Last Friday at a town hall meeting in Clinton, Minnesota, state senator Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, who chairs the Minnesota Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Finance Committee, answered a question about pollinators, neonicotinoids and policy by buzzing about an invasive weed species in conservation seed mixes.
Not that he knew the name of the weed. We think he's talking about Palmer amaranth in the clip we recorded below, since that's the one in news reports like AgWeb's How Palmer Amaranth is Sneaking into Minnesota Fields and the Pioneer Press's Killer weed surges northward, menacing crops in Minnesota and other states.
But he's not accurate about the situation that led to the weed's appearance in Minnesota nor its lack of appeal to pollinators.
What Westrom said
Answering a question about pollinator health asked by an Ortonville resident, Katie Laughlin, Westrom said (video below):
. . .Just on that issue, Katie, I just heard about it a couple of days ago when I talked to Senator Bill Weber, who's the Ag Policy Chair--I'm chairing the Finance side in the Senate. There's an issue with pollinators and some of the plants that are being brought in that are helpful to the pollinators.
This really isn't tied to the neonics that I know of but I don't know enough about it yet, I want to dig into it. But in Southwest Minnesota, they're finding there are some of the weeds that are coming that are good for pollinators but they're a weed that will take over a field in about three-four years and you will not be able to have good production on it. So that is another pollinator issue that I've been hearing about.
I need to know more about it. . . .
We could not agree that he needs to know more about it--and politely told him at the town hall that Palmer amaranth wasn't brought into the state on purpose, but had contaminated seed mixes. Nor were we alone in letting him know: two local soil and water service employees backed us up--while assuring the crowd of 60 that the mix they had wasn't contaminated.
Palmer amaranth not a favored bee forage
Moreover, Bluestem was under the impression that the plant--which is pollinated by the wind--wasn't a food source for pollinators. We decided to check with wild pollinator expert Daniel P Cariveau, an Assistant Professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Entomology/Bee Research Facility. His emailed reply:
Thanks for the email. Palmer amaranth is not purposely planted for pollinators. What has happened in some instances is that conservation seed mixes have been contaminated. This is species was not typically found in Minnesota and has likely come in, at least in part, through conservation mixes from southern states.
It is the case that some wind-pollinated plants are visited by pollinators. For example, there are records of pollinators visiting a number of wind pollinated grass species such as corn. However, these instances are rare and not a major part of their diet. So while there might be some record somewhere of a bee visiting palmer amaranth, it is not, to my knowledge, a forage plant for them. I would be surprised to collect a bee from it.
Short answer: Palmer amaranth is not intentionally planted and is rarely, if ever, visited by bees.
But there's more.
Law requiring local seed mixes was repealed
In a meeting Tuesday of the Minnesota House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, Chair Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, and Minority Lead Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, enjoyed this pleasant exchange about Palmer amaranth:
Fabian: Isn't it interesting on the terrestrial invasive species. . . where we get the Palmer amaranth--it comes in on some of the seed mixtures that were brought here to help out a problem and it created one. Representative Hansen.
Hansen: Thanks Mr. Chair, and I was thinking back to when we actually had passed a law to say that you had to use local seed mixes but that got repealed. That would have prevented the Palmer amaranth problem . ..
Why is it that we suspect bee champion Hansen wasn't among those repealing that law? And why do we suspect Republicans and some eager-to-please DFLers will try to make pollinator politics follow Westrom's inaccurate and ill-informed frame? It's almost as predictable as the same swarm wagging their fingers about the doubts they have of the science in the studies of neonics and pollinators by scientists not on the dole at Syngenta.
Here's the clip from Tuesday's Minnesota House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee meeting:
Photo: Palmer amaranth choking out soybeans, according to AgWeb.
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