The National Corn Growers Association, in partnership with the Honey Bee Health Coalition, is releasing new best-management practices to protect bees and other pollinators in and around cornfields.

Field corn at about 92 million acres covers more land than any other row crop in the country. In the Midwest Corn Belt it often comprises as much as 40 percent of the landscape or more. The best-management practices presented in the National Corn Growers Association’s new guide identify potential effects of agricultural practices on bees at each stage of production. They recommend ways to mitigate those impacts.

The digital publication showcases specific strategies such as reducing dust and drift while planting pesticide-treated seed.

“While corn does not rely on honey bees for pollination like some crops, bees depend on neighboring plants for forage,” said Nathan Fields, National Corn Growers Association vice-president of production and sustainability. “As good stewards of the land, corn growers can follow these best-management practices to help protect honey-bee health, ensuring productive agricultural systems for all.”

Corn farmers who rotate with soybeans could also see added benefits from their pollinator stewardship because bees can increase soybean yields by as much as 18 percent, according to a 2005 study.

Planting time is a key time for farmers to map out a bee-friendly strategy. The association’s Best Management Practices guide features season-long practices for growers. It also contains information for beekeepers who often work in concert with farmers on healthy bee populations.

The guide offers several key practices.

  • Communicate about beehive locations and crop-management practices, and coordinate with beekeepers.
  • Check university-Extension recommendations, considering multiple strategies for pest control and verifying in-field needs before applying pesticides.
  • Plant and preserve plants in non-crop areas.

“Making adjustments in how we spray and what time of day we spray can yield positive results for pollinators,” said Roger Zylstra, a Lynnville, Iowa, farmer and chairman of the National Corn Growers Association Stewardship Action Team. “And better communications between farmers and beekeepers to reduce bee exposure to pesticides in the spring and summer can provide big benefits.”

To date the National Corn Growers Association and two other Honey Bee Health Coalition member organizations — the U.S. Canola Association and the United Soybean Board — have worked with the coalition to develop and distribute guides on best-management practices specific to corn, canola and soybeans.

The Honey Bee Health Coalition brings together beekeepers, growers, researchers, government agencies, agribusinesses, conservation groups, manufacturers and consumer brands to improve the health of honey-bee populations both generally and around production agriculture. They address hive pests and disease, forage and nutrition, and exposure to crop pesticides.

Each set of best practices, available online for free download, was developed by an expert team of agronomists, entomologists, beekeepers, and university-Extension and regulatory agents. Each has been reviewed by farmers, crop consultants, agribusiness representatives, retail suppliers and other stakeholders. Visit honeybeehealthcoalition.org for more information.