While toilet paper was undoubtedly the hottest commodity this spring, the rush to stock up on pantry items also included honey. Are people buying it because it is comforting? Or because they know it does not go bad? The global pandemic has led to all kinds of anomalies and challenges so far this year. Here are some of the ways we have seen beekeepers and researchers respond.
The timing of most state shutdowns coincided with prime time for selling and receiving new bee packages. When preparing for a pick-up day for pre-sold nucs or packages, new social distancing guidelines had to be enforced to keep customers and employees safe. In Canada, flight disruptions in April caused delays with getting new queens and packages of bees into the country. Despite these complications, the business of beekeeping continues.
Beekeepers are essential workers that provide pollination services for our food supply, and yet the labor usually available via the H2A visa was seriously delayed this year due to travel restrictions. The federal government has tried to make adjustments so that workers could come into the country, but a lack of flights and travel options also needed to be overcome. Workers who could report to the bee yard have to try and limit contact amongst themselves. Within each crew of workers, there is often need to be in trucks together, so keeping consistent crews after they have been established as one way of minimizing unnecessary exposure.
Bee yards weren’t the only essential bee-related workplace experiencing dramatic changes. Busy labs are adjusting schedules for social distancing and adapting their usage of masks and gloves. A recent COLOSS survey evaluated the impact of the pandemic on honey bee research worldwide. Nearly all respondents reported some negative impact on their work, with fieldwork being the most severely impacted. Several respondents estimated that the time lost will never be recovered.
We know at least one lab, run by PAm science advisor Michelle Flenniken, has converted activities away from honey bee research to help with the pandemic response. Flenniken, whose lab usually investigates honey bee viruses, was uniquely able to repurpose her materials, know-how, and equipment to process coronavirus samples.
At PAm, we are still learning about the ongoing response to the pandemic amongst our stakeholders. We have heard from corporate sponsors who are acutely experiencing the economic pain the pandemic has caused. Our operations have not changed much because we already work remotely, but the work we do remains essential. We are continuing our mission to fund and direct honey bee research and improve crop production. PAm takes pride in our small, nimble efficiency which allows us to work with researchers with no cost extensions for their necessary contingency planning. We are able to offer our current and future projects the benefit of that flexibility.
On the other side of this, our success will be measured in science-based solutions for beekeepers, more ways to help bees become healthy, increased acres of forage, and a stronger community. Tell us how the pandemic has affected you, we would love to hear from you!