fischer of BCS called on Thursday to follow up on this incident, and wanted to arrange for a site visit by himself and a bee expert. I indicated that I would be receptive as long as they would share any findings of theirs with me. He tentatively set up Monday, May 13 for that inspection. He suggested that his field rep Mark Wrucke, could come out and gathered samples on Thursday, May 9th. Mark and I gathered samples of dead bees and spastic twitching bees from each of the 3 major groupings. Mark also gathered up samples of willow buds as well as immobilized bees on the willow blossoms. He dug up a seed and by the color identified it as a DeKalb variety.
There were 1,312 hives of honey bees present in the holding yard on May 7, 2013. The replacement value of these bees at this time of year 9 if you could get them at all) would be $155 min. per hive or $203,360. Strength and long term viability of the hives is in question both for the upcoming honey production season as well as next season’s pollination contracts. Strength and viability are critical factors for both endeavors. All of the hives exhibited unusual mortality symptoms described above.
Old Mill Honey Co.