FREDERIC, Wi., March 9, 2012 — Bees are nearing a “crises,” prompting the government to spend millions on a massive data base and asking beekeepers on March 27 for advice on how to save them and prevent the nation’s agriculture from collapsing.
“We’re not very far above a crisis or a critical situation,” said Jeffery Pettis, lead bee researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “We’re operating on a very thin margin as far as meeting pollination demands.”
Honeybees are critical in agriculture. The value of crops in U.S. agriculture that depend on their pollination is $19 billion, according to USDA estimates. Worldwide that crop value is $217 billion.
A major loss of bees would be an economic catastrophe. And experts say that’s where we’re headed.
“We’ve been suffering for the past 5 years,” said Dr. Pettis. “There’s been about a 30 percent loss through the fall and winter. So every year we’re just barely meeting that one big early pollination need.
And that big need is almonds.
“We use almost 60 percent of all the (bee) colonies in the US just to pollinate California almonds,” Pettis said. “So every year, colonies from all over the country have to move to California almonds to meet that one pollination demand, and then they move out across the US the rest of the year and meet all these other pollination demands.”
American beekeepers are barely meeting the demand for more bees by “splitting” one hive into two or three new hives to increase the population.
But Pettis warned this method is “not very sustainable” and it’s only a temporary fix for agriculture’s demand for more bees. The dangerous reality is, “as a whole for the nation we’re in bad shape.”
Facing this, Congress and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) took action last year, granting $5.6 million to establish a national, massive data base under the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) program.
Here practical, what-works information will be gathered and analyzed and distributed directly to local beekeepers across the nation.
“What we are trying to do is use those same tools cancer epidemiologists use in human populations and try to understand what risk factors there are in bee populations,” said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a project manager with BIP and bee researcher at the University of Maryland.
“We will ask beekeepers questions about what methods they use to keep their colonies healthy and alive…and then report those facts to beekeepers,” said Dr. vanEngelsdorp.
Questions like: Did you use a particular miticide to treat your colony? Did you use Fumagilin B to treat Nosema? What steps did you take to lessen winter kill?
“You can use these management techniques or products that other beekeepers have used with success,” said Karen Rennich, a project manager with BIP, University of Maryland researcher and former nuclear submarine engineer.
What may well save a beekeeper and their bees is quick, hands-on information. “It’s the immediate feedback from people in your own region who keep bees in a similar fashion,” Rennich said.
The goal is simple: “Get information collected from beekeepers back to beekeepers quickly so they can make more informed decisions,” said the BIP Web site.
One way of getting the information ball rolling is using the information highway. So on March 27, BIP and Brushy Mountain Bee Farms will host an online “webinar” where beekeepers from coast-to-coast will join vanEngelsdorp to collaborate on how best to manage bees in specific locations.
“We’re trying to promote this through our customer base and through our contacts in the industry,” said Shane Gebauer, spokesman for Brushy Mountain. He said other bee companies are promoting the webinar and the BIP project to get beekeepers involved in their shared interest.
“As a beekeeper you have a vested interest in learning about this project and you have a vested interest in participating in this survey,” Gebauer said. “The more information we can get and the more beekeepers we can get to participate in it, the more robust the results will be.”
Beekeepers are encouraged to sign up and participate for the March 27 webinar at: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/825237930.
In addition, beekeepers are asked to join BIP and share their thoughts, ideas and special management tools. You can get on the email list here: http://beeinformed.org/participate/
Over the last year, BIP has produced some survey results, which can be viewed on their Web site: http://beeinformed.org/. And an upcoming survey will be released the first of April, said vanEngelsdorp.
Government officials, leading experts and backyard beekeepers all stress the critical importance of bees on our economy and society. One sure way to save them is by sharing with each other what works.
If we lose our bees, the US as we know it is lost.
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