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Pesticide Action Network

New Minnesota legislation paves the way to protect bees & support farmers

St. Paul, MN— Today, beekeepers, farmers, gardeners, conservation organizations and others celebrated the introduction of legislation  to protect pollinators from harmful pesticides and ensure farmer success. This bill, along with legislation introduced earlier in the month,  positions Minnesota as a national leader in pollinator protection — with widespread support from people across the state.

“Hmong farmers rely on pollinators to have fruitful yields of crops like zucchini, winter squash, watermelon, cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and more,” said Yao Yang, organizer and food hub director of the Hmong American Farmers Association. “Most Hmong farmers rely on short-term farm leases neighboring farms that plant neonicotinoid-treated seeds, which are harmful to pollinators. Hmong farmers are at the forefront of local foods, and we need our legislators to protect our pollinators so we can continue to sustainably farm for the local economy.”

The “treated seed program” legislation is included in an agricultural policy omnibus bill introduced today. It is the second in a package of two bills meant to give the state and farmers the tools to reduce the use of pesticides that harm bees and to invest in safer pest control. These bills correspond with action steps proposed by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, based on the findings of its nearly three-year registration review of neonicotinoid pesticides .

The legislation introduced today focuses in particular on the use of pesticide seed coatings, due to their widespread use in Minnesota agriculture; the way neonicotinoids from seed coatings  persist in plants, soil and water; and the potential for these pesticides to harm honey bees, native bees and other pollinators.

“The Minnesota Honey Producers Association supports tracking the use of treated seed in the state of Minnesota,” said Dan Whitney, president of MHPA, the state’s commercial beekeeping organization. “Minnesota’s beekeepers and farmers both need to protect their livelihoods, crops and investment. Long term, sub-lethal levels of exposure to neonicotinoids negatively affect honey bee health. Establishing a baseline to determine how many pounds of treated seeds are purchased and sown annually is necessary towards achieving a common sense solution to Minnesota’s pollinator crisis, based on good science.”

Last August, Governor Mark Dayton announced a broad pollinator action plan for farm fields, public lands and home gardens. The Governor’s Executive Order 16-07 coincided with the release of MDA’s review of neonicotinoid impacts on pollinators. While most of the actions outlined in the Governor’s plan will be implemented by state agencies, two action steps require action by the legislature, and have now been introduced as new legislation.

The first bill (language included in agricultural finance omnibus bill HF 895/SF 780) would create a “Pollinator Protection Account,” funded by fees on bee-toxic pesticides, to “support research on the economic threat of crop pests, the development of an education campaign on pesticide use, and pesticide stewardship materials.”

The “treated seed” bill,  introduced today,  would clarify the MDA’s authority to oversee the use of pesticide-coated seeds. Given that authority, MDA would have a clearer picture of use in the state, and allow farmers to identify the best tools to control pests.

“Farmers need up-to-date information on how to monitor and manage pest populations in their fields in ways that support productive and profitable operations, while protecting the long-lasting ecological integrity of their farms and the health of our pollinators,” said Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “This bill is an important step that will enable Minnesota farmers to access independent research on crop pests carried out by public institutions, rather than rely on promotional materials from pesticide companies.”

Honey bees and other pollinators are critical to Minnesota’s agricultural economy. Pollination is essential for Minnesota’s top fruit crop, apples, which was valued at $17.7 million in 2015, and significantly improves the yield, diversity, and quality of other crops such as sunflowers ($33M) and canola ($17M). According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Minnesota has historically been one of the top five honey-producing states in the country, with honey production contributing $16.3 million towards the state’s agricultural economy in 2014. However, in recent years, Minnesota beekeepers have lost more than 50% of their colonies annually and the state’s honey production has fallen.

Neonicotinoids are the most widely used class of insecticides in the world. They are commonly used in agriculture as seed coatings on crops like corn and soybeans, as well as in nursery plants and home gardens. In October 2014, EPA released findings that neonicotinoid seed treatments produce no consistent increase in yield in soybeans. Extension agencies from multiple agricultural states in the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, found that “For typical field situations, independent research demonstrates that neonicotinoid seed treatments do not provide a consistent return on investment.”

In 2012, the European Union implemented a two-year moratorium on neonicotinoids. Ontario has set a target of reducing the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments by 80% in the next two years. In Minnesota, pending state and federal action, more than 25 municipalities, counties, and school districts have passed policies to limit the use of bee-harming pesticides.

The legislation is currently supported by Pollinate Minnesota, Pesticide Action Network, Natural Resources Defense Council, Toxic Taters, Clean Up the River Environment, Hmong American Farmers Association, Pollinator Friendly Alliance, The Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division and the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.

Contacts: Lex Horan, PAN, 651.245.1733; lex@panna.org


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