OSU Extension protects pollinators from pesticides

Andony Melathopoulos
Andony Melathopoulos inspects a honey bee hive. Photo by Lynn Ketchum

When 50,000 bumble bees died after a landscaper sprayed pesticide at a Wilsonville store parking lot in 2013, it caused a national uproar and led to calls for increased regulation of chemicals that can harm pollinators.

In response, the Oregon legislature funded a first-of-its-kind position at Oregon State University Extension—a new role focused in improving the health of honey bees and other pollinating insects. Oregon’s $500-million agriculture industry depends on insects to pollinate many specialty crops, including berries, tree fruits, nuts and seed crops.

OSU Extension hired pollinator expert Andony Melathopoulos in 2016. He immediately started a statewide outreach and education program designed to prevent incidents like the one in Wilsonville. In that case, a licensed pesticide applicator missed a warning on a pesticide label.

Since then, OSU has worked with other state agencies to train thousands of landscapers, roadside maintenance workers and others who use pesticides as part of their job. The newly required training occurs as workers are certified or recertified. Education materials created by OSU honey bee researchers are tailored to specific job types, ensuring that every person who works with pesticides learns specifically how to protect bees and other pollinators. Farmers, gardeners and interested members of the public can also consult Extension’s comprehensive online guide, How to Reduce Bee Poisoning from Pesticides.

OSU also runs a diagnostic lab on campus, where commercial hive owners send bees to be checked for disease. The lab is credited with saving Oregon’s beekeepers $1.4 million a year in reduced costs for antibiotics and other medications.

Sources: Andony Melathopoulos, Extension professor for pollinator health; Ramesh Sagili, OSU honey bee researcher

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