“The labeling issue is the one that concerns me the most,” he says. “There is pressure by the beekeepers and other groups to have labels changed to say that if a product has any activity on bees, it must be applied at night.

“I told them, ‘We can’t do that,’ and their response was, ‘Yes, you can — they’re doing it in Yuma, Ariz. Beekeepers and producers there got together and agreed they needed to save the bees, so they all spray at night.’

“I told them they may be able to do that in the wide open spaces of Arizona, but it’s another story in the hills of Mississippi, Alabama, and other states where there are fields with 50-foot pine trees on the edges and power lines running through the middle of them. No pilot is going to fly those fields at night.

“When growers needed to spray for plant bugs, for example, they need to do it right now. They can’t get over all that acreage with ground equipment at night; they have to have airplanes to apply these products, and nighttime application just won’t work.

“But they’re pushing this with the EPA as hard as they can. It comes up in every discussion. It’s their main focus. They also want pesticide labels to say that if flowers with nectars are present, these products can’t be used.”

While it’s commendable, Parker says, that the Arizona groups got together to work out a solution, “One size doesn’t fit all. What works in Yuma won’t work in the hills of Mississippi, or even in the Mississippi Delta.

“We need for local producers, consultants, beekeepers, and others to sit down at the table and figure out what will work in their area.

There has also been pressure by the beekeepers, Parker says, for the EPA to take over enforcement of bee-related issues and take it away from the states. They have also asked the EPA to create a national site for reporting bee kills.

 At a meeting with a beekeeper organization, he says, “I told them we will not support the spraying at night concept, that we need residual materials, neonicotinoids, and systemic insecticides to control our pests, and that we need to all sit down at the table and work it out among ourselves.

“We’ve talked with soybean, corn, rice, potato, and other agriculture segments, as well as the American Farm Bureau Federation, to develop a concept for addressing this issue.

“Basically, we want to find beekeepers and producers who are working together in various areas of the country to identify management practices on both sides that will insure that we protect these pollinators.

“Then, let’s use those findings to develop risk mitigation/management practices on a localized level. After we get those worked out, then turn them over to Extension and let them develop educational materials and programs for dissemination to those on both sides.”

The EPA “liked the general concept,” Parker says, “because it would include mitigation procedures that could be useful. I think this is the biggest breakthrough we’ve had in a while.

“There are huge differences in the pest complex across the cotton belt, and major differences in production practices. We believe pesticides are being overly emphasized relative to other factors related to bee decline. We encourage field-based science for risk assessment, and we encourage local best management practices to be identified by local interest groups who recognize that our crops need protecting.

“We’re still working on this, and we’ll be reaching out to producers, consultants, and others for input.”