Protecting Our Pollinators
One in three bites of food we eat relies on pollinators, like honey bees, native bees, monarchs and other insects, and birds. Pollinators are responsible for the reproduction of 90% of all flowering plants.
In Minnesota, and across the nation, our pollinators are in decline. During 2014-2015 alone, Minnesota beekeepers lost more than 50% of their colonies,1 and Minnesota’s 400 native bee species may be similarly threatened including the Rusty Patched bumble bee, Bombus affinis.
Multiple factors are contributing to pollinator losses:
Pesticides: Many pesticides are toxic to pollinators, and neonicotinoid insecticides (or neonics) are known to be a driving factor of pollinator decline. At high doses, neonics can kill bees, butterflies, and songbirds outright. At lower doses, neonics damage pollinators’ navigation, reproduction, communication, and immune systems.2
Habitat loss: Pollinators need flowering plants throughout the growing season. Native bees and butterflies require safe places to nest. Decreased plant diversity in rural and urban areas, fragmentation and destruction of native habitat, encroachment of invasive plants, and increased use of herbicide-resistant crops have reduced the amount of high-quality habitat
that pollinators need to survive.3
Diseases and parasites: Pollinators become more vulnerable to parasites and diseases when subjected to stressors like pesticide exposure and poor nutrition.4
In August 2016, Governor Dayton released an Executive Order with a comprehensive plan to protect pollinators. This was issued at the same time as the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) “Review of Neonicotinoid Use, Registration, and Insect Pollinator Impacts in Minnesota.” If implemented well, the new rules would make Minnesota a national leader in protecting pollinators.
However, the Executive Order and the MDA’s proposed steps need additional legislative action to fully address the problem. Unfortunately, while neonics are primarily used as coatings on seeds for crops like corn and soybeans, the MDA does not have the authority to regulate the sale and use of pesticide treated seeds. That means that the most significant use of these bee-harming pesticides is not monitored or regulated by the MDA — including almost all corn seed and 20% of soybean seed. This loophole is a major contributor to pollinator decline.
Minnesota has the opportunity to be a national leader in protecting our pollinators and their contributions to our food system. We need to close the loophole that allows seed coatings, such as neonics, to be exempt from pesticide rules. We will seek to:
- Tackle the problem of neonicotinoid-treated seeds in Minnesota by:
- • authorizing Minnesota regulatory agencies to track and regulate pesticide seed treatments just as they regulate other pesticide applications
- • increasing funding for research and outreach on the efficacy of neonicotinoid seed treatments
- • setting state targets for reducing use of neonicotinoid seed coatings
- Fund ongoing pollinator conservation activities by assessing a fee
on sales of pesticides known to harm pollinators.