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Making bees & corn work together

What's good for one crop isn't always the best for another. And now, a new research projects seeks to find ways to make production practices for 2 common denizens throughout the nation's center.

Feral honeybees have been on the decline, population-wise, for the last few years. Though the culprits of the downturn are many and varied, a new study's looking into the link between a common element of today's corn production and how it may be eased in different ways to cut back any potential negative effects on bee populations. And now, agribusiness is getting in the mix.

The Pollinator Partnership is launching the Corn Dust Research Consortium, a combination of ag industry members from crop protection companies to government and conservation organizations to identify how dust from a corn planter -- which today comprises more than just dust -- can effect bees, whether airborne or once it's deposited on nearby plants.

“It is truly rare to see this kind of large-scale collaboration between disparate stakeholders – each of whom shares equally in the supervision of the project,” says Pollinator Partnership Executive Director Laurie Davies Adams. “Public-private partnerships that seek practical solutions for cooperative conservation and commerce represent an improved model.  Industry participants are to be commended for providing major funding while sharing responsibility and authority with all CDRC partners.”

The first phase of the project is to get an idea of how common seed lubricants and treatments are dispersed in dust behind a corn planter, then how it's taken up by bees whether in the air or once it's settled on plants. This is something of growing interest considering recent changes in crop production systems.

"Greater potential for exposure of bees seems likely from dust particles deposited on flowers that may be present along the perimeter of fields or even within the fields themselves in some cases (e.g., no-till fields containing flowering weeds or a cover crop)," according to a Pollinator Partnership report.

The next step in the initiative is to evaluate how modern seed lubricant products, like those under development by Bayer CropScience, a partner in the project, can trim back on the amount of chemical residue that can potentially be ingested by bees. Here, farmers will take part in the process.

"Each cooperating grower would plant two fields with the same planter, seed type and seed treatment. On one field the standard lubricant (talc or graphite) for the planter type would be used, while the new BCS lubricant product would be used on the other field," according to Pollinator Partnership. "Collected samples will be analyzed to determine the amount of active ingredient deposited on sampling devices per unit area."

The project will begin in the Midwest, ultimately stretching into the corn-growing areas of Canada, project leaders say.

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