Practices to Protect Pollinators from Pesticides

Thursday 13 June 2024

Pollination is here and with that, both beekeepers and blueberry growers need to consider how they can best protect honey bees, and other pollinators from the numerous pesticides used on wild blueberry fields. Recently, ATTTA and Pollinator Partnership Canada have published a best management practice guide “Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides – Wild Blueberry1. We encourage you to read and engage with this guide found at In this week’s blog we will cover the highlights of the various practices to protect pollinators from pesticides, but for a more in-depth understanding please read the guide in its entirety.

Practices to Protect Pollinators from Pesticides

The first approach for beekeepers and blueberry growers to protect pollinators, is the use of integrated pest management. The use of integrated pest management can help minimize the amount of pesticide use on wild blueberry fields2. The grower should monitor for the presence of various fungus, insect, and plant pests of wild blueberries, and only provide treatment when needed2. By minimizing the amount of product being used this lowers the risk of pollinators being exposed to harmful chemicals. An IPM approach has the added value of also saving the farmer time and money on product application2.

Honey bee on wild blueberry flower (ATTTA©2021)

Probably the most important component for protecting pollinators from pesticides is clear communication between growers and beekeepers. Both beekeepers and growers will benefit from having clear guidelines for each of their roles in the pollination process. If receiving or providing pollination services, it is recommended that a pollination contract is used. Examples of pollination contracts can be found within "Best Management Practices Guide for Honey Bee Pollination of Wild Blueberries in Atlantic Canadaat Modify any template contracts as needed, but it is encouraged to include information on: the timing of arrival/departure of hives (needs to be in sync with wild blueberry bloom); responsibility of beekeeper to provide standard pollinating units; details of grower's responsibility to protect bees from any pesticide poisoning; designation of responsibility for periodically checking and caring for bees; designation of responsibility for providing hive protection (electric fencing); clear description of the pest management practices being used on the blueberry field before and during placement of hives; and details of hive placement location on the field.

Beekeepers and blueberry growers can both work to support pollinators through habitat development. Maintaining and creating habitat around blueberry fields can support honey bees and native pollinators4. Leaving non-invasive weeds, wildflowers, and other habitat patches around wild blueberries increases pollination and fruit production5. The presence of these native wild flowers will provide a diversity of pollen sources and will not deter honey bees and other pollinating insects from foraging for nectar on wild blueberry plants6. There are several things growers can do to help develop these habitats, such as delay flail or bush mowing areas around fields until after pollination and preserve wildflower diversity currently surrounding fields. On fields that border cultivated land, growers can create floral strips.

The use of pesticides is an integral part of wild blueberry production. There are several practices beekeepers and blueberry growers can follow to help minimize the impact of these products on pollinators. The first thing growers can do is select the least toxic pesticide to bees. Bees foraging on fields can be directly exposed to toxic products or exposed indirectly through ingesting pollen and nectar containing the product or contact with contaminated soil7. Generally, insecticides are more toxic to bees than herbicides or fungicides since insecticides are formulated to kill insects. The risk associated with a particular pesticide to bees is not only based on the toxicity, but also the residual toxicity. If a product is found to be toxic for greater than 8 hours than it is a higher risk to bees. For questions regarding a specific product’s risk to bees refer to the “Supplement Document for Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides” at

Whenever applying a pesticide is essential to follow all label directions. When reviewing the label look for precautionary and advisory statements that state “toxic to bees”.

Best Management Practices Guide – Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides (ATTTA©2024)

Finally, growers and beekeepers need to minimize any potential exposure of bees to pesticides. Growers should avoid applying pesticides when bees are flying or clustered outside their hives; avoid applying pesticides to any blooming flowers around the field; place hives outside the range of pesticide application and consider developing a no spray buffer zone to protect hives; minimize pesticide drift when spraying; and look for nests of native bees around the field to avoid spraying near the area.

Protecting honey bees and other pollinators from pesticides is crucial for successful pollination. It is in the beekeeper’s and grower’s best interest to have conversations around pesticide use, and how they can work together to protect these vital insects.

  1. Orr, J., Byers, A., Morandin, L.A., Medeiros, S.J. and K. Law. 2023. Practices to Protect Pollinators from Pesticides: Wild Blueberry. Pollinator Partnership Canda and Atlantic Tech Transfer Team for Apiculture.
  2. Brodt, S., Zalom, F., Krebill-Prather, R., Bentley, W., Pickel, C., Connell, J., Wilhoit, L. and Gibbs, M., 2005. Almond growers rely on pest control advisers for integrated pest management. California agriculture, 59(4).
  3. Bennett, A. and A. Byers. 2023. Best Management Practices Guide for Honey Bee Pollination of Wild Blueberries in Atlantic Canada. Atlantic Tech Transfer Team for Apiculture.
  4. Park, M.G., Blitzer, E.J., Gibbs, J., Losey, J.E. and Danforth, B.N., 2015. Negative effects of pesticides on wild bee communities can be buffered by landscape context. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282(1809), p.20150299.
  5. Blaauw, B.R. and Isaacs, R., 2014. Flower plantings increase wild bee abundance and the pollination services provided to a pollinationdependent crop. Journal of Applied Ecology, 51(4), pp.890-898.
  6. Girard, M., Chagnon, M. and Fournier, V., 2012. Pollen diversity collected by honey bees in the vicinity of Vaccinium spp. crops and its importance for colony development. Botany, 90(7), pp.545-555.
  7. Willis Chan, D.S., Prosser, R.S., RodrĂ­guez-Gil, J.L. and Raine, N.E., 2019. Assessment of risk to hoary squash bees (Peponapis pruinosa) and other ground-nesting bees from systemic insecticides in agricultural soil. Scientific Reports, 9(1), p.11870.

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