Editor’s Desk: Dicamba’s toll on bees, plus SNAP follow-up

Last year, in collaboration with Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, FERN dug into the EPA’s process for approving the drift-prone weedkiller dicamba, designed to work with genetically modified soybeans and cotton. Reporter Liza Gross showed that scientists had warned the agency about the devastating impact the herbicide could have on non-GMO crops, but the agency ignored that evidence and approved the substance. What followed were crop losses on millions of acres.

In a follow-up story in January, Gross reported that, “Arkansas beekeeper Richard Coy noticed a parallel disaster unfolding among the weeds near [his] fields. When Coy spotted the withering weeds, he realized why hives that produced 100 pounds of honey three summers ago now were managing barely half that: Dicamba probably had destroyed his bees’ food.”

Colony Collapse Disorder, which emerged more than a decade ago, had already destroyed 30 to 90 percent of some beekeepers’ hives. “Now with dicamba, beekeepers must contend with a scourge that can wipe out the food and habitat bees need to thrive,” she writes.

We expect dicamba will continue to be a point of conflict across the Midwest this year, and plan to keep a close eye on the story.

In another story that FERN broke, in collaboration with The Washington Post, we showed how the imminent collapse of an electronic-payments provider threatened to undermine the use of SNAP benefits at many farmers’ markets around the country. After Jane Black and Leah Douglas reported that story, the provider, Novo Dia, got a capital infusion from a foundation and the state of New York, keeping it afloat.

In a follow-up piece last week, Black reported that Square, a major player in the electronic-payments arena, was investing $2 million, ensuring that SNAP payments will continue to flow this year. The upshot: low-income people on food assistance will have continued access at farmers’ markets, which is important, because many programs double their food assistance benefits for fresh local food.

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Lead image: A honeybee pollinates fruit trees in a Washington State University orchard. Shelly Hanks/Courtesy of Washington State University.