Bee pest fight may get new weapon
Beekeepers ask EPA for use of amitraz to control varroa mites
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Idaho beekeepers could soon have another tool to use in their battle to control varroa mites, honeybee parasites that have been linked to colony collapse disorder and can devastate hives.
The Idaho State Department of Agriculture has asked the Environmental Protection Agency for an emergency exemption that would allow Idaho beekeepers to use the pesticide amitraz.
Amitraz has proven effective as an insect repellent in other uses, but has not been approved yet for use in honeybee colonies in the United States.
The EPA approved the use of amitraz strips in bee colonies in South Dakota in October and then Oregon last month and Idaho officials are hopeful the Gem State will quickly receive permission to use the pesticide.
Without emergency approval from EPA, beekeepers could have to wait years until the product is fully registered. Idaho is among several states, including California, that have requested emergency permission to use the pesticide.
Paul Andersen, president of the Oregon Beekeepers Association, said a lot of the traditional varroa mite treatments have been losing some of their efficacy as the insects build tolerance to them.
If another product to control them is available and beekeepers can rotate treatments, he added, "it would take the mites longer to build up resistance."
Researchers have documented mite resistance to the two main synthetic products beekeepers currently use to control them, said entomologist researcher Ramesh Sagilli, assistant professor of Oregon State University's Department of Horticulture.
If beekeepers follow the label for amitraz and don't over-use it, the product could prove helpful for several years at least, he said.
Andersen said the mites are a huge problem to the industry and can completely wipe out a hive if their numbers are high enough.
"Keeping the number of mites in a hive somewhat under control to where they're not causing a big problem is getting to be more and more difficult," he said.
Amitraz has not been approved for use in beehives in the U.S. but has proven its worth in other countries, said Jan Lohman, a commercial beekeeper in Hermiston, Ore.
"In Canada, they have had great success with it," she said, adding that industry officials there have told her "it has made a huge difference to their beekeepers."
Because bees are dormant right now, Lohman said, the product wouldn't be used by Pacific Northwest beekeepers until February at the earliest, when they start preparing for the almond harvest in California.
The industry won't know if amitraz will help solve the varroa mite problem until enough beekeepers have a chance to use it, said Jonathan Millet, president of the Idaho Honey Industry Association and a commercial beekeeper in Marsing, Idaho.
While there is significant hope that it will help, he said, beekeepers are also mindful that the problem has persisted for more than two decades.