By Larry Johnson
Monsanto Honey Bee Advisory Council
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” These words from the opening paragraph of The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens may well describe what it’s like to be in the bee business the last few years.
We have a great number of challenges to face every year in keeping bees healthy. And just when you think you have it all figured out, it can go the other direction in a matter of weeks or even days. Now sometimes we can look at hives and say this is what went wrong and other times it is not so easy to say why bees may have died. When we have a year like this one, with a major die off, there are a lot of different things to consider in determining what is going on.
Mites, forage, and pesticides are the three main things we try to stay on top of in our operation. Number One for us is mites. If we let mites get out of control, it becomes an uphill battle and we usually lose. We do not operate in an area where we make big honey crops so we concentrate on pollination in the summer, but we try to get bees where they have a good spring and fall pollen and nectar sources. With our summer pollination, we work very closely with our growers so that our bees are not exposed to pesticides or fungicides. We’re fortunate to have had no major problems.
To keep mites at low levels, we’ve developed a management plan of “nuking” (forming a small colony from a larger one) 90-100% of our hives every year after almond pollination, and every nuc (new colony) gets a new mated queen. We run very few queens more than one year. We treat in the spring while still a “single” (a colony in a single box) and in the fall after the honey is pulled, usually September. We test in the fall and have had very low mite loads going into winter.
Before we started our current management plan, we would have a 30-50% loss every year, with a couple at 70%. For the last few years we have had a 20-25% loss. Now I would like to see that come down to about 15%, but it’s a major improvement for us from where we were, and we’re working to reach that 15%.
Now you may be asking, why is this guy on this blog telling us how he is running his bees? After Monsanto bought Beeologics and hired Jerry Hayes, Jerry put together an advisory council to help guide the work they were going to be doing . Shortly after he came to Monsanto, he asked me to be on this council.
Some of you have asked why Monsanto would want to have a bee health company. Well, the direction ag chemicals are going, particularly pesticides, is a biological direction, and this is the area where Beeologics was working.
So why should we be glad to have a company like Monsanto on our side? They have the resources, the science, and the knowledge like no other company to deal with some tough obstacles. And we have some tough obstacles.
Jerry and his team truly care about the problems beekeepers face. I’ve sat in meetings with Jerry and his team and we’ve talked about what things bees need help with, ranging from neonicotonoids to mites to nosema. They’re committed to trying to help find solutions to these problems.
It is a challenging and exciting time to be in the bee business. We have some significant challenges but I’m hopeful that these can be resolved.
Banner photograph by Jani Ravas via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.