By David Jones, BroadAcre Agronomist, Msc. Agriculture
As farmers and agronomists, it is often uncomfortable to examine the effect of our activities on non-target organisms. Thankfully, it is a question that I am frequently asked when using and recommending insecticides which shows that there is a very genuine concern among growers to minimise the impact of our operations on Bees, beneficial insects and Earthworms.
This is an enormous area, and if you will excuse the pun, I could be opening up a ‘can of worms’ here by suggesting that one chemical is safer than another.
So firstly do not dwell on the specific products below; it is a rough guide to help you understand and manage the risks.
Secondly, there are so many studies involved in toxicology, they may at times conflict in their conclusions. I have summarised the general facts to help to understand the background risks of the products you are applying.
Thirdly, application and use is everything. Applying pesticides at the right time of day, away from Bee hives, using low drift nozzles is as important as the product being applied.
Below is a list of commonly used products, and how safe they are to Bees in particular. If you are concerned about Lacewings, Hoverflys, Carabids etc, the information is out there too.
|Risk to bees||Length of residual toxic effects|
|Abamectin||e.g. as in Voliam Targo||HIGH||1-3 days|
|Acephate||e.g. Orthene, Sinophate||HIGH||3+ days|
|Acetamiprid||e.g. Aster||HIGH||Length of toxicity is short, thought to be <1 day. Like Thiacloprid, the cyano group of neonics is a lower risk than thiamethoxam and imidacloprid for example.|
|Pyrethroids, various||e.g. alpha cypermethrin, beta cyfluthrin, deltamethrin, lambda-cyhalothrin
NOTE: Tau-fluvalinate (e.g. Mavrik) is of low-moderate toxicity.
|HIGH||Varies from a matter of 1 to several days depending on product and formulation, but generally high risk.|
|Chlorantraniliprole||e.g. as in Voliam Targo||Very low||No known impact|
|Chlorpyrifos||e.g. Dursban||HIGH||4-6 days|
|Dimethoate||e.g. Danadim||HIGH||3 days|
|Emamectin benzoate||e.g. Prove, Escort||HIGH||1 day|
|Flonicamid||e.g. Teppeki||Low||Possible effect on Honey Bees but no identified risk|
|Flubendiamide||Very low||Not identified as a risk to Honey or Bumble Bees|
|Imidacloprid||e.g. Concord||YES||1 day max – less for Honey Bees|
|Indoxacarb||e.g. Indox, Merit||YES||1 day for Honey Bees, 3 for Bumble Bees|
|Methoxyfenozide||e.g. Runner||Low||Low – no known identified risk|
|Novaluron||e.g. Rimon||Moderate||Length of risk is unknown|
|Pirimicarb||e.g. Pirimor||Low||No known toxicity but reports exist of low mortality in some field studies|
|Pymetrozine||e.g. Chess||Low-moderate||No risk label on most products but some field studies have shown low mortality.|
|Pyriproxyfen||e.g. Profen||Very low||Very low risk|
|Spinetoram||e.g. Radiant||Moderate||A known but moderate risk. Very short lived, likely 2-3 hours risk.|
|Sulfoxaflor||e.g. Transform, Closer||Low||2-3 hours. Generally acknowledged as Bee safe.|
|Thiacloprid||e.g. Calypso||Low||Possible toxicity to Bumble Bees|
|Thiamethoxam||e.g. Engeo||Very High||7-14 days – very persistent and to avoid in flowering crops|
Simple Steps To Protect Bees
Some basic rules can massively reduce the risk to Bees. Makes sure you know where the hives are located and create a buffer zone around them to avoid direct spray drift.
Spray early morning or late evening when the Bees are not foraging in the crop – for Fall Armyworm you should be spraying at these times of day anyway.
Oil based adjuvants can affect the ability of bees to repel water and can significantly increase mortality, even with fairly benign insecticides. So be aware if using Nufilm or Codicide for example.
Many insecticides contain repellent pheromones designed to keep Bees away from danger. Mixing them with some triazole fungicides such as tebuconazole, propiconazole and cyproconazole for can mask this repellence effect and cause significant Bee mortality.
Take care if there are flowering weeds are present in the crop, even if the crop itself is not flowering.
What About Earthworms?
Natures’ ploughmen as they are often referred can also be impacted by what we spray above ground, but in reality this is to a far lesser extent than above ground species.
It is worth understanding the impact of what we are spraying however, and some of the more risky products will surprise you.
|Chemical||Risk to Earthworms|
|Acetamiprid||High risk, short period of risk|
|Chlorpyrifos||High, with up to 2 weeks risk|
|Emamectin benzoate||Low to Moderate|
|Lambda cyhalotrhin||Low risk|
|Imidacloprid||Very high risk|
|Carbendazim||Very high risk|
|Pendimethalin||Moderate toxicity, but low risk at normal application rates|
|Atrazine||Low toxicity, but a reduction in growth rates of worms has been observed in studies.|
|Cultivations||Extremely high risk. Off the scale compared to any of the above!|
It is extremely important to understand both the context and origins of this information. Most studies are compiled in a lab, observing earthworms directly exposed to pesticides on filter paper, and measuring acute toxicity.
In the field earthworms are not likely to come into direct contact with the pesticide immediate at or after spraying, and the chemicals are likely to be at an advanced stage of degradation before the worms pull decaying material into their burrows.
Therefore there is a significant difference between laboratory toxicity and the risk of field exposure. For chlorpyrifos which can be persistent for several weeks in the environment there is clearly a risk and this has been measured in field studies. For acetamiprid or lambda cyhalothrin for example the breakdown is very rapid, hence exposure risk is far lower.
Neonicotenoids are in fact the greatest risk by a long way, but the probability of Earthworms coming into contact with them is very very low.
The fungicide Carbendazim however has been acknowledged as posing a high risk, in part due its persistence in decaying plant matter.
Cereal Crops and Nutrients Update
Last week we looked at the effects of the prolonged rains and cool, damp soils on nutrient uptake. As wheat has reached the flag leaf stage over the past week, Magnesium deficiency has become visible in many crops in both The Rift and around Mount Kenya, which is typically in cool, saturated soils. Note that this is even in soils with fairly high magnesium levels, so do not be complacent.
Leaf testing is the best way to verify this, and it can be easily corrected with 2-5 kg/ha of Magnesium Sulphate in 100 litres of water.
Till next time,
David Jones is the Broad Acre Specialist at Crop Nutrition Laboratory Services Ltd. (CROPNUTS). David has a keen interest in soils and no till farming systems where he has undertaken work looking into weed levels and changes in soil structure, and has extensive experience in field trials and in the development of precision farming techniques. In his spare time he enjoys playing rugby.