Minnesota takes steps to address loss of crucial bee populations

Bees are in trouble. The major pollinator of our fruit, vegetable and nut crops, they are also responsible for such agricultural staples as alfalfa, canola and sunflower. What role can states and provinces play in helping save the population of their — and the continent’s and the world’s — pollinators?
The region’s legislators explored this question in July during a session of the Midwestern Legislative Conference Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee meeting, and learned how one state, Minnesota, already took significant steps in 2014.

In Europe, much of the blame for the loss of bee populations has been placed on neonicotinoids, the world’s most widely used pesticide. The European Commission has instituted a two-year restriction on the use of three pesticides belonging to the neonicotinoid family, all of which are used in the treatment of plants and cereals that attract bees. Some U.S. towns and states, meanwhile, have proposed outright bans.
But Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota told legislators that the “issue and solution is a lot more complex.” All bee populations, she noted, are threatened by a variety of viruses and pests, but of prime concern is the loss of these pollinators’ only food source — flowers.
“Bees get all their nutrition from flowers, and a decline in diversity and an increase in chemical inputs in both agricultural and urban landscapes means there are not enough flowers to support their nutritional needs,” said Spivak, the university’s Distinguished McKnight Professor of Apiculture.
For example, fungicides used to keep lawns “weed free” have not only reduced the prevalence of wildflowers that bees depend on, but can also have ingredients that may be more toxic to bees than insecticides.
This year in Minnesota, legislators passed HB 2798 (the “pollinator truth-in-advertising bill”), which forbids nurseries from advertising plants as bee-friendly if a systemic insecticide has been used on them. A separate measure, HB 1926, requires prairie-restoration projects using money from the state’s Outdoor Heritage Fund to include a diversity of native flowering species.
The Legislature also allocated $8.7 million for a new bee research facility. Beekeepers, too, will receive financial compensation for bees killed by pesticides; money will come from a pesticide regulatory account.