Honeybee health a concern for many

Bill Schaefer/For the Capital Press A honeybee gathers nectar from a crabapple tree on March 18.

The plight of the honeybee is an increasing concern among beekeepers, horticulturists, orchardists and government agencies across the United States.

According to a 2012 report released by the USDA the number of professional beehives has declined from 6 million in 1947 to 2.5 million today. The decline in beehives has been exacerbated since 2006 with what has been called colony collapse disorder. During the past six years beehive losses have averaged just over 30 percent, according to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

The report stated that “overall losses continue to be high and pose a serious threat to meeting pollination service demands for several commercial crops.”

Anita Pease, associate director of environmental fate and effects division at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the EPA is in the midst of reviewing the draft document for a pollinator health strategy.

“Hopefully, it should be out in the next two to three months, if not sooner,” Pease said. “We are considering some proposed label changes for pesticides that are acutely toxic to bees in certain situations where we restrict the use at bloom, but that proposal would go out for public comment.”

Pease said the EPA also is currently conducting a risk assessment of imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide, that should be released within the calendar year.

Beekeepers and others see a complex and multi-layered reasoning for CCD.

Pease said there are several stress-related issues that the EPA is considering in its risk assessment of pollinator health. Along with the use of pesticides the EPA is also exploring factors including the loss of habitat, the moving of commercial beehives to meet pollination demands of certain crops, pests and pathogens as well as best management practices of beehives.

Pease also emphasized the importance of following label instructions when using pesticides. Referring to a colony die-off of 25,000 bees in Oregon in 2013, Pease said, “It’s my understanding that there was a restriction on the label that said ‘do not apply during bloom.’ If they were applied during bloom when the label said not to, that would be a misuse of the pesticide.”

Nick Noyes, based in Fruitland, Idaho, is a second-generation beekeeper with 9,000 beehives. Speaking from California, where his beehives were in the midst of the almond pollination season, Noyes said he considers the lack of habitat and forage to be the biggest problem his business.

“There’s nothing left when the almonds are done,” Noyes said. “There’s no weeds. There’s no habitat for bees. There’s no flowers. If you look at what’s going on in farming, the only thing that grows in a farmer’s field that is green is what a farmer wants to be in there.”

In an attempt to improve bee habitat, Becky Curry-Lang, Bayer CropScience’s project manager for bee health, said that Bayer has launched an initiative in 2015 called, “Feed a Bee.”

Curry-Lang said Bayer is giving away wildflower seed packets in an attempt to plant 50 million flowers.

“No matter what side of the honeybee issue that you’re on, everyone agrees that forage and habitat is where we can clearly make a huge difference,” Curry-Lang said.

In addition to the 50 million flowers, Curry-Lang said Bayer is trying to also find partners for larger acreage pollinator habitat.

“Maybe it’s a grower that has land they don’t use for their traditional operations or it’s a nonprofit organization. We’ll work to achieve more acreage in providing habitat across the United States,” she said of the initiative. For more information visit feedabee.com.

The Varroa mite, the tracheal mite and the gut pathogen Nosema have also been contributing factors affecting poor pollinator health and CCD.

Curry-Lang said Bayer has a product in development called polyvar, a miticide that may protect honeybees from the Varroa mite.

“It’s hard to control a bug on a bug,” Curry-Lang said. “It’s a very fine line on how much miticide you use to control the Varroa while not harming the bee.”

The polyvar is a plastic strip placed at the opening of the hive so that the bee would be dosed as it leaves and enters the hive.

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