Notify local beekeepers before applying some insecticides to plants in flowers

Published 6:33 am Tuesday, July 31, 2018


University of Kentucky

Some insecticide labels require applicators to notify beekeepers 48 hours before making applications to flowering plants. But many applicators do not even know if there are bee colonies near their fields or where those colonies are located. This notification is required on some insecticide labels.

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To help with this communication issue, Dr. Tammy Horn Potter, state apiarist at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, has developed an online tool to facilitate communication among pesticide applicators and local beekeepers. This registry system can be used when, under specific circumstances as indicated by pesticide labels, applicators must notify beekeepers 48 hours prior to certain type of applications to crops or weeds in bloom.

Pollinator protection label requirements

The pesticides that pose the greatest potential risk to managed pollinators have honey bee icons on the label to warn applicators and to communicate specific restrictions that must be imposed in some situations. While there is a small group of active ingredients that have been shown to be acutely toxic to honey bees, these active ingredients are formulated into dozens of insecticide products.

When these products are used where there are no crops or weeds in bloom and bees are not foraging in the treated area, there is little risk. However, when there are foraging bees in the treated area, additional restrictions are imposed. Weeds can be mowed prior to spray application when they are in bloom next to or in fields to be sprayed. This is often practical in orchards or vineyards between the established rows. The same tactic should be used around the outside of other types of fields when weeds are in flower.

Crops with contracted pollination services

These labels state “Do not apply this product while bees are foraging. Do not apply this product until flowering is complete and all petals have fallen unless the following condition has been met: If an application must be made when bees are at the treatment site, the beekeeper providing pollination services must be notified no less than 48 hours prior to the time of the planned application so the bees can be removed, covered or otherwise protected prior to spraying.”

Since the producer has a contract with the beekeeper, there should already be established communication between the crop manager and beekeeper. Producers should simply notify the beekeeper who has the pollination contract 48 hours prior to the application and provide the name of the product so that the beekeeper can take actions to protect the honey bees.

Crops without pollination contracts

For food and ornamental crops not under contract for pollination services, there is a similar restriction while bees are foraging; however, the conditions permitting applications are different.  An application would be permitted if one of the five following conditions is met:

• application is made after sunset;

• application is made to the target site when temperatures are below 55 degrees Fahrenheit;

• application is made in response to a public health emergency;

• application is made in accordance with an active state-administered apiary registry program, in which beekeepers are notified no less than 48 hours prior to the time of planned application so beekeepers can take actions to protect their bees; or

• the application is to prevent economic losses, a documented determination consistent with an IPM plan is met and every effort is made to notify beekeepers no less than 48 hours prior to the planned application.

The online tool that has been developed helps applicators fulfill the third option, making the application in accordance with a state-administered apiary registry. This is a voluntary program and gives pesticide applicators one additional alternative.

KDA pollinator protection app

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) has developed a tool to help pesticide applicators comply with some of these label requirements. This online state registry is intended to facilitate communication among pesticide applicators and their neighboring beekeepers so that that beekeepers are alerted in advance to pesticide applications that require notification.

The system requires beekeepers to register their honey bee colony locations initially. Then, if a pesticide applicator is planning to make an application that requires beekeeper notification, the applicator can submit the planned application 48 hours in advance.

The system then notifies registered beekeepers of honey bee colonies within 5 miles of the application that a high risk application will be made in 48 hours. This gives the beekeeper time to protect the colonies in that area. The beekeepers are anonymous (others cannot see colony locations) and the person making the application is anonymous.  Thus, the beekeeper is alerted that an application will be made within 5 miles of their bees without knowing who is making the application.

This notification system, as well as instructions on how to use it, is located on the Kentucky Department of Agriculture website at

This is a voluntary system; it provides another option to help applicators comply with the beekeeper notification requirements on some insecticide labels.

Dr. Ric Bessin is a University of Kentucky entomologist.