H.706 Neonicotinoid bill and impacts on Vermont apple and grape producers

Since the Vermont House of Representatives and Senate voted to override the Governor’s veto of H.706, An act relating to banning the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, I have received a number of questions about the bill’s impact on fruit growers. The answer is, not much.

The main focus of this bill is the phasing out of neonicotinoid seed treatments on corn and soy seeds. Neonicotinoid seed treatments are a class of pesticides that are applied to manage insect pests that feed on germinating crop seeds. Nearly all non-organic corn and soy seeds planted in Vermont, and in the U.S overall, are treated with these insecticides. The bill was passed in response to concerns that the seed coatings may either show up in insecticide residue in pollen and nectar of treated plants or nearby plants that took up the insecticide from surrounding soil or water runoff. Other routes for insecticide exposure into the environment include runoff of insecticide into waterways surrounding treated fields and dust generated during planting. This prohibited use, which goes in effect in 2029, will not directly affect fruit growers.

There are other prohibited uses of neonicotinoids in the bill. The first is a blanket ban on application of them during bloom. This piece of the legislation is a bit superfluous to the fruit industry. Under Vermont pesticide rules, pesticide applicators must notify beekeepers within 48 hours of all pesticides applied during bloom, and virtually all insecticides labels include a prohibition on applying them to flowering crops or even when flowering weeds are present. In separate surveys, apple growers have indicated that they follow this rule fastidiously- in a 2017 survey of Vermont apple growers, 100% reported not spraying insecticides before or during bloom and 82% reported not using pesticides rated highly toxic to bees on their farms; and in a 2023 survey, growers rated themselves an average of 8.5/10 for their efforts toward protecting bees and other pollinators on their farms. I have long advocated in my Extension recommendations for growers to not spray any insecticides during bloom, and in almost all cases, I have recommended not spraying insecticides prior to bloom. The industry has followed those recommendations to a tee.

Other prohibitions in the bill include a ban on outdoor uses of neonicotinoids to soybeans or cereal crops (e.g., foliar application to corn and soy after crop emergence); outdoor applications to certain vegetable crops; and applications to ornamental plants. Apples, which are not uncommonly sprayed with one or two applications of foliar-applied neonicotinoids per year, were spared by omission. I testified in the Senate agriculture committee in April about how the industry uses neonicotinoids and other insecticides and included information from grower reports of pollinator health in Vermont orchards. If the legislation has its intended effect of improving pollinator health, Vermont orchards should see more diverse and abundant pollinator populations in the future. That said, apple growers are already reporting strong wild pollinator populations on our farms, and a majority of farms are relying on wild pollinators for the critical pollination services we need to support our crops. We’re doing something right.

Grapes are a bit of a different story in a couple of ways. First, grapes are wind pollinated and thus are not dependent on insect-mediated pollination. That means that pollinator populations are lower in vineyards overall, except on blooming groundcovers. Second, insect management is a relatively minor component of Integrated Pest Management in Vermont vineyards, where disease management is the main concern. Grape berry moth is the main concern in many vineyards, and it is both not present at damaging levels on many farms and also easily manageable with ‘soft’ insecticides (e.g., Altacor, Intrepid, Delegate, Dipel, and other Bt products) with minimal impact on pollinators or other beneficial insects. Many Vermont vineyard never apply an insecticide in their annual IPM program.

I served as the Chair of the Vermont Pollinator Committee in 2016-0217 and have stayed abreast of all legislation and rulemaking around pollinators and pesticides in general since and even before then. As long as we continue to be the good stewards of the land that we have been, we should be good as far as this legislation is concerned. For all of us, and especially tree fruit growers, we walk a fine line of supporting wild and managed pollinators on our farms while also protecting our crops from insect and other pest damage that can quickly ruin a crop. I am glad that in 2024 we operate on a mature, advanced IPM system that balances these well. Keep up the good work.



The UVM Tree Fruit and Viticulture Program is supported by the University of Vermont Agriculture Experiment Station, UVM Extension, USDA NIFA E-IPM Program, and USDA Risk Management Agency.

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture. University of Vermont Extension, Burlington, Vermont. University of Vermont Extension, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, cooperating, offer education and employment to everyone without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or familial status.

Where trade names or commercial products are used for identification, no discrimination is intended and no endorsement is implied. Always read the label before using any pesticide. The label is the legal document for the product use. Disregard any information in this message if it is in conflict with the label.