Purdue expert warns of potential bee kills

By Samantha Thieke

 CO., Ind. (WLFI) – They’re the buzzing, honey making insects insects with a painful sting, but about one-third of our diet is dependent on them for pollination.

Now, the lives of bees in Tippecanoe County are being threatened.

“A thousand dead bees in front of a hive, right after somebody planted corn three-tenths of a mile away,” said Purdue entomologist Greg Hunt.

It’s called neonicotinoid. Hunt said farmers are planting corn seeds treated with this pesticide, but he said it’s the process used to lubricate the seeds for easier planting that makes them a danger to bees.

“The grower needs to put talc in the hopper to make the seeds flow well, but then some of the pesticide get’s mixed in with the talc,” said Hunt.

Hunt said the contaminated talc from the seeds drifts from the fields onto other plants. Making something as small as a dandelion, toxic for bees.

“It only takes a tiny bit. I calculated that 150 acres of corn seed has enough neonicotinoid to kill every bee hive in the county,” said Hunt.

The leads to the question — Are treated seeds a must for farmers?

Purdue University professor of Field Crop Entomology Christian Krupke said his studies have not been able to show any increase in corn yields with treated seeds compared to untreated.

“That doesn’t mean they never work. It also doesn’t mean that we need to put them everywhere. Because in the areas where we put untreated seeds, those seeds do as well as the treated ones,” said Krupke.

Krupke has been researching lubricants that have less of a tendency to drift, but said the best way to avoid it is to use untreated seeds.

“Are there alternative lubricants that can be less and move less? There are some out there, but there’s no way to get that exposure risk down to zero,” said Krupke.

Hunt said the drifting pesticides only stay a problem until the first rainfall after the treated seeds are planted, and asks that bee keepers who notice dead bees notify the Office of Indiana State Chemist.