Florida Citrus Growers And Beekeepers Worried About Crop Bacteria

Florida beekeepers and citrus growers are at odds over the use of chemical pesticides. The increased usage of weed killers and growing aid may be contributing to the millions of bees deaths (colony collapse disorder) each year. While citrus growers feel they need to pesticides to fight “citrus greening” a fatal crop bacteria, the death of honeybees will lead the extinction of all mankind. The greening issue has spread across Florida consistently since it first appeared – prompting more and more chemical pesticide spraying – and dead bees. In recent years, citrus growers enhanced spraying from two to four times a year before greening season to as much as monthly in 2013. The Asian citrus psyllid may be developing a resistance to the pesticides just like weeds have in western and northern farms. The citrus bloom period typically happens in March and April, but can run weeks longer dependent upon weather conditions.

During the citrus bloom season beekeepers frequently put hives either near or in citrus groves so that the pollinators can make citrus-flavored honey. The uniquely Florida flavor of honey is one of the most popular varieties sold on the market. The nearness of the bee hives during the pesticide spraying put them right on the front line. The Asian citrus psyllids are particularly enticed by new blooms and so is the honeybee.

Biological methods have not been effective against the greening bacteria caused by the Asian citrus psyllid – the insect that plays host to the wicked bacteria. The heated tensions between citrus growers and beekeepers began in 2005 when the greening bacteria infected approximately 75 percent of the crop producing trees in the state. Neonicotinoids have been frequently blamed for mass deaths of bees. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready is one of the most popular chemical insecticides on the market, and contains the possibly deadly-to-bees ingredient. Neonicotinoids reportedly attach to the plants vascular system and are then “expressed” in contaminated nectar and pollen. The neonicotinoid Clothianidin can remain in the soil for nearly two decades, according to a recent environmental study.

Citrus growing is the largest agricultural commodity in the Sunshine State, beekeepers make up just a small portion of the same industry in the Sunshine State. One of the major Florida citrus growers was recently fined for killing millions of honeybees after illegally spraying pesticides. Florida Agriculture Commission and fellow citrus grower Adam Putnam is hopeful that both groups can work together with scientists and come up with a solution to the citrus greening and bee danger problem. He addressed the issue to a packed room during a recent meeting of the Citrus Research and Education Center meeting in Lake Alfred.

Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service Chief Executive Andy Rackley had this to say about the citrus growers vs. Florida beekeepers problem:

“Inevitably, political science gets involved in this. It’s not in our interests to let this become a political issue. The eyes of regulatory agencies on a national basis are watching us. It’s going to require some sacrifices. The two industries absolutely depend on one another. Rest assured this is a high priority for us. We can work this through.”

The agency Rackley represents is the organization which levied the $1,500 fine against Frostproof’s Ben Hill Griffin Incorporated for the illegal pesticide spraying. The agriculture report states that Montana 2F was applied to the roots of young citrus trees in a 50-acre grove. The active ingredient in the chemical pesticide is imidacloprid – a neonicotinoid. Opponents to the use of chemical pesticides were quick to point out that the fine was incredibly less than the $10,000 per incident maximum. Beekeepers impacted by the illegal spraying reportedly lost $240,000 in revenue, and the world lost about one million more bees – which we could not spare. Colony collapse disorder has plagued the honeybee population worldwide for at least the last eight years.

In the past Florida citrus growers used primarily biological controls to keep crops healthy. Insects which are natural predators to harmful pests which like to dine on growing fruit were most often the go-to method for the industry. But that all changed when citrus greening became a major problem, costing growers hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

Beekeepers reportedly enter into a contractual agreement with citrus growers to release honeybees in their groves for pollination purposes. Many beekeepers are naturally worried that continuing the long-standing and mutually beneficial practice will further put their hives at risk.

Professor Albrigo had this to say about the uses of honeybees in the state:

“Bees are important to cultivate all varieties. There needs to be more focus between beekeepers and citrus growers during the flowering period. It needs to be more managed.”

The Florida Agriculture Department is going high-tech to help save the bees and citrus commodities. A new computer application focused on keeping both beekeepers and growers in the know about hive locations and pesticide spraying in in the works. In the past, some beekeepers have bristled at the idea of sharing specific hive locations with competitors. The lasting impact the residue from chemical pesticides have on the environment and concerns about contamination of pollen and nectar have many consumers concerned.

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