After two years of trying, the secretary of agriculture is expected to put out this week a final rule that will end the "temporary" but now 10-year-old Beekeeper Indemnity Payment Program. It paid beekeepers each year for colonies damaged or destroyed when pesticides -- approved for use by federal agencies -- drifted from nearby fields and killed bees.
The Aug. 22 Federal Register (page 56007) carried more bad news for the beekeepers with another rule that spelled out how the remaining money in the program would be divided among those who have filed claims since the last payments were made June 15, 1979.
Instead of dividing the money evenly among all the claimants, the Agriculture Department has decided to pay beekeepers off in full but in the order in which losses were filed -- in short on a first-come, first-paid basis until the funds run out.
Because there are about $4 million in claims on hand and only $900,000 available, only half the beekeepers who filed before April 1 will get the indemnity they sought.
But there is another twist, according to Agriculture officials. The Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies have over recent years stressed safety to humans who must handle pesticides. Thus the newest agents being used near many bee colonies are encapsulated chemicals -- safer for humans to handle but more dangerous for the bees.
This even may have an element of tragedy. As one official described it recently, the "encapsulated chemicals are the same size as a pollen grain." Thus the deceived bee picks up the capsule that has not released its chemical poison and carries it back to the hive. There it decomposes and frequently destroys the entire hive.
The Agriculture official reports EPA is now demanding that pesticide manufacturers test the effect of their product on "beneficial insects" as well as harmful ones and humans before putting them on the market.
Meanwhile, he reported, more bees than ever are being killed by pesticides. There is no guarantee, but it seems almost certain that a new beekeeper indemnity program will rise next year when a new farm bill is taken up by Congress.