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.
There is a cost to participate, though in most cases it is far outweighed by the costs saved in healthier bees. It will cost a commercial beekeeper $500 to enroll, and $500 each time a TTT member spends a day sampling their bees (usually 32 colonies) which includes mite checks, full colony assessments, disease screenings, reports and data collection. Additional sampling for viruses, Nosema, pesticides, etc. are a la carte and a beekeeper’s 4th visit of the year is free.
The TTTs keep a “pulse” on the state of beekeeping across the nation by sampling, sharing trends, observing management techniques, collecting and sharing data with the beekeepers they work with and with researchers. TTTs are often first to hear about problems that are arising. Beekeepers trust them to be confidential, so they share a lot of information with TTTs. Because of the relationships they build, even if a beekeeper is hesitant to be forthcoming with information or participate in surveys, they trust the TT Team members, and TTTs are often able to see problems before they are publicized.
There are 5 TTTs located regionally across the country, and each regional team can serve up to 30 commercial beekeepers. Participating beekeepers are visited by the Teams 3-4 times per year for sampling, and information sharing. A typical visit from a TTT will consist of a meeting in the morning with the beekeeper to discuss management practices and any concerns or trends, and then the Team member goes into the Beekeeper’s colonies (with or without the beekeeper) and takes samples throughout various yards. In the field, the Team member will do mite checks using alcohol washes for quick results, colony assessments, disease screenings, and take samples to send to the lab for the honey bee health database. Additional screening for viruses, Nosema, pesticides, etc. can be performed at the beekeeper’s request. Beekeepers receive a report of the Team’s findings and are notified quickly if something of high concern is found.
You can view a sample trend report here.
Sampling frequently is an important benefit that beekeepers receive from their participation in the Tech Transfer program, and as a member they also benefit with access to data. Beekeepers who have been working with Tech Transfer teams since 2011, for example, can access trend reports showing all samples throughout the history of operation and what their trends are like long-term. They can also access regional summary reports collected from other participating beekeepers and make comparative analysis of bigger trends and management practices in relationship to their own business.
Though the TTTs are located regionally, they often follow migration routes with participating beekeepers and sometimes travel long distances to ensure that they are supporting the beekeeper throughout the year wherever they are located. Most Team members travel to the Central Valley of California during the Almond Bloom.
One of the important parts of the TTTs is their connection to the vanEnglesdorp bee lab at the University of Maryland. Samples taken by a TTT member are sent to this central processing lab which holds a large archive of honey bee samples. These samples are already being used to inform researchers, and are an invaluable resource now and as a future investment. All of the data collected by the TTTs is entered into the BIP database which contains over 1.5 million records about honey bee health, and is available to the public on the BIP website (https://bip2.beeinformed.org/). When beekeepers participate, not only do they benefit directly from TTT services, but they are helping to create a priceless resource. TTT member Dan says that the database is “a goldmine for what beekeepers are doing” and hopes it can help put research questions in context, so researchers can ask questions where answers will be more helpful to beekeeping.
Photos courtesy of BIP
Above - This image represents a map of the BIP database which holdsover 1.5 million data records. You can "drill in" to each category and explore this interactive data map here.
Below - Samples are sent to the University of Maryland vanEngelsdorp Bee lab for
analyses and data collection.
We asked two TTT members, Dan Aurell, from the Texas team, and Ben Sallmann from the Pacific Northwest team, what they have seen trending this year in the commercial operations that they work with.
Dan and Ben said that management trends include a lot of beekeepers “looking at putting bees in sheds or even summertime shed storage, mainly because of the brood break. A lot of beekeepers aren’t happy with their mite treatments and are looking outside the box for other Varroa control options. Beekeepers are realizing that a brood break can be really effective and can help with treatments.”
As far as honey bee health threats – “It always comes back to Varroa.” Last year the team saw very high mite levels across the board – higher than usual, and especially notable was what they found sampling post-treatment. “Beekeepers have been assuming mites are low after proper treatment, but they aren’t down to levels they want them to be. A lot of beekeepers are afraid that Amitraz isn’t working anymore. This last year, no one was happy with how Apivar worked. There is anxiety about how treatments aren’t working the way they should be. Whether the treatments are failing, or mites are becoming resistant by selection, or finding ways to avoid the treatment, there is a lot of concern about current available treatments/products and their effectiveness.” TTT members and beekeepers don’t always know what mite levels are at before treatment, so it wouldn’t be accurate to say that we know for sure that treatments aren’t working, but we do know that mite levels caught many beekeepers by surprise last year – a potentially detrimental occurrence if beekeepers don’t sample often enough, or assume a treatment worked without following up.
Dan, who is a member of the Texas Tech Transfer Team, also reported seeing the highest spike in European Foul Brood in spring of 2018 recorded in BIP data history.
Ben and Dan told us that if they could give one message to every beekeeper in the country it would undoubtedly be about mite management. “If you’ve got your mite management under control, a lot of the other things will sort themselves out. As long as there is nutrition and mite management. And don’t skimp on your inputs. Beekeepers who are having problems were usually trying to cut corners and save money on inputs. Really successful beekeepers aren’t afraid to pamper their bees.”
They also reinforced the value of participating in the annual BIP survey in April: “We need as many respondents for the management and loss survey as possible. Especially commercial beekeepers. If any commercial beekeepers can set aside some time to answer that survey it would be great.” Participation benefits the beekeeping industry – “The bigger your data set is of management practices and outcomes, the more power you have to ask questions about which management practices work best. Those answers go right back to the beekeepers.”
Undoubtedly, the Bee Informed Partnership’s Tech Transfer Teams are out there in the trenches with the beekeepers and they are making a difference. Most teams have room for more beekeepers – to sign up, contact Anne Marie Fauvel (firstname.lastname@example.org), Tech Team Coordinator for BIP. You can learn more on the BIP website, and the BIP Blog which is often written by Tech Transfer Team members. If you are a beekeeper outside of the Tech Transfer Team regions, you still have access to BIP’s remote Tech Transfer Teams as well as the Sentinel Apiary Program.
By Sharah Yaddaw
Project Apis m.