Beekeepers have the patience of Job

  Dear HCN,


First, on behalf of the beekeeping industry, I want to thank the High Country News for running what is probably the most comprehensive look at Penncap-M since it was introduced in 1974 (HCN, 1/20/97).


I would like to clarify two points, however. The first is that, contrary to their claims, Colorado state pesticide regulators have had ample opportunity to determine the connection between Penncap sprays and bee kills.


In August of 1994, we had a spray kill here in Niwot which affected seven beekeepers in a small area. The aerial applicator had called the night before to tell me that he would be spraying Penncap-M on corn. The state was called the day of the application and collected samples of dead bees and vegetation two days after the spray had been applied. Positive identification of methyl parathion was found in the dead bees as well as on a non-target cornfield shedding pollen and being foraged heavily by the bees, and on a hive top in a beeyard over 1,000 feet from the nearest target field.


This was not a case of trying to identify a culprit months after the fact, but the state concluded that, while they had identified methyl parathion, they couldn't tell if it was Penncap-M.


The second thing I want to comment on is the charge that beekeepers are whiners and grousers. We certainly have no corner on that market in the agricultural community. Just go to any rural cafe and listen for a while. One of the rights of agriculture is the freedom to bitch about everything - weather, the season, prices, bugs, neighbors, the government, your wife's cooking. Most of it is harmless and it fills the time.


Far from being grumblers, beekeepers have been amazingly tolerant of their situation. They went public with the Penncap-M story only after several frustrating years of trying to resolve the problem quietly from within the system. Beekeepers have been hammered by pesticides for 50 years, and today 10-15 million acres of suitable bee pasture in the United States are uninhabitable for beekeepers because of the intensity of pesticide use.


Most beekeepers have tried to compromise by working with growers and applicators, but many others have just absorbed the losses and remained silent. In Colorado alone, beekeepers reported losses from spraying in 1996 totaling $1.3 million. To what degree Penncap may be involved is unknown, but it's clear that the damage is significant even without it.


These spray losses represent 56 percent of cash receipts for the industry in 1993 (the most recent year for which ag statistics are available). Those same yearly losses for Colorado cattlemen would translate to 2.6 million 800-pound slaughter steers, for corn growers 4.9 billion pounds and for wheat farmers 39 million bushels. Do you think we would see some action if these commodities were experiencing these kinds of losses?


Whiners? I think not. Instead, beekeepers have shown the patience of Job.


Tom Theobald


Niwot, Colorado