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Nix the neonics

(Creative Commons)

What are neonics anyway? “Neonic” is shorthand for neonicotinoid pesticides.

There is a saying that goes, “If a food ingredient is hard to pronounce, chances are it’s bad for you.” Well, neonicotinoid is hard to pronounce and very bad for pollinators. They are a class of insecticides related to nicotine. Neonics are used to eliminate crop pests as well as aphids, beetles, fleas, flies, cockroaches and other insects.

Neonicotinoids are devastating on bee populations. New York beekeepers lost over 40% of their hives from April 2017 to April 2018, and neonics are a known factor in colony collapse disorder. Native bees are also impacted. There are currently nine bumblebees on the New York Natural Heritage Program Rare Animal List.

The European Union was so concerned that they placed a near-complete ban on neonicotinoid pesticides in 2018, based on the threat posed to bees and other pollinators. The state of Vermont plans restricting neonicotinoid use, joining states like Connecticut and Maryland. The federal government passed a modest bill restricting home use while leaving treated seeds exempt — a first step.

The pesticides are commonly coated onto seeds to protect them from soil pests; when the seed germinates, the pesticide is absorbed and spreads through the tissue. It eventually reaches pollen and nectar, which is how pollinators are exposed and harmed. Further, the pesticides dissolve easily in water. This allows the seed coating to leach into soil and to be taken up by plants, including nearby wildflowers that pollinators might forage on. Scientists have raised concerns about the impact of neonicotinoid runoff on aquatic ecosystems, too.

For farmers, a free and effective alternative to neonicotinoid use is crop rotation. This age-old practical farming method efficiently deals with many plant predators, eliminating harm to pollinators and putting more money back into farmer’s pockets. In Italy, after four years of corn harvest without neonicotinoids, no drop in production was observed using simple crop rotation.

Since it can be difficult to identify plants that have been grown without neonicotinoids, AdkAction holds an annual online plant sale welcoming anyone to order a variety of pollinator plants — all free of neonicotinoids — designed to provide a diversity of nectar and pollen sources for local bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. To increase awareness of the importance of pollinators, AdkAction’s Adirondack Pollinator Project is distributing 20,000 free wildflower seed packets this spring, as a follow-up to 30,000 that were distributed over the past two years.

Together we can help pollinators, improve the environment and help farmers transition to more sustainable practices that are also cost-effective. For more information, please view our website AdkAction.org/pollinators.

Chris Cohan lives in Rye and is a landscape architect and AdkAction board member.

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