Photo: BASF
Milkweed is critical for the monarch butterfly throughout its life cycle. The leaves provide the only food source for monarch caterpillars and the only habitat where the adults lay their eggs.

Since 2015, BASF has planted more than 35,000 milkweed plants on farms and golf courses — more than 5,000 farmers nationwide have dedicated plots of their land — to create havens to help support and grow the monarch population. It’s called the Monarch Challenge, a program of BASF’s biodiversity initiative, Living Acres. The goal: create milkweed habitats in non-crop areas where adult monarchs can lay eggs. Ultimately, this will increase the “wing” print and help restore a coveted beneficial insect.

“The whole idea is to increase the milkweed habitat so it’s available for monarchs as they migrate,” says Bob Davis, Ph.D., technical services representative, BASF. “There are already signs that it is working — people can see it.”

Davis

Meanwhile, in June, Bayer announced a renewed focus on working with customers and industry partners as a sustainable partner, says Frank Wong, Ph.D., public affairs and sustainability industry relations, Bayer Environmental Science.

“Sustainability goals are reflected by innovations such as Barricor and DeltaGard, which allow for the use of insecticides at greatly reduced rates than previously possible,” Wong says.

Also, a focus on Digital Pest Management taps technology to increase pest management operations’ efficiency. “Increasing efficiency reduces inputs and increases the overall sustainability of pest management operations.”

Manufacturers are addressing beneficial insects, and pollinators like bees, from multiple fronts — through public outreach, pest management professional education, technology and application techniques, and label changes that reflect lower application rates.

Paysen

“We are here to protect public health and we are concerned about pollinators,” says Eric Paysen, Ph.D., technical services manager, Syngenta. “That is why we focus on training, education and outreach so pest management professionals make applications appropriately.”

SPREAD THE GOOD NEWS. Certainly, the neonicotinoid class of insecticides takes a lot of heat and makes headlines. A big question Paysen gets from the field is, “Are these safe?” And, he assures PMPs and customers who invest in pest control services that neonicotinoids are systemic. “If you make a foliar or root application, the plant takes up the material into its leaves and stems, then any insect that feeds on those like aphids, which can fuel ant populations, can be killed,” he explains. “It does not harm bees.”

This message is up to PMPs to explain to customers — and why technicians ultimately need to act as counselors, Paysen says. “It’s all about education,” he says.

Customers don’t naturally assume that insects in the yard are a good thing. But PMPs can teach them this, with the support of manufacturers that provide training and tools. “Some species never enter a home and they don’t sting,” Paysen points out. “If they are out in the yard, doing what they do, they are not hurting anything and they are protecting a property from species that could enter the home.”

Ants can be beneficial. So can praying mantis and ladybird beetles. Some spiders are beneficial, too. An educated PMP knows this, but thinking to communicate the facts with customers might not happen during a service call. That is why awareness is important.

But, it’s not just about the bees and butterflies. Sustainable efforts help all beneficial insects, and manufacturers including BASF, Bayer and Syngenta are working to help the public and PMPs recognize this.

A number of years ago, BASF started a stewardship program for its products. “We deliver training presentations in front of the industry and a stewardship slide is always included,” Davis says. “It talks about the proper use of product, reading labels, and protecting pollinators and the environment. We try to get that message out across the board.”

Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org

STICK TO THE LABEL. How real is the threat to pollinators? And, how great is the impact a PMP has on this “issue,” anyway? According to data, Wong says, the number of honeybee colonies in the United States has remained largely steady since the 1990s. “Bee health is a concern because beekeepers are having to replace lost colonies, which they are able to do,” he reports. “It is still a struggle for them, however, due to challenges like the Varroa mite, other pests and diseases and lack of forage. Unfortunately, pesticides are commonly blamed — and it has nothing to do with the proper use of these products.”

Wong

Davis says there is definitely some media sensationalism, and there is certainly a concern for beneficial insects. “From the technical services side of structural pest control, there are quite a number of things we have been doing on this end and on the agriculture side that makes a difference,” he says.

Namely, it’s about promoting IPM and proper label use. “IPM involves thorough inspection and monitoring and determining the best way to proceed, and using products in the manner to get outcomes desired,” Davis says.

IPM is nothing new. Some PMPs have been operating with this philosophy for decades — others are fine-tuning and improving their processes. Label changes and education are supporting these efforts. For example, BASF’s Termidor line includes a stewardship label — a grayed-out box that calls attention to what the label does not support. “Do not do the following,” Davis relates.

Syngenta’s Advion WDG product helps protect beneficial insects because of its meta- active technology, Paysen says. “The compound itself has low toxicity,” he says. “Only insects that have a lot of activity in that zone or are ingesting the material are affected, and we feel good about how that impacts the insects that are a direct threat to the structure.”

Wong adds that EPA has taken into account the risks and benefits of products when approving labels. “The use directions are there to mitigate non-target exposure and reduce risks to the environment,” he says. “Following the label is the front line for responsible pesticide use and stewardship, which is critical.”

COMMITTING TO SUSTAINABILITY. Man- ufacturers are investing in programs that forward research, innovation and public information regarding beneficial insects and how the structural pest control industry truly protects public health — and the “good bugs.”

For example, Bayer is focused on bee health and has been for 30 years, Wong says. “This includes supporting local organizations that plant forage in their communities, funding beekeeping research, sponsoring professional development opportunities for beekeepers, and other ways to spread education and awareness about the importance of pollinators.”

This vision is expanding through its Bayer for Biodiversity initiative, which includes efforts like Forward Farming and advocating for habitat preservation that benefits biodiversity. “We want to help reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture,” he says, noting that pest control benefits everyone by controlling insects that have negative economic, public health and environmental impacts.

Manufacturers are committed to helping educate about beneficial insects vs. harmful pests — and this is good for consumers, PMPs and the environment. Ultimately, Wong says, “Finding the best solutions that minimize impact on the environment is our goal.”

The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.