Skip to Main Content
Closeup of the center and partial petals of a deep yellow sunflower.

Neonicotinoids, Bees and Turf Care

This post was first published on Feb. 4, 2016. This updated version is from the Chippers spring newsletter. No corrections in content have been made; this is just a bit more concise and has information about the surprising issues with organic options and the treatment for grubs. The original Feb. 4 posting follows this updated version.
Consumer awareness continues to rise surrounding a specific class of pesticides, known as “neonicotinoids” and their negative effect on bees. This is an important issue and one Chippers takes very seriously. Many of us have attended numerous seminars and other professional classes outlining the complicated relationship between this widely-used class of pesticides and bees. While mites, disease, and environmental factors also have an adverse effect on bee health, there are helpful practices that we have adopted to protect bees while also protecting your lawn.
The most common use for neonicotinoids in turf care is to control grubs. It’s both effective and economical. However, due to the on-going research on this class of pesticides and their probable link to having a negative impact on bees, we decided several years ago to adopt Acelepryn as our recommended bee-safe premium product to control grubs in a lawn. Not only does Acelepryn not harm bees, it is safe for use around other beneficial insects such as ladybugs. It is also safer for the Chippers employees who apply it and for you, the homeowner as well.
Because Acelepryn is a patented product, it is notably more expensive than generic neonicotinoids. As with any turf care product, choosing the right tool for the job involves balancing safety, both for the user and for the environment in which it’s used, effectiveness, and of course cost. It’s sometimes difficult to score high, or even well, in all three categories.
Chippers believes in and continues to expand our range of organic and natural options. Many clients have asked about using organic products instead of neonicotinoids, but in the case of controlling grubs, balancing this choice can be problematic. The most common organic used for this application is only moderately effective, at best, and is potentially harmful to bees if they are sprayed directly, a real threat if bees are actively pollinating a lawn with clover.
In cases where a client chooses neonicotinoids over Acelepryn, we employ the best known practices to reduce the impact on bees. For instance, not treating a lawn while clover is in bloom and using granular formulations rather than liquid are proven methods that reduce potential harm when treating for grubs.
Educating our clients, using Acelepryn, and employing best practices are direct and effective steps that we are currently taking toward protecting our bees. It is a proactive policy that will continue to evolve as more information becomes known.
Original Post Feb 4, 2016: 

Neonicotinoids, Honey Bees and A New Option

Many businesses and farms are acutely aware of the debate surrounding a specific class of pesticides known as “neonicotinoids” or “neonics” for short.  There are many studies as well as unfounded claims around this type of pesticide, mostly in an agricultural use for protecting crops such as corn and cotton.  I have kept up on the latest scientific research, which is still ongoing, as well as attending many professional industry meetings and presentations from local universities.
Here is my opinion and the reason why Chippers’ lawn care program will be one of the few, if not the only program to offer effective alternatives to using neonicotinoids in NH/VT.  In fact, we had made this choice and changed our product selection several years ago, but feel it is worthy of a blog article before another growing season begins.
There is no doubting the effectiveness, low cost and relative safety of neonicotinoids as they relate to pest reduction and control on a wide host of crops, including grub control in lawns.  Unfortunately, there is clear evidence that the use of this product, primarily in an agricultural setting, has unforeseen side effects. The main problem was and continues to be how the product is used in the field.  Drift of the product onto non-targeted plants and use around flowering trees, shrubs, and other plants show clear reduction in our valuable friend, the honey bee.
Selective use of any neonicotinoid is not possible if used while honey bees are gathering pollen from nearby trees and other flowering plants that have been coated by unintentional drift.  This recently discovered fact has even changed pesticide labels on neonicotinoids expressly stating they cannot be used while plants are flowering.  Furthermore, studies show that most neonicotinoids confuse honey bees and may in fact place undue pressure on their hives, leading to issues with their home colony and the ability to forage for food.  Wow.
So what does this mean to businesses in the lawn and plant health care industries like Chippers?  Knowledge is power and the evidence clearly supports utilizing alternative pesticides like Acelepryn for grub control.  Studies show that not only does Acelepryn not harm bees, but it is also much safer to the user (Chippers employees), the home owner (you), and other beneficial insects (ladybugs) when used to control grubs in a lawn.  However, Acelepryn is much more expensive than neonicotinoids because it is a new type of pesticide with the aforementioned desirable characteristics.
Should we stop using neonicotinoids, dropping them like the proverbial hot potato?  Probably not, and I’ll tell you why.  Since neonicotinoids are systemic in their mode of action (they travel inside the plant), they can be applied in different methods to either avoid or minimize risk to honey bees.  One example is injecting the pesticide directly into the ground so it is taken up by the roots, thereby avoiding a topical spray where drift might come into contact with flowers.  Chippers’ uses this approach in our Integrated Pest Management Program for tree and shrub care.
We also need to weigh the cost and benefit for other uses, such as the control of damaging borers for invasive pests like the Emerald Ash Borer.  EAB has gotten a lot of press recently in regards to how fast it is spreading and destroying valuable ash trees in the US.  NH has many counties