As I get close to finishing my dissertation, I am reflecting on the way that the PAm-Costco Scholar Fellowship has helped me to take my interest in honey bee foraging behavior and apply it to helping beekeepers and land managers who want to support honey bees.
I started studying bees a few years after increased colony mortality had drawn international public attention and concern. Research since that time has highlighted four major stressors that contribute to high mortality: parasites, pathogens, pesticides, and poor nutrition. Good nutrition is not only essential to day-to-day activities of bees, but it also helps colonies deal with the other stressors. Finding apiary spots that lead to good colony nutrition is challenging because honey bee colonies have a very wide foraging range, in some cases traveling over 8 miles to collect food. If we consider that most foraging happens within 2 miles of a hive, that’s still over 8,000 acres that foragers are covering to find rewarding flowers.
The Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) and Project Apis m. (PAm) have a long history of partnership. Since 2012 PAm has deeply supported the BIP Tech Transfer Teams (TTTs), who are the “boots on the ground” to survey honey bee health, and often acting as liaisons between research, and beekeepers. Their unique position not only allows them to share research developments and management practices with commercial beekeepers, but they also understand the most current beekeeping needs and trends and can help inform researchers about what is going on in the beekeeping industry that needs to be addressed.
Commercial beekeepers who work with the Tech Transfer Teams on average lose 30% fewer colonies each year than beekeepers who do not. That is significant! Quite a few participating beekeepers have also reported saving money by working with TTTs - some very major losses have been avoided, and many beekeepers report overall improved condition of their bees as well.
North Dakota is home to over half a million honey bee colonies, and is the number 1 honey producing state in the US for the past 30 years. According to the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, in 2017, North Dakota produced 33 million pounds of honey valued at over $65 million. The vast expanse of land, as far as the eye can see, offers a dense and rich clover forage, a favorite of the honey bee. It is therefore no surprise that more beekeepers want to bring their bees to the Peace Garden State each year. In contrast, corn and soybean are gaining popularity in the agricultural landscape of North Dakota, replacing some of the more traditional grain crops of the past. As a result of these two opposing landscape factors, beekeepers in North Dakota report an increase in honey bee colony density and a decrease in forage for the pollinator. Zac Browning of Browning Honey Co. warns that North Dakota is the ‘Last Best Place for Bees’.
“Pollen metabarcoding is a way that we can enable larger questions to be answered, and larger scientific studies to be conducted more cost efficiently.” – Rodney Richardson, PhD Candidate, Ohio State University
David Fenn is the Senior Vice President of Farming at Sun World International. In 2017 Sun World International worked with Project Apis m.’s Seeds for Bees program to plant hedgerows and bee-friendly cover crops and earn Pollinator Partnership’s Bee Friendly Farming certification. Sun World has a deep commitment to sustainability which you can read more about here.
We talked to David to learn more about growing table grapes in California, and how Sun World approaches cover crops and other sustainability practices.