Honey Bee Health Summit


Second day. More beekeepers speaking than not, and definitely interesting. Zac Browning, commercial beekeeper looked at what has changed….More stress of course, in terms of shorter bloom periods, reduced sources of food, ag chemicals…both more of them and different kinds, increased exposure to diseases and pests, primarily in almond holding yards but almost everywhere really, hive numbers are down and especially honey production, both per hive and total crop down. Bummer.

  1. Looking at details, Habitat degradation and land use changes. There’s about 370 million acres of farmland in the US, commodity prices have changed due to more and more of fewer and fewer crops, urban expansion, US Gov’t conservation policy, even rural development, land reclamation and conservation policies are evolving. There’s going to be 100,000 more acres of almonds to pollinate in 4 years…we use 800 commercial beekeepers to provide 1.6 million of the 2.6 million we have now…unsettling numbers. How many commercials beekeepers aren’t part of this Russian roulette game, does anybody know? And are there 200,000 more colonies out in the weeds willing to take this on?
  2. Adult bees aren’t living as long, queens aren’t living period, and the balance of overlapping generations is out of whack in almost all colonies. It costs a beekeeper $220 to get a colony ready to pollinate almonds. There’s not nearly enough field level research…lab bench experiments are ok, but whole colony, or whole apiary, or whole state programs can’t be compared to a single bee in a bottle.
  3. Beekeeping, with 30+% losses every year isn’t sustainable, there’s only 1 mite treatment, really, at a time, and then it’s usually late, there’s not nearly enough CRP land, and certainly no refuges for bees or any pollinators.
  4. Modern farming has removed fence rows and habitat and forage, and herbicides have removed almost all of the rest, and what’s left no crop rotation and management have taken care of…think cutting alfalfa at 10% bloom.
  5. And who’s going to take over? Former employees, foreign investors, family? All the lists are short, and there just isn’t a school to go to to learn.
  6. Pesticides…multiple kinds, multiple exposures, multiple problems, and without enough good food all the time, the costs of keeping bees keeps going up, and honey is too variable to rely on as an income source…you can’t bet on the weather.

There are some positive things…wildflower planting projects, primarily in almonds are looking at those flowers with season long bloom, that thrive in drought, provide good food and are inexpensive to grow. Some, but not nearly enough are heading our way in Project Pollination. Not surprisingly, monofloral diets affect health, and reduce immunity to diseases. Native plants are good, but so are others, but who says you can plant them, do bees like them, and how many do you need, and for how long, and should they change as the season progresses? Perennials are best and phacelia is one of the best of those.

Monocultural landscapes produce sick colonies, and varied landscapes don’t was heard from a bunch of researchers, beekeepers, farmers, landowners… and me. But that we heard it again, and again, and again should tell somebody something. Well, get away from ag, and get your bees in the weeds. If you want bees that is. Add in pesticide exposure, no matter what kind or when…mortality increases, all season long…go to the weeds.

Pleasing to hear…take care of the bees that take care of the bees that go into winter….you heard that here first…well, early on anyway. But it’s true.

This is half of day two, which was an all-day affair, plus an hour tour of part of Monsanto’s Research facility. No photos allowed, but I did get a couple of souvenirs. One was a collection of the seeds they sample to analyze DNA, each with a tiny chip taken out that gets the DNA analysis. The machine is called a chipper, and it takes a tiny piece of a seed, leaving more than enough to plant and grow if their analysis shows this particular seed should be explored further. But the rest of the tour showed seed coating technology, plants with and without built in BT genes…those without were, essentially, dead from the pests that eat them in the field. We saw greenhouse experiments, gene sequencing labs, and more, but we ran out of time because the talks went long. I could have stayed there a week, but duty and a deadline calls.

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