Blog •  6/13/2024

Pesticide Product Development That Keeps Pollinators in Mind

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Two bees hovering by a flower

Pesticides and pollinators — two words that might seem to be at odds. After all, pesticides control insects, and most types of pollinators are insects. Is it possible for these two things to co-exist in a healthy way? Not only is it possible, it’s happening in farm fields every day all over the world. Pollinators and pesticides are both vital for farmers. At Corteva Agriscience, we develop products that help farmers manage pests that threaten their crops and maintain the pollinators their fields that other crops and plants also need. Here’s how it’s possible.

Selectivity and reducing exposure

At Corteva, protecting pollinators begins at the very inception of pesticide product development, as our scientists work to create chemistries that are as selective as possible. Many of our active ingredients are made to work only on very specific nerve receptors in targeted insect pests. This means the pesticide can’t work on any organism that doesn’t have that receptor – this may include pollinators or other beneficial species like spiders that feed on pests. A selective pesticide helps farmers manage insect pests that feed on their crops while maintaining the beneficial ones that help their fields and other plants thrive and can naturally reduce pest populations.

Corteva products are also formulated to reduce the chances of exposure to non-target organisms. Seed treatments, for example, reduce early-season damage from insects and diseases. Because the pesticide is applied directly to the seed, there’s already much less environmental exposure – about 95% less compared to products applied over a whole field.1 When used according to the label, Corteva seed treatments are also formulated to reduce exposure during treatment application and planting. We use polymers to coat the seed and purpose-designed equipment, and defined processes to deliver the seed treatments in field to reduce product dust-off. Products applied by other methods can be formulated to reduce drift or contain label information instructing applicators how to reduce drift through use of specific equipment or other techniques.

Robust research

The scientists at Corteva Agriscience spend years developing products to solve tough agricultural challenges. In fact, the industry average for getting a new pesticide product to market is over 12 years.2 We only bring products forward when we’re sure they are effective solutions for farmers and that they’re also compatible with maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

Potential products are tested extensively to ensure safety for workers handling the product, people who may be in proximity to fields where products are applied, consumers who will eat food produced using the product, and the environment in which the product will be used. Because pollinators are so vital to farming and our food supply, regulatory bodies around the world require that products be evaluated for any potential effects on pollinators.

Studies for pollinator safety are stringent. Products are tested for safety under lab and field conditions. Scientists look for potential effects of products at levels higher than they would ever be used in real-world applications, as well as effects in likely field application scenarios. Researchers observe any direct impact of a product on pollinators, and how those effects might be changed by variables like wind, weather or application time of day. And because pollinators engage in complex behaviors, researchers look at those effects, too. How does a product impact pollinators when they come into contact with it? What if they ingest it? What happens when it’s carried back to a hive? When it comes to pollinator studies, researchers want to understand as much as possible about any possible follow-on effects.

Best practices

Pesticide products must always be applied according to label directions, which are established as part of product development and registration and are law. Companies like Corteva provide product use instructions that are simple for farmers to follow, so it’s easy for them to reduce exposure to pollinators or any other non-target organisms from pesticides. Usually, farmers only need to take simple steps to reduce exposure, such as spraying when pollinators are not active, or avoiding application when crops are blooming. It’s also good practice for farmers to communicate with their neighbors about their application plans, to reduce any potential risk to pollinators on nearby acres. Corteva representatives work with farmers to develop best practices for optimizing pollinator safety and also utilize integrated pest management (IPM) strategies to support pollinator habitats.

Ongoing evaluation

All pesticide products are re-evaluated on a regular basis in order to maintain their registration and approval in regions around the world. That means studies of product safety and efficacy are ongoing for as long as that product is available for use. When we learn something new, a product’s label or use instructions may be revised to include information from the latest research. The more we learn, the better solutions we can provide – for today’s products and those to come.

For as long as people have been cultivating crops, they’ve recognized the value of pollinators and the threat of pests. Today, scientific advances and careful study are guiding the way to solutions that help farmers maintain the productivity benefits of both pollinators and pesticides. With the right approach, the relationship between pesticides and pollinators is no longer either/or, and instead becomes a win/win for co-existence.


1Seed Treatment A Tool for Sustainable Agriculture,” International Seed Federation and CropLife International, October 2007.

2 AgbioInvestor, 2024.