I’ve been attending the Honey Bee Health Summit, co-hosted by the Honey Bee Advisory Council and Project Apis m. It started Tuesday afternoon here in St. Louis, and continues through lunchtime Thursday.
Until last year, my experience with honey bees was limited to various experiences as a kid (not all positive) and the consumption of honey. I knew that honey bees were pollinators, but I didn’t know much beyond that.
I started learning a lot more after Monsanto acquired Beeologics, and then getting to meet and know Jerry Hayes, who’s our business lead for the bee business.
Coincidentally, I had planted a perennial – menarda – in our garden at home, and one day noticed it was drawing bees like crazy. Different kinds of bees. Jerry gave me a chart, and I able to identify four different kinds – two kinds of bumblebees, the honey bee, and a bee so small I thought it was a gnat. And they were all over our menarda.
At this summit, we’re talking about serious stuff. The meeting brings together academics, industry, consultants, non-governmental organizations and others to talk about what is happening to bees – what do we know, what do we want to know, and what do we need to do about it. Something is clearly happening with bee health, and it’s not good.
Yesterday, we heard from Jeff Pettis of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, who talked about the complexity of the problem. It’s not one single thing; it’s more likely an array of things – lack of good (and diverse) forage, natural predators like the Varroa mite, viruses, and pesticides.
Also yesterday, we had two presentations about the business of beekeeping – a straight economic talk by Sam Chun of Washington University in St. Louis who said he didn’t know much about bees, but he did know a lot about economics. And J.J. Barto, a consultant from Houston, presented an analysis the global bee business.
This morning, the focus was on nutrition and habitat loss, and pesticides. University researchers (none of whom receive funding from Monsanto) talked about what we know and what we don’t know when it comes to both areas. If there was a common theme, it was that bee nutrition – not only having enough to eat but a diversity of sources as well – was a critical factor. Good nutrition helps bees withstand stresses (like pesticides); poor nutrition weakens their ability. WE also heard about to projects – Operation Pollinator (involving researchers at the University of California-Davis and supported by Syngenta) and Project Apis m.’s Honey Bee Forage Project, which is supported by Monsanto. The projects are small-scale but promising.
The entire summit is being livestreamed to Monsanto employees globally, and we will be posting videos of the presentations here on the Beeologics web site. The entire agenda is here. The list of the speakers is here.
While a lot of what I’m hearing is highly technical, it’s also highly important. A lot of good work is happening, and there’s a sense that we’re all working against the clock.
But there’s also the sense that we’re working together.