Corn and soybeans dominate agriculture in Minnesota, as in much of the Midwest. The endless fields don’t need bees to pollinate the crops, but that hasn’t stopped the plants from hurting the state’s honeybee population. Like California, Minnesota—one of the country’s leading honey-producing states—is coping with massive annual bee die-offs, and many are blaming the neonicotinoid pesticides that nearly all corn and soybean seeds are treated with.
Shorewood, a town just west of Minneapolis, is following in the footsteps of some cities in the Pacific Northwest by taking steps to ban neonic pesticide use and encourage landscaping with bee-friendly plants. The town does not use the pesticides on city property, but creating a “bee-safe” space in a big ag state is not a small thing, as a recent story from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune illustrates.
In the first installment of a four-part series called “Bees on the Brink,” reporter Josephine Marcotty tells the story of two Minnesota beekeepers who have suffered large losses. Outside Barrett, Minn., just 160 miles from Shorewood, Steve Ellis and Jeff Anderson can’t avoid the pesticides.
May, Marcotty writes, is when farmers around Barrett begin to plan their fields. May is also when Ellis’ bees “work the blooming willow trees, shrubs, and other flowers around the gravel pit” where he keeps his hives, “collecting pollen and nectar as they play their part in the seasonal reproduction of plants.”
“And when wind blows the fine powders from corn seeds over the blooming plants around his yard,” Marcotty writes, “many of the bees that return to the hive come back and die.” Anderson calls Midwestern farmland the “killing yards.”
In a presentation before the city council last February, Patricia Hauser, a Shorewood resident who helped bring about the “bee-safe” resolution, warned of what life would be like without bees. She explained that pesticide use and mismanagement had led to a near complete loss of bees in a province in China. “They are pollinating by hand right now” in the area’s orchards, she said. “What kind of job is trying to pollinate all of the pear trees in the area?”
In addition to ensuring that neonics won’t be used on public property, the resolution promises to “turn public spaces into bee-safe areas” through the planting of clover and native plant species, such as bee balm and goldenrod, to provide more nontoxic forage for honeybees and other pollinators.