“My job involves obtaining the necessary registrations for crop protection products to bring these onto the market, by working closely with regulatory authorities. So how do I resolve this with my fascination for bees and nature in general, some may ask?”
// As a major producer of fruit crops for export, Serbian growers are aware of the importance of preserving bee populations for pollination and for maintaining good relationships with beekeepers.
// A key crop for beekeepers and farmers alike, which is grown in Serbia, is sunflower. As such, products to control crop pests must also be safe for the insect pollinators which feed on the nectar and pollen the blossoms produce.
I’m a great one for the outdoors, I love nature and became very interested in biological sciences, entomology, botany and the like when I was studying for my degree in Agronomy. So what am I doing sitting in my office in the middle of Belgrade, working on crop protection product registrations for Bayer – bringing pesticides to the market you may ask?
For me, there are many different ways to protect bees and ensuring the Bayer products we bring to market, not just for my countries but around the world, have a good safety profile for humans and the environment in which they will be used is one of them. I also get involved in other activities to ensure the safe use of products after launch, as these all contribute to making our environment (and that of the bees’) a safer place to be.
Ensuring the safety of a product doesn’t stop at registration. Stewardship activities help to minimize the exposure of bees to pesticides in the field, once products are on the market. These efforts include training on safe handling and use of pesticides and implementation of new technologies to reduce potential exposure.
Strawberries and other fruits, as well as most vegetables and nuts all rely on and benefit, to varying extents, from insect pollination.
Honey bees are ‘generalist pollinators’, which means they forage for nectar and pollen from a wide variety of plants, making them excellent pollinators for many agricultural crops.
The stewardship training courses on how to safely store, use and dispose of crop protection products in the agricultural environment are run in Serbia with the support of the local Serbian Crop Protection Association (SECPA). Sometimes, when we do ‘safe-use’ tours around the country I’ve found that the farmers know much more about the topic than I do!
Despite the fact that farmers work hard to protect the environment around them and many appreciate the role that pollinators play in crop production, we have seen many proposals and a tightening of crop protection regulations relating to bee health and safety in recent years. This resulted in the European Commission implementing restrictions for use of some products containing neonicotinoids, important tools for crop pest control.
Focus on bee safety along the entire product lifecycle of a crop protection product
* On average, only one out of every 160,000 compounds evaluated successfully reaches the market.
Fruit production for export, which relies on insect pollination to increase the quality and quantity of the harvest, provides a major boost to the country’s economy. Plums, grown for the dried-fruit industry, are the main fruit produced in the country. Some 550,000 tons are grown every year. Other key crops include apples (370,000 tons) and cherries (25,000 tons), though production of the latter is expected to increase to 100,000 tons following the planting of new orchards. Strawberry and blueberry production are also increasing.
Alongside this, Serbia is the leading global producer of raspberries. According to official statistics, total production of raspberries was 109,000 tons in 2017 and the country exported just over 99,600 tons worth 241 million euros (283 million US dollars). The area of Arilje in Šamadija is often called “the world’s raspberry capital” and around 15,000 hectares are dedicated to growing this fruit and providing employment for some 200,000 workers in the harvest season. Most of the revenue, generated from sales, returns to the country’s mountainous regions where the fruit is grown, thus providing an essential boost for the local, rural economy.
As Serbia has followed the European Union legislation regarding the restrictions, this has made it very hard for farmers in this region. Now, many are suffering from a, sometimes, overwhelming crop infestation of insect pests which would have been treated with neonicotinoid products previously. As a result, we see them using more and more of the older pyrethroids and other similar products and spraying more often to alleviate the insect pest pressure which is destroying their crops. And this is not necessarily better for bees or other beneficial species which the ban was meant to protect. Farmers are desperate for solutions and we have also heard of some illegal practices where counterfeit or generic, non-registered imidaclopridbased products are finding their way onto the market in this region as an alternative, to control the pests. If true, it will be like a bomb, waiting to go off in the backyard!
For me, instead of simply banning new technologies, it makes more sense to work with the farmers and beekeepers to understand what is important for them so they can find a way to work together. Bayer has a good reputation here in Serbia, and beekeepers see the occasional, irresponsible use of pesticides as a problem, not our company’s products per se. This trust allows us to go out and present at beekeepers associations in order to hear their concerns and talk to them about the company and, for example, the ‘safe-use’ activities we are doing with SECPA. As the latter includes talking to farmers about the safe use of pesticides and the need to protect pollinators, it gives us the chance to address many of the beekeepers concerns related to farming.
Nevena Mijuskovic gets a lot of pleasure from watching the honey bees working hard in her strawberry field.
Another way for me to get connected with beekeepers since starting my job has been through doing a beekeeping course in my spare time. Several years ago, I’d heard about one which is quite famous in Serbia and is run by a respected association with over 100 years of beekeeping tradition, so I thought I’d give it a go. As a kid, I loved watching insects and was fascinated by how social insects like ants and honey bees organize themselves to live together, so I thought the course would be useful, interesting and something nice for me to do, all at the same time.
I’ve done the theoretical course to get myself started but now I would really like to do the practical course to apply what I have learned. I have a large backyard so it will be great to install a few hives there. On the course I was one of the youngest trainee beekeepers. Many others wanted an extra income from selling the honey they would produce as future beekeepers but for me the knowledge will help a lot with my other hobby which is growing strawberries!
I started last year with a small field in a village near Belgrade. It currently covers 0.2 hectares but I dream that one day I may have a property with lots of orchards. The joint project is with a friend of mine whose mother is a beekeeper. At the moment we only have a few small hives with young honey bee colonies but even though the population is not very big, the bees were out helping with the pollination of the crop. I got a lot of pleasure out of watching them working hard in my field and I also felt very grateful to these bees for the pollination services they provide, resulting in tasty, attractive strawberries.
At the end of the day, it’s clear to me from talking to farmers and beekeepers, either on the job or during my free time, that both parties face many challenges - be it through needing to protect crops in the field or honey bees in the hive. Like farming, I have learned that beekeeping is very complex and there are not only daily but seasonal challenges to consider, so lots can go wrong. It’s essential to find ways that enable both parties to appreciate the different challenges they each face and learn from the other so that they, and their businesses, can thrive alongside each other. I hope that, with the insights I have gained both through my daily work at Bayer and my hobbies, I can contribute!
When Nevena is talking to friends, colleagues and neighbors about her work, she often indicates that bees and other insects face some challenges, pointing out to them that they have a role to play too when it comes to bee health. “Most people have a bit of space and can plant flowers to provide extra food or promote flowering strips in urban areas”, she says. “In summer, when the heat is really intense, people can provide water for bees and insects. This is usually something people forget but bees need water too for cooling the hive and feeding their young. We should all remember, daily, how dependent we are on the contribution of bees and other pollinators and the importance of working, not just for their conservation but for nature generally – to protect it for future generations to benefit from and enjoy too.”