By Glynn Young
Online Communications Team
Jerry Hayes leads Monsanto’s Beeologics business. He’s known across the beekeeping industry, and there are very few beekeepers he doesn’t know. He arrived at Monsanto from the Florida Department of Agriculture to lead the newly acquired Beeologics business in 2012. And he’s helped to bring into Monsanto a needed perspective on honey bees, pollinators in general, colony collapse disorder, and what needs to be done to address bee health for sustainable agriculture and the environment.
Recently I had the opportunity to tag along and hear him talk with an outside group. Jerry spends a lot of time speaking – state beekeeping associations, academic sessions, business organizations, and groups like this one – staff people at the Missouri Botanical Garden gathered for a monthly “grub and green,” which Monsanto employees refer to as “lunch and learns.”
We forgot to bring our lunches. Fortunately, the Garden provided donuts. Wonderful donuts from a donut shop in the St. Louis suburb of Maplewood. Donuts so good that their aroma invaded the conference room, tempting everyone to eat more than one.
I’ve learned a lot about bees from Jerry. In fact, he persuaded me to plant Menarda in my home garden, where it has thrived and provides a food source for four different kinds of bees (I’ve counted them and identified each with a chart Jerry provided for National Pollinators Day). Two of the bees are so small they look like gnats.
With the group at the Garden, a group that’s friendly but also knowledgeable about environmental concerns, Jerry addresses everything about bees. In a quiet, understated and incredibly informed way, he tackles Colony Collapse Disorder, honey bee colony mortality, (beekeepers lose 30 percent or more of their “inventory” every year), and the parasitic Varroa mite, which is to a bee about the size of your fist is to your own body.
Ask any beekeeper what his or her biggest problem is, and the answer invariably comes back “Varroa.” The current method of control is to apply pesticides directly into the bee hives, Jerry tells the group. Monsanto wants to control Varroa non-chemically and non-genetically-modified.
But one thing that’s critical is what he calls “boots on the ground” – extensive monitoring to measure and sample what’s happening in the hives. Other critical needs include the establishment of best management practices; training applicators so they know when and how to apply pesticides; and lobbying for incentives to create pollinator habitats.
What emerges is a picture: no one thing is going to solve the problems of bee health, and the problems have to be addressed collectively. Or and Jerry says, “No one solution, and no one entity that can do it.” Bees require, and perhaps demand, a collective human and collective institutional approach.
When it’s time for questions and answers, Jerry accepts everything head on; you won’t find any evidence of bobbing and weaving.
Why does Monsanto care? “Monsanto spends $1 million annually to rent bees for pollination of vegetables and canola.” In other words, Monsanto has a stake in what happens to bee health, as do lots of agricultural groups like the almond growers, who depend upon bees to pollinate their trees. Some 80 percent of the almonds in the world are pollinated in California by commercial beekeepers.
What about neonicotonoids, the chemicals made by Bayer and Syngenta and used by them and companies like Monsanto and DuPont to coat their seeds? “They could be a contributing factor,” Jerry says, “but likely not the major one. A lot of people want to ban them, and don’t understand how that will increase agricultural crop spraying, which will likely be even more detrimental.”
The questions continue, on the impact of the harsh winter in the U.S. Midwest, East and South on bees, to how Varroa mites operate and the best times to control, to what could be the consequences of novel ideas like “gene silencing” on bee health.
The talk is over, and people come up to ask individual questions (and perhaps swipe a leftover donut; Jerry is standing next to the table where they’re placed). Jerry stays to answer them all.
“Just when I think I’ve heard it all, I discover I’m still learning about bees,” I say, “but there was something you said about Varroa.” And we talk all the way back to the office.
Jerry Hayes answers my questions, too.
Banner image of the Commerce Bank Building at the Missouri Botanical Garden courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden.