As this year comes to a close, we look back on the accomplishments, lessons learned, and work to be done within Project Apis m.’s “hive” at the intersection of beekeeping and agriculture.
Like the bees we love and seek to protect, it takes the dedication of many! To the beekeepers, growers, donors, supporters, participants, researchers, affiliated organizations and associations, industry businesses, volunteers, and colleagues in the honey bee world —thank you! Individually, we could never achieve what we can by working together! We are grateful for your advocacy, financial support and frankly, your grit to help solve the complex problems and opportunities our industry and our honey bees face.
This year, you’ve helped PAm advance honey bee health in three critical areas:
1. Investment in research that generates practical solutions, today and for the future.
2. Planting forage habitat where bees need good nutrition most
3. Collaboration to leverage our learning and maximize our efforts
Every year we look back and assess our results. What worked? How are PAm programs providing movement toward our goals? What do we need to revamp or enhance? Are there new ideas, partnerships, and initiatives to increase and leverage our impact? And always, how can we drive our mission on behalf of honey bees forward?
I am interested in hearing your ideas for the future of beekeeping and honey bee health. Contact me! Your past, present, and future support make all the difference.
Project Apis m. began with what was almost guerilla tactics — raising funds donated by growers and beekeepers and channeling research efforts to protect their livelihood. PAm founders built trust and partnerships to develop lean, efficient programs and crafted a mission that connects resources with a practical focus. That was ten years ago (so was CCD!) and since then we’ve fought a good fight. As our research and forage programs continue to expand into our second decade, we are pleased to be growing our skill set and capacity with two excellent new hires!
PAm fielded an impressive pool of applicants for the positions we posted (thank you!) and we’re happy to welcome a new Director of Operations, Patty Shreve, and Sheila Jackson, providing communications and fundraising expertise. Both live in Utah.
A natural fit in PAm’s Bees-ness! Sheila Jackson, Marketing and Communications,
and Patty Shreve, Director of Operations.
Patty arrives with a science background and has done field studies and specialized zoo caretaking with birds. She followed that more recently with positions managing nonprofit organizations, including work with the Utah Nonprofit Association. As a self- and peer- proclaimed “multitasking maven,” Patty brims with nonprofit expertise and resources, which make her a perfect fit for PAm!
Sheila is uniquely suited for fundraising and development with additional expertise in communications and graphic design; most recently applying her skills to conservation driven missions at land trust and conservancy nonprofits.
Patty and Sheila are new to bees and beekeeping, although they both keep pollinator gardens. And they both jumped into a beehive during their first week on the job! The mission and efficacy of PAm are built on our relationships and finding those who can propel our mission forward. So, if you see Patty and Sheila at upcoming conferences, be sure to say hello and tell them about your role in our hive!
September was National Honey Month! To celebrate, the National Honey Board held a “Hive-to-Table” dinner event for food writers. I was invited to address the topic of bee health and efforts to solve the crisis. The event featured a honey tasting; a chef guiding us through her menu of pollinated foods prepared with varietal honey; and a virtual reality experience of being a bee - both in the hive and flying through habitat. We used a special headset but you can watch the video without that here. Not only was it a privilege and pleasure to be part of such a well-designed experience, but I was very glad that the problems bees are facing, and their connection to our own lives, was a key part of the message for these food writers.
Appreciating the nuance and terroir of honey varietals is unforgettable, and the NHB did an amazing job with the honey tasting. The honey bee’s connection to our food supply and to our own favorite healthy foods, is what makes every reader a critical stakeholder in honey bee health. There is no substitute for honey bees when it comes to providing the pollination services that growers rely on to produce crops. I was very glad to deliver that message!
The Hive to Table Dinner celebrated fruits of the bee's labor - honey and foods that are reliant on pollinators. It was a testament to how PAm, the National Honey Board, and all of our supporters, partners, and researchers are working together like a healthy hive to produce healthy honey bees (with delicious results).
Margaret Lombard, CEO of the National Honey Board, Danielle Downey, Executive Director of Project Apis m., and Catherine Barry, Marketing Director of the National Honey Board, pose for a photo op highlighting the tagline #HiveToTable
Project Apis m. is proud to partner with the National Honey Board, administering their Production Research funds. Together we will invest an estimated $10 million into programs to improve honey bee health by the year 2020. The first step is coming soon! This month PAm will publish the 2018 Request for Proposals. Watch for it on our website. The application process is straightforward and the review process is quick (proposals will be due in October and selected by January). Funding begins immediately for the 2018 year. This is an excellent example of the collaborations in our industry which create efficient opportunities for projects to improve honey bee health!
Don’t look now, it’s already time to harvest honey! Whether you keep bees or not, as you consider this year’s fresh honey crop, think about this: bees visit about 2 million flowers to make a single pound of honey. And of course, they have to make honey for their own winter stores before the beekeeper can harvest surplus, that takes a lot of flowers! The national average for honey production is about 5 gallons of honey per hive, which is also about what the bees need to store for the colony to get through a winter- a pound for you and a pound for the bees, if you’re lucky with an average harvest! Project Apis m. is planting a lot of forage these days, and honey is one very good reason why. Beekeepers need to make a honey crop to stay in business. Without solvent commercial beekeeping, there is no alternative service which could supply pollination: crop production relies on managed honey bees. Besides being a measure of the business model for beekeeping, a honey crop also is indicative of the health of the hive. A colony with no honey crop is probably suffering in other ways, and may be much less fit to survive winter and make the grade to pollinate California almonds. If we liken bees work to running a successful marathon, it isn’t about what you have for breakfast that day- it starts far upstream of that. Pollination events for bees also depend on colony health right now, heading into fall fat and happy, without mites and diseases, and with a full healthy pantry.
PAm’s forage programs include Seeds for Bees in California and the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund in the Upper Midwest. Seeds for Bees is enrolling growers right now, providing free cover crop seed and the guidance to grow it successfully to benefit bees and the orchard. Contact Billy Synk to learn more. The Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund is in glorious bloom right now where it’s been planted, providing some of the best available nutrition for many kinds of bees in agricultural landscapes. Having seen them last week, working with PAm’s new BBHF Coordinator Pete Berthelsen, we saw that those plantings are actually giving beekeepers pause to harvest their honey, because there is still more coming in! HOWEVER, the other critical Fall management event is Varroa sampling and control in time to allow all colonies the time they need to produce a healthy cohort of bees to get through winter. Its hard to overstate the importance of Fall Varroa management. To raise awareness about that, PAm is a proud sponsor of the new Mite-A-Thon initiative. Read Billy and Karen’s articles to learn more about this effort, and how you can participate in this nationwide Varroa event during September.
No matter what stressors bees encounter as they pollinate, having good nutrition is necessary for the colony to produce more brood, so new bees can renew and revitalize a stressed colony. As our research programs aim to understand myriad stressors of honey bees including parasites, pathogens, and pesticide concerns, good nutrition can work from the other side of the equation to mitigate those other problems.
After its birth in 1989, the world wide web had 50 million users in just 3 years. It took television 13 years and radio 18 years to reach the same number. Today, 40% of the world’s people are connected to the internet, so it is with great pleasure that we launch our new and improved Project Apis m. website! It still has all our Best Management Practices information for growers and beekeepers, and it’s also more organized and easier to look at! It now houses a comprehensive repository where you can read about the many research projects we have funded over the years (more than 100!).
If you have received research funding from PAm, please check out the summary of your project, and let us know if there are additional impacts, like publications or links to information that we can include to highlight your work! You can also find information about applying for funding there.
www.projectapism.org also has information about our forage programs, Seeds for Bees, and the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund. Enrollment for both is happening now; take a look! Lastly, we are hiring, so check out those opportunities here!
Feel free to leave us comments or suggestions as you scroll, we appreciate hearing from you!
At the heart of Project Apis m.’s mission is research: the organization was created as a vehicle to gather donations and fund projects that would make a real difference for growers and beekeepers. Although we have grown and now manage a more complex suite of donors, initiatives and projects, science and research still drive this vehicle. Over the past 10 years, we have raised and distributed over $6.2 million toward practical, applied research projects and forage programs that support commercial honey bee health. That represents over 100 research projects and programs...none of which would have been possible without our panel of Scientific Advisors, who donate their expertise and time to review the many proposals submitted for PAm funding.
I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to each of those individuals and recognize how critical they are to our mission. We could not do this without them! Take a look at this ‘All-Star’ team; familiar faces in our industry: Randy Oliver , Jerry Hayes, Dr. Frank Drummond and Dr. Eric Mussen are industry advocates at PAm to recommend research projects: They bring over a century of combined experience and represent myriad interests and perspectives.
As PAm continues to grow and increase the available funding for research, I also am very excited to add an excellent new Scientific Advisor to the team and welcome Dr. Michelle Flenniken to Project Apis m. Michelle is an Assistant Professor in the Plant Sciences Department at Montana State University, where she investigates honey bee host-pathogen interactions. She is also Co-Director of Montana State University's Pollinator Health Center and the recent recipient of a prestigious NSF CAREER award.
Michelle received a B.S. in Biology from the University of Iowa and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana before obtaining her Ph.D. in Microbiology from Montana State University. She did postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Francisco, with Dr. Raul Andino (and RNA virologist) and collaborated on a honey bee colony monitoring project with Dr. Joe DeRisi, who received funding from PAm in 2008. When she emailed Eric Mussen (small world!) about a research project on RNAi in honey bees, it led to a UC-Davis / Haagen Daz sponsored fellowship that supported her initial independent research on honey bee viruses and the mechanisms of honey bee antiviral defense. In parallel, with Dr. DeRisi and a graduate student in the DeRisi lab (C. Runckel) and Brett Adee (Adee Honey Farms), this team produced one of the first published longitudinal studies of commercial bee colony pathogen prevalence and abundance.
Michelle has been focused on honey bee research ever since. She started her own laboratory at MSU in June 2012 and received support from PAm to support her research on the impact of honey bee viruses on bee health (in general) and to examine potential synergistic effects of viral infections and agrochemical exposure. Shortly thereafter Laura Brutscher, a graduate student in the Flenniken Lab, received the PAm-Costco PhD Fellowship in Honey Bee Biology. Both of these grants from PAm were critical in forming and shaping her successful bee lab and projects. Michelle is a great example of how Project Apis m. leverages donated resources to increase the problem-solving assets for the beekeeping industry, not just with specific projects but also by engaging and supporting developing or ‘non-bee’ scientists who can bring their focus and expertise to our issues. By providing the initial ‘start-up’ funding required for research projects to gain momentum in order to compete for higher dollar federally funded grants, which are needed to address complex biological questions and develop real solutions for beekeepers down the road. In addition to support from Project Apis m., the Flenniken Lab is supported by the National Science Foundation (both NSF Career Award from the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems and EPSCoR funds), the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (USDA-NIFA-AFRI) Program, Montana Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Hatch Multistate Funding (NC-1173), and received some initial lab ‘start up’ support from the National Institutes of Health IDeA Program COBRE grant GM110732, the Montana State Beekeepers Association, Montana State University, and the Montana State University Agricultural Experiment Station.
With an expertise in microbiology, genetics, and virology, Michelle is an excellent addition to our cadre of Science Advisors. We couldn’t be more excited to have her on board and are thankful already that her passion for research drives her to volunteer service to PAm!
With new annual colony loss data being released (see BIP Box, June 2017) we are reminded of the four Ps that give our bees the most trouble for a decade now –they are Parasites, Pathogens, Poor Nutrition and Pesticides. Those of us working to improve bee health are concentrating on those four areas, and stakeholders have continued to step up to make a difference in the decade since CCD raised the alarm about honey bee health. Assessing the risks that pesticides pose to bees and applying mitigations are critical challenges to pesticide regulators (both federal and state), that can directly impact the beekeeping industry. High quality research takes time to plan and execute, and it can be quickly outpaced by the development of new chemistries, delivery methods and applicator preferences such as mixing compounds. That is why it is important for our industry to keep pace with the latest research, including supporting studies that form the basis of the current understanding of risk to bees. We know that honey bees can forage up to several miles from their hives, often pollinating a variety of important crops, many of which might be treated with pesticides at various times. On these foraging trips, pollinators may be exposed to these pesticides. But what are the risks? There are many options to quantify and mitigate exposure risks, but until recent years, mandatory risk assessments did not include data from immature honey bee laboratory studies. It is critically important in determining chronic and sub lethal effects to immature honey bees from compounds that may not affect adult bees the same way. In recent years, beekeepers concerned about increased hive losses have been working with the EPA and Registrant Companies to develop better methods of assessing pesticide risks from pesticides.
Accordingly, Project Apis m. supports additional and continued research to determine what pesticide exposure levels could result in effects, and whether those effects match symptoms seen under field conditions. Following this approach, we have had great successes determining practices to minimize the potential harm to bees, including recent work by Dr. Reed Johnson, who has explored the role of specific tank mixes used in almonds which were harming bees- particularly honey bee larvae. (Very good web presentation here) This discovery was promptly used by the Almond Board of California to refine management recommendations to protect bees. This is an example of how responsive applied research can make a difference for all stakeholders.
Likewise, many groups are working to determine how to test chemicals to best assess risks to bees, which can inform chemical registration and proper use. This month we are sharing an example of a laboratory approach for determining toxicity to honey bee larvae, which will serve as one of the standard toxicity studies required for pesticide regulation in the U.S. (and most of the world).
The following article summarizes a collaborative global effort of academia, agrochemical industry, regulatory agencies and independent labs, to standardize a testing protocol which determines pesticide risk to honey bee larvae. As beekeepers, we know effects on any cohort can ultimately impact the colony, and effects to honey bee brood, including eggs, larvae and pupae (capped brood), are no exception. Ideally we would test all bees, in all settings, at all stages, to make the best decisions, but how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! This particular test; the 22-day chronic larval toxicity test, has been challenging to standardize, and as you can see from complete report, a huge effort was required just to be sure that laboratories can successfully complete the study. Independent labs across the world were invited to participate and 15 of them took on the task to generate these data. I invite you to take a look and see what goes into incremental improvements to a method like this, and appreciate the scientists who are dedicated to this kind of work. This is an example of cooperation by many stakeholders to advance our understanding of pesticide risk, developing new methods to protect pollinators.
Honey Bee Larval Toxicity Test Protocol Development Summary
Dr. Dan Schmehl, Pollinator Safety Scientist, Bayer Crop Science
A recent effort by the Pollinator Research Task Force1 (PRTF) validated the use of a method for evaluating the chronic toxicity of a compound (e.g., a pesticide) to an immature honey bee for use in a risk assessment. Substantial data on the honey bee toxicity (i.e., what level causes an effect) and exposure (i.e., what concentration and amount they encounter in the environment) on both the adult and immature stages of development are required prior to conducting a thorough risk assessment for a pesticide. Currently, established methodology exists for measuring acute oral and contact toxicity of a pesticide on adult honey bees, and for measuring acute toxicity on honey bee larva. Developing a robust study design for evaluating chronic exposure of a compound to immature honey bee development has been challenging due to high mortality in the controls (control = no pesticide present).
The National Honey Board (NHB), under USDA oversight, has a budget from assessments on domestic and imported honey ($0.015 per pound) from businesses marketing over 250,000 pounds a year. The NHB uses this budget for a very focused mission: to increase awareness and usage of honey. In a professional, strategic and measured way, they are working to get more people to use more honey using data driven tactics.
The NHB budget also designates 5% for Production Research. We are all aware of what makes productive hives these days--honey bee health and forage--so that research falls precisely in the wheelhouse of Project Apis m. In 2017, we were asked to manage these Production Research funds for NHB, and we are very excited to be doing that! I attended my first NHB meeting recently to present our progress--and I learned a lot about the great work NHB is doing.
The very professional, ten-member Board consists of three first handlers, two importers, one importer-handler, three producers, and one marketing cooperative representative. If you can think of a way to increase honey markets, chances are they are already doing it. They work non-stop to promote honey with their own staff, and they also hire additional experts to study honey use; develop strategies and initiatives to market; and promote honey to chefs, brewers, consumers, retailers, food service and food developers. From strategic coupon programs to intimate invite-only honey beer educational summits, they are paving the way to sell honey every which way! Be sure to read Doug Hauke’s article (here) about how quickly breweries are increasing honey use. NHB’s hard work with brewers spells opportunity for honey sales! You might think of their website as mostly recipes, but, in fact, if you want to know which kind of jars will help you sell honey, or which demographics are increasing consumption, or if you want to be listed as a seller in their directory for consumers, be sure to see their updated website-launching in May. Go to www.honey.com to see all the sweet things NHB does for our industry!
NHB April meeting, San Diego. Jill Clark (Chair),
Danielle Downey, Brent Barkman, Margaret Lombard (CEO).
Project Apis m.’s primary mission has been to fund and direct research to help honey bees, but as we expand our forage programs, including Seeds for Bees in California and The Bee and Butterfly Fund in the Upper Midwest, there is a whole new body of interests to understand. The recent campaign from General Mills, where Buzz the honey bee disappeared from the Cheerios box, has gotten a lot of attention--both praise and criticism. Not only did they quickly ‘sell out’ of all the free seed packets that were offered, but there was equally swift backlash criticizing the effort for the seeds chosen. As we engage to replace critical habitat which has been lost for honey bees, below the surface of that good deed are interests that may seem at odds, and may confuse most audiences seeking to help the situation. As I discussed this issue with the Director of Habitat Partnerships from Pheasants Forever, Pete Berthelsen, he provided the following explanation from his years of service building habitat:
The use of “Invasive” or “Introduced” plants in seeding mixtures to benefit pollinators has been a hot topic the past month or so. This is an interesting and important discussion and it’s exciting to see the enthusiasm around the topic of planting pollinator habitat. But like most complicated issues, there are many aspects to this story that we need to consider carefully. Here are five points to consider when deciding whether “introduced” plants are friend or foe.
(Pete Berthelson, Director of Habitat Partnerships
from Pheasants Forever)
Just like the ‘Flow Hive’ generated lots and lots of media attention, dollars raised, Facebook posts, enthusiasm, etc., it was a far more complicated issue than the message on the surface would have the public believe. The issue of introduced plants vs. native plants is just as complicated. Here are a few points that need to be understood and considered about Introduced plants in pollinator plantings:
The bottom line is that this is a complex topic without a simple answer or response. We need to be thoughtful and careful about how this message is relayed to the public that is enthusiastically wanting to help the bees and butterflies! I hope these five points will help inform habitat enthusiasts as they encounter these debates.
By Danielle Downey with Pete Berthelsen
Project Apis m. has been advocating to support bees in agriculture for years, funding research projects and also improving bee nutrition by planting forage. Seeds for Bees in California provides free seed to growers to plan cover crops around their orchards, benefitting the grower while increasing duration, diversity and density of blooms available to bees. In 2017, PAm also helped launch the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund, a program to improve summer forage in the Upper Midwest for bees after their pollination services are done. All participants have been very satisfied with our programs, and there is a waiting list of growers, beekeepers, and landowners! However, we won’t just speculate how good it is. These PAm programs are currently part of studies by scientists to gather data about the quality of our specific forage for honey bees and other pollinators. Some of this work is in press already and the news is impressive (stay tuned for updates)! PAm’s forage programs are focused where they can do the most good: in California where the majority of the nation’s managed bees are moved in to pollinate almonds, and in the Upper Midwest where a majority of the nation’s summer bees are found in just a few states!
A map from this recent research study full of great information about wild bees, shows very clearly the ‘red zones’ in the two areas we are working, California’s central valley and the Upper Midwest. These are key areas that host managed bees; it’s where we need bees most for agriculture, and unfortunately it is also where their sustenance is declining rapidly. When habitat and forage resources erode in these areas, all pollinators lose. In contrast, when we develop habitat by planting forage there, honey bees and wild bees can all gain! In the Upper Midwest we can also expect benefits to extend to Monarch butterflies, songbirds, game birds and other wildlife. We couldn’t be more excited! We hope you will join Project Apis m. and support these programs to replace what has been lost--critical forage on the landscape for pollinators. As we work to solve the complexities of the stressors our bees face, the simplest help we can offer in the meantime is providing them good forage!
Danielle Downey is the Executive Director for Project Apis m. She has been working with honey bees and the parasites that plague them for over 20 years.