Cooperation between Mississippi beekeepers and farmers has been an important factor in obtaining Section 18 approval for sulfloxaflor (Transform), a key pesticide for cotton and grain sorghum.ANGUS CATCHOT
The EPA approval was “really good news,” says Angus Catchot, coming on the heels of a California Ninth Circuit Court decision last year that resulted in the EPA cancelling sufloxaflor registrations in all crops as a result of allegations by the Pollinator Stewardship Council and other non-governmental organizations that there was not sufficient research on its potential impact on pollinators to support registration of the compound.
However, Catchot, who is a Mississippi State University Extension professor of entomology, said at the annual joint meeting of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation and the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Cotton Policy Committee that the EPA cancellation applied only to Section 3 labels for sulfloxaflor, not Section 18.
“So, all Mid-South states wrote Section 18 applications for use of sulfloxaflor in cotton and grain sorghum. We received the Section 18 for cotton, exactly as we had requested: up to four applications of 1.5 to 2.25 ounces. In the same process, we also qualified for a fast track Section 18 next year, which we hope will make things easier.”
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The March 31 USDA report showed Mississippi with 50,000 acres of grain sorghum this year, but Catchot says, “I don’t think we’re even remotely close to that number. We were granted a Section 18 for sulfloxaflor in that crop, but with some restrictions. In the past, we could make three applications, but this year we can make only two applications, with a season maximum of 3 ounces. Also, the EPA said no applications are permitted from three days before bloom through grain set. The Bureau of Plant industry has requested an exception for that, but we’ve not heard back from the EPA.”
Not many people realize how much time, effort, and paperwork are required to submit a Section 18 application, Catchot says. “We have to prove that there are no products labeled for a crop that will control the pest, we have to show a 20 percent loss in gross revenue due to the pest, and provide other data. It takes a tremendous amount time and resources.
Impact on pollinators scrutinized
“Everything related to pesticides these days revolves around the potential impact on pollinators, and it is having a significant impact on pesticide labels and how we’re able to use these products.
“I want to brag on our Mississippi beekeepers. It’s no secret that the relationship between farmers and beekeepers was strained during the last couple of years as a result of the sulfloxaflor lawsuit. But the efforts of Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, the Delta Council, Mississippi State University Extension Service, and many other organizations in getting beekeepers and farmers together a few times each year in the same room to discuss their issues and concerns have paid off. They have found common ground and achieved a better understanding of the challenges on each side.”
Following the cancellation of sulfloxaflor registrations, Catchot says, “The Mississippi Beekeepers Association stepped up and wrote letters in support of Section 18s for cotton and grain sorghum. We know for a fact those letters made it all the way to the top of the EPA, and likely had a lot to do with us being able to get Section 18s.
“Arkansas ag organizations were also able to get letters from their beekeeper association in support of Section 18s in their state. In the Mid-South region, our beekeepers and row crop farmers understand the importance of coexistence, and they work together to minimize risk. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, and both sides accept it. As a result, we have seen zero incidents of bee kills with sulfoxaflor since its first use in 2012.
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“This participation by the beekeepers really resonated in D.C.,” Catchot says. “It made a huge difference in farmers being able to use this product this year. In Mississippi, the cooperation between just about everyone in agriculture and the beekeepers is pretty special.”
That assessment was echoed by Craig Brown, vice president for producer affairs for the National Cotton Council, Memphis, who also spoke at the meeting and complimented Mississippi on its pollinator protection program, which has been used as a model by other cotton belt states.
Voluntary pollinator protection programCRAIG BROWN
“This didn’t just come about by accident,” he says. “Mississippi has led the way in developing a voluntary pollinator protection plan, which is the model at which the rest of the cotton belt is looking. We face a tremendous challenge on pollinator protection with regard to continued use of vital ag pesticides and the development of new crop protection products.
“The cooperation of Mississippi’s beekeepers, Extension, and ag organizations in this effort is very significant, and I compliment everyone who helped get the pollinator protection program going. Our Don Parker [National Cotton Council IPM manager at Memphis] has been instrumental in coordinating development of pollinator protection plans, both at state and national levels. I think all this will help in the long run; it has already paid off on the registrations you’ve received thus far.”
The National Cotton Council has developed “a significant policy statement regarding pollinator protection,” Brown says. “We feel it’s time to step up and make our positions known about the true impact of pollinator protection. In determining pesticide labeling, the EPA, for all practical purposes, assumes there’s a beehive at the corner of every cotton field, which just isn’t the case.
“We all know cotton doesn’t require bees for pollination — if bees are there, it’s because the farmer is voluntarily allowing the beekeeper to rest or forage his bees on that farm.
“The case we’re making to chemical manufacturers as the EPA moves toward new labeling for pollinator protection is that the ultimate protection of managed bee hives is for them not to be on a farm. We agree that when managed colonies are on a farm, there needs to be some cooperation, some interaction between beekeepers and farmers in relocating hives or otherwise protecting them when pesticide applications are being made.
“Conversely, we contend that if no managed colonies are present in or near cotton fields, the pesticide label should not require that pollinator restrictions be followed. I think we’re beginning to convince other row crop producers and other commodity organizations that, if managed bee colonies are not present, there shouldn’t be a pollinator restriction on use of that pesticide.”