Communication is the key to protecting Canada’s pollinator populations and agriculture’s image.
The public perception of agriculture as a bee-killing industry seems to persist, even as producers and agri-retailers have become more considerate of the impacts their operations have on pollinator health.
Many in the agriculture industry are taking steps to protect the bees. However, unless these efforts are communicated to sector stakeholders and members of the public, this negative reputation will not change.
“When we look at the host of issues facing agriculture, public perception is a significant one,” says Pierre Petelle, president of chemistry at CropLife Canada. “Because so few people are directly involved in agriculture, it’s easy for people to blame something they don’t know much about.”
Petelle believes that much of the public’s perception stems from the voices of certain activist groups and associations, and not necessarily science-based fact. Whether or not these messages accurately represent the current situation, they can have a deep impact when it comes to regulatory decisions.
“We’ve certainly seen in Ontario what activism and a political agenda can do,” he says. “Are we sure that can’t happen in other jurisdictions? No.”
Lloyd Holland, staff agronomist for Redfern Farm Services and a hobby beekeeper, is well aware of the delicate balance between pollinators and agricultural practices. “It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship between beekeepers and producers,” he says.
“Without pollination, it’s a dead topic. You’ve got to have pollinators. And pesticides are an absolutely necessary part of agriculture at this time. We’ve got pests, and we’ve got situations that need to be controlled. You cannot just simply ban it.”
Both Petelle and Holland believe that the most important factor in protecting both agriculture’s position, and the health of Canada’s pollinators, is communication. Open lines of discussion between pesticide applicators and beekeepers will help to keep more bees safe, and in a broader sense, serve to demonstrate to the public that producers are using responsible practices.
As an agronomist with an extensive understanding of pollinator behaviour, Holland is very involved in helping his customers protect local bees through careful planning and communication with local beekeepers.
“One can’t survive without the other,” he says. “The more in tune they are with each other, the more symbiotic the relationship, the better it will be for everybody – financially, sociologically and ecologically.”
Holland recommends proactive application planning to his customers, which can prevent not only pollinator loss, but wasted hours.
“The biggest key to this is communication. If growers and beekeepers can keep their lines of communication open, it increases the likelihood of success for everyone. If a producer can talk to his local beekeeper and say ‘I’m going to be doing applications in this area on this day’ then that honey producer can move his hives out of that area and not have to worry about those problems.”
“When we initiated conversations with beekeepers, one of the things they pointed out is that communication could be better between pesticide users and beekeepers,” he says.
“We delivered the BeeConnected app to respond to what beekeepers asked of us. But in the end, it’s really going to rely on the users out there to make that happen, and make that communication fruitful.”
Spread the Word
Just as important as the communication between ag workers and beekeepers, says Petelle, is the communication between the agriculture industry and concerned citizens.
“We have to continue to point out the facts and improve communication, while making sure that users of these products are using them in the safest and most appropriate way,” he says.
In order to promote agriculture’s good practices in working to protect pollinators, CropLife also collaborated with several other industry organizations to produce the Bees Matter website.
“We’re trying to get better, more accurate messaging out there,” says Petelle. “Bees Matter is an initiative that sets the record straight on a lot of the numbers surrounding beekeeping and honey production.”
With improved communication between producers, agri-retailers and beekeepers, Holland hopes that pollinators will be able to thrive and the public will take notice that agriculture is committed to this issue. In showing concern for the bees and dedication to best practices, Canadian agriculture can hopefully retain its ability to use pesticides in a safe and responsible manner.
“There’s a place and time for it, and just like anything else, it has to be used wisely and properly,” says Holland. “With those best practices, and the communication that can happen between the two groups, there’s no reason that they can’t coexist and have beneficial relationships.”
Get Connected to What Matters
Agri-retailers nationwide can use these tools to connect with local beekeepers, and spread the word about the ways agriculture is working to protect pollinator populations.
This free app allows producers and application contractors to be informed of, and connected with, beekeepers in their area. BeeConnected can be used to register the time and location of spraying, using Google Maps to select specific fields. Any registered activity within five kilometres of local beehives will result in a notification to both the producer or contractor, and the beekeepers. A secure messaging system allows the two parties to then exchange further details.
The BeeConnected website also provides best management practices for the foliar application of pesticides.
Visit the BeeConnected website at www.beeconnected.ca.
The Bees Matter website is a rich source of information for anyone interested in the relationship between bees and agriculture. Producers and agri-retailers can find talking points for communicating to family, friends and members of the public about agriculture’s dedication to protecting Canadian pollinators. Toolkits are also available for educating third and fourth grade students within various provincial curriculums.
Visit the Bees Matter website at www.beesmatter.ca.
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