Is Corn Planting To Blame For Unusual Bee Losses?

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.

Dead bees from neonicotinoid treated corn.

Dead bees found after corn planting in neighboring field.

Interview Highlights:

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.

Old Mill Honey Company hives

Old Mill Honey Company operates roughly 2,300 hives of bees in Minnesota.

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.

A bee drinking water.

A bee drinking water. Photo:

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.

Steve Ellis
Old Mill Honey Co.

16 thoughts on “Is Corn Planting To Blame For Unusual Bee Losses?

  1. So, if this stuff is in the corn, we are eating it too! Where is the health impact study for human exposure to the systemic pesticides?

  2. Let’s face it. The USA has become one gigantic toxic waste dump. Thanks, Bayer! I guess it is cheaper than making concentration camps and gassing us outright like in Auschwitz.

    • Your comment was a bit harsh, David. We do need chemicals to be able to produce the large volume crops needed to feed a growing population. What other solution do you have?

      • Read the science or is it that you are on Bayer’s payroll to troll websites and defend them? Farmers have successfully grown food without chemicals for years. We do not need neonicotinoids. Organic agriculture is very successful AND very profitable.

      • Loretta,
        Can you provide links to independently-funded, peer-reviewed studies providing data that toxic chemicals are necessary for food production?

      • How can anyone say we need pesticides & gmo’s to feed the world when 40% of all food produced in the US alone is already wasted. The equivalent of $165 BILLION each year in food is thrown out by Americans which costs an additional $750 million just for disposal.
        Uneaten food rotting in landfills accounts for almost 15 percent of U.S. methane emissions. Methane is twenty one times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.
        Food waste squanders water, depletes soil, wastes fossil fuels, and adds greatly to the world’s carbon footprint. 25% of all fresh water consumed in the U.S. is used to produce food that is ultimately wasted and 300 million barrels of oil are used each year to do the same. Most of this food is produced using toxic chemicals and gmo seed.
        When people could eat proper nutricious food grown on healthy organic soil, probably half the quantity of what people now need to eat would already be sufficient.

  3. What is the EPA waiting for in order to ban these chemicals? Would they like an invitation? Well, here is the invitation, EPA. Ban these $%$%$ chemicals already! Do your job!

  4. Apparently, this is not the first incident but it is the first time people are hearing about it. It makes me wonder just how long this has been going on.

  5. They approved the ban in the EU and they should push for a ban here. Clearly the EPA has its head in the sand. This is horrific to watch. The video was very compelling and if anything, shows exactly what our honey bees are being subjected to. Shame on Bayer!

    • If they won’t label gmo foods in America, do you really think they are going to ban neonicotinoids, Burts? Einstein predicted this would happen. We are screwed!

  6. Great interview, June and Tom! I’ve been following the show since you started last year. I hope they pass a ban here in the states soon!

  7. It makes you wonder why we see so many commercials for Bayer products but never once hear the word neonicotinoid on tv. Can you say owned?

  8. The effects of these chemicals on all flora & fauna is negative & now we have to worry about genetically engendered food & animals. Stop f$&@ing with Mother Nature or we will extinguish ourselves after destroying the planet that sustains us.

  9. I see bees on the soil all over the place, moist soil that is, especially in spring. I think they’re collecting minerals and nutrients along with water. I see them on the soil especially after a series of days of rain, too. I can imagine the dust from corn seeds could be on the ground, or the neonicitinoides are persisting in the soil and that’s how the bees are picking it up!

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