How can MP3 (Managed Pollinator Protection Plans) more effectively protect honey bees from pesticide exposure?
“Five gallon buckets full of dead bees.” That's what my grandfather said he had after his neighbor sprayed pesticides on a soybean field.(1) Because so many bees are dying, due to pesticide use, President Obama wrote a memorandum in 2014 that called for the protection of honey bees (Apis mellifera).(2) This document asked the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to lead a task force made of representatives from 15 federal departments and agencies to set up a strategy that would promote the health of honey bees.(3) The strategy that they wrote included a series of actions. One of these actions included developing the state Managed Pollinator Protection Plans (MP3) that would be approved by the EPA.(4) Currently, there are nine states that have completed a pollinator protection plan.(5)
North Carolina's MP3 is currently a work in progress. Some of the chapters in this plan should be available in the spring. In an email to me, Environmental Toxicologist for the NCDA, John Allran stated, “The state plans are voluntary measures intended to complement the mandatory regulations governing pesticide use...”.(6) He also stated, “Because of the evolving science and regulation, we intend for this to be a 'living document', so it will most likely be published online...” Lastly, Allran talked about the success of a program called Driftwatch. Driftwatch is a program that allows farmers to locate nearby registered apiaries on a map so they can notify apiaries of upcoming pesticide applications.(7) He said, “We have already had some very successful efforts with registry of apiaries through Driftwatch to enhance communication among pesticide applicators, growers, and beekeepers to protect bees from potential adverse effects of pesticides.”
After researching the North Carolina MP3, I have four suggestions about apiaries and pesticide use by farmers. The four topics that I am going to discuss are: apiary state registrations, one mile notification area, Driftwatch, and confirmation of notifications. I also have ideas about foraging land and youth education.
First, there are state regulations that pesticide users and beekeepers have to follow. Farmers applying pesticides are only required to inform apiaries registered with the state. This registration costs $10 and is not required by the state. So, not every apiary is registered. That means that some bees could come into contact with pesticides without the beekeeper realizing it. My suggestion is that all apiaries be required to register with the state.
A second thing that NC's plan could do is address one of the state regulations on notifying registered apiaries about aerial pesticide applications. This regulation tells farmers that they are required to inform registered apiaries within one mile of the pesticide target area.(8) One mile sounds like it could work, however, honey bees can travel two or more miles to get food.(9) This means that the regulation does not help bees traveling over one mile and that they could still come in contact with the poison. To fix this the MP3 could require a notification radius of two or three miles.
Thirdly, North Carolina uses the program Driftwatch, however, it is not required to be used by apiaries or farmers, because Driftwatch is a voluntary program. I know of two beekeepers near where I live who are not marked on the Driftwatch map, so there are probably more. This program could be made more effective if all apiaries were required to mark their bee hives in the mapping program. If all the apiaries were mapped out in one website and the website calculated the notification area, then all the farmers would have to do is locate their fields and they could see all the apiaries they would need to notify.
Finally, the previously mentioned regulation says, “the farmer shall notify registered apiaries within one mile of the target area.” When I asked my grandfather if he thought that farmers would notify beekeepers about spraying pesticides he said, “They don't do that. That's an ideal thing to do.” He said that when his neighbor sprayed Sevin by aircraft on their soybeans he didn't complain. He said, “my neighbor was a friend...was I going to start a bee war?” Also this entire rule only applies to farmers applying pesticides by aircraft (aerial application). If the farmer uses other methods to apply pesticides, they are not required to inform the apiaries at all. The MP3 could require some kind of confirmation of the notification before a farmer could spray pesticide.
President Obama's memorandum called for seven million acres to be added to the honey bee's foraging land throughout the United States.(2) Seven million acres is about the size of the state of Maryland. One solution to getting foraging land for bees, is to plant native flowers on closed landfills. The state of Maine has already set up bee foraging land on their Pine Tree Landfill.(10) If no pesticides are sprayed on or near this land, then this would be a good way to protect the bees from pesticide exposure.
The federal strategy states, “...USDA will distribute pollinator education materials and facilitate pollinator education programs through their specific education programs, such as 4-H...”.(3) During my time in 4-H, I have taught summer camps and I think they would be a good way to teach youth about honey bees. The NC Dept. of Agriculture working with Cooperative Extension Service could provide educational materials to the county 4-H programs for the summer camps.
The points that I have made about North Carolina's future MP3 will hopefully help better protect honey bees from the harmful pesticides sprayed on crops. My grandfather had been keeping bees for 45 years until pesticides killed off his bees. North Carolina is working on its MP3 but until it is finished, “the bees pay with their lives,” just like my grandfather said.
(1) Robert Barefoot, interview, January 29, 2017.
(2) Obama, Barack, Presidential Memorandum -- Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, June 20, 2014,
(3) Pollinator Health Task Force, National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, May 19, 2015,
(4) Appendix A. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Pollinator Protection Plan, 2015, page A10,
(5) Association of American Pesticide Control Officials, State MP3 inventory, June 2016,
(6) John Allran, Environmental Toxicologist, NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Structural Pest Control & Pesticides Division, email, January 27, 2017.
(8) North Carolina State Regulations about apiaries, 02 NCAC 09L .1009
(9) Traynor, Joe, “How Far Do Bees Fly? One Mile, Two, Seven? And Why?”, Beesource, June, 2002,
(10) Bangor Daily News, “Tour of pollinator habitat plantings slated at Pine Tree Landfill”, August 27, 2015,