A Big New Study Finds Bee-Killing Pesticides Aren’t Even Worth it for Soybean Farmers

At least, that’s the pitch to farmers: Spend extra for treated seeds, and enjoy higher crop yields in return. But according to a new meta-analysisof past research from nearly two dozen scientists at top public agriculture-research universities—the bargain isn’t paying off. 

And while economic gains for farmers are vanishingly tiny, at best, the potential ecological risks are high, the authors note. The insecticides in the treatments are called neonicotinoids, which have been banned in Europe for their potential harmful effects on pollinators. A “growing body of research” suggests these chemicals have a “host of negative effects” on beneficial organisms, the paper notes, including honey beeswild beesmonarch butterfliesbirds, and terrestrial and aquaticinvertebrates. On Thursday, Science published a paper from Canadian researchers finding that low-level neonic exposure may delay the migrations of songbirds and harm their chances of mating. 

For the soybean paper, the team gathered gathered an enormous amount of data: 194 soybean field studies, across 14 states, conducted between 2006 and 2017. Most of the studies took place in one of the globe’s epicenters of soybean production, the Midwestern “corn belt” states clustered around Illinois, where growers tend to plant soybeans in rotation with corn. The researchers gathered crop yield data for three kinds of soybean seeds: those treated with fungicides; those treated with fungicides and neonicotinoids; and untreated seeds as a control. (According to Christian Krupke, an entomologist at Purdue University and one of the paper’s co-authors, the study didn’t look at neonic-only treatments because they’re not widely available on the market—the seed companies tend to offer neonics bundled with fungicides.) 09-14-19

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