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May 2014

Interview with Dr. Julian Little

BUZZING ABOUT BEES

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In Central Europe, 80 percent of flowers are pollinated by insects, mostly by bees. Take a look at oilseed rape for example. Oilseed rape harvests could be reduced by up to 30 percent without the help of bees for pollination. That is why the protection of these little helpers has been one of the foremost objectives of Bayer and its product stewardship efforts for the past 25 years. Bayer SeedGrowth Magazine talked to Dr. Julian Little, spokesman for Bayer's Bee Care program.

Dr. Julian Little

What are the main objectives of Bayer’s Bee Care program?

Dr. Julian Little: “ Bayer has been a bee health company for nearly thirty years and continues to research the whole area of promoting bee welfare and the stewardship of its product portfolio. So we have a great story to tell. The Bee Care program was initiated to coordinate our activities, and communicate them, both to our employees around the world, but also to external stakeholders – farmers and growers, beekeepers and researchers, politicians, regulators and environmental groups, as well as teachers and children.”

Why are stewardship measures so important for pollinator safety?

Bayer CropScience is famous for its high quality products which can really help a farmer and grower to produce an abundance of high-quality, affordable food. Used inappropriately or unwisely, insecticides can affect pollinators – after all, the majority of them are insects. So it is really important that we also help to ensure that the users of our products minimize the effects of them on the environment – and to be honest, invariably, the products actually work better when being used in the best and most sensitive manner.

Although the global number of managed honey bee colonies has increased by nearly 45 percent over the last half century, sudden declines in Europe and North America have sparked concern. Which stressors affect bee health?

“These sudden declines have been due to a number of factors including parasites, diseases, extreme climatic and environmental factors and also certain agricultural and apicultural practices. Still, one of the biggest threats currently faced by honey bee colonies is the Varroa mite.”

Why is the Varroa mite so dangerous?

“If you were a bee, then this parasite would be the size of a rabbit, feeding off your blood. The Varroa mite also transmits the so-called deformed wing virus (DWV) that leads to the death of many young bees. If you control Varroa, you tend to have healthy bees.” You can imagine how complicated it is to control a tiny insect on the back of another insect, but we can do it, and we will. There’s a real need for innovation here, and that is exactly what Bayer is good at.”

Neonicotinoid insecticides are often the focus of media attention as the cause of chronic honey bee colony losses. For good reason?

“No, ask any beekeeper and he will tell you about the problems with the weather and especially the control of Varroa. Sadly, the neonicotinoid story has been a major distraction for politicians and researchers, who could have been better focused on dealing with the real issues: varroa and bee diseases. That said, it is important to continue with the great training and service that we provide, to make sure our products are employed in the best way possible. Used responsibly and properly, according to the label instructions, bees should be unaffected by them.”

Welcome to the Bee Care Center

As important pollinators, bees play a crucial role in global agriculture and, by extension, in the seed-treatment business. Visitors to Bayer's campus in Monheim, Germany, immediately notice the colorful swaths of flowers surrounding the Bee Care Center. Used for demonstrating what can be done to improve the lot of these critical contributors to the ecosystem, they are literally buzzing with insects during the summer. In addition to providing nutrition, flower strips of this kind can be important nesting and refuge sites, helped with the provision of bee hotels. Honey bees have their hives, of course, but these habitats are critical for bumble bees and solitary bees. Monheim and a new Bee Care Center in the U.S. state of North Carolina have dedicated full-time teams of specialists, including experienced beekeepers. They both provide an environment for meetings and workshops, bringing together farmers, research institutions, educational professionals, and anyone concerned with the health and welfare of bees.
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