Delmarva weighs in on honeybee health
By MICHEL ELBEN
BELTSVILLE, Md. — The Bee Informed Partnership, in collaboration with the Apiary Inspectors of America and the USDA, conducted an online survey to estimate honey bee colony losses for the 2011-12 winter season.
A total of 5,543 beekeepers responded. That’s approximately 20 percent of the beekeepers in the United States.
Collectively, responding beekeepers manage over 14.6 percent of the country’s estimated 2.49 million colonies.
The survey results indicate that 21.9 percent of managed honey bee colonies in the United States were lost during the 2011-12 winter. This represents a substantial improvement in mortality compared to the previous five years when losses of approximately 30 percent were recorded.
The winter of 2011-12 was unseasonably warm and January was ranked the fourth warmest in U.S. history, said Jerry Fischer, state bee inspector for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. This could have favorably impacted colony survival this past year.
“I’m an optimist,” said Dean Burroughs, president Of The Lower Eastern Shore Maryland Beekeepers Association. “Beekeeping is an art and a science. I enjoy what they do. Did you know, of what we consume, a third of it needs to be pollinated by honey bees?”
In Virginia, honey bee pollination contributes more than $110 million to the state’s economy.
Virginia had 98,000 beehives in the mid-1970s, but only 35,000 today. The annual winter hive loss is 30 percent.
Robert Mitchell, state apiarist at the Delaware Department of Agriculture, is also encouraged.
“Colonies are pretty healthy in Delaware,” Mitchell reported. “It’s a result of better colony management.”
Mitchell said Delaware did not see a considerable winter loss.
He credited the new management techniques used by commercial and hobby beekeepers. Dean Burroughs, president of The Lower Eastern Shore Beekeepers Association, reported a 35 percent bee loss on the Lower Shore of Maryland.
Burroughs attributed the loss to varroa mite infestation and unintentional pesticide extermination. Last year, Burroughs lost 85 percent of his personal bee stock. This year, he lost significantly less, he said.
Burroughs said supplements have improved and treatments are no longer as caustic.
“Now, the treatments to kill the mites don’t harm the queen bee and the bees are developing a resistance,” he said.
And more people are managing bees than ever before on the Shore, he said. “There’s a movement of going back to basics and buying local,” said Burroughs. “People want to get their honey directly from the source.”
Unfortunately, first-time beekeepers often get discouraged, he said.
The average commercial beekeeper has approximately 5,000 hives. Burroughs keeps 600. Hobbyists maintain three at most.
Of the nine Eastern Shore counties in Maryland, there are 325 keepers. Fischer said hobbyist beekeepers in Maryland make up 62 percent of the bee keeping population.
The majority of hobbyists only have one colony, he said.
Fischer said although this winter’s weather was unusual, the average honey bee loss was the same it has been in the past eight years.
“Commercial bee growers book south to Florida or Georgia and have the bees in orange groves,” he said. “Hobbyists should leave enough honey stores for their bees during winter to survive. But this year the bees start flying because it was warm.”
Fischer said the bees were going on flights where there was no nectar source and foraging without proper energy stores.
“Beekeepers need to be more diligent,” he said. “30 percent of all bees are lost…that’s not good management at all.”
The bee industry is changing, said Burroughs.
“In 1987, the Walter T. Kelley (bee) catalog had only two treatments (for bees). Now there are four pages of treatments and supplemental feedings,” he said.
“But the bees are losing their habitat,” Burroughs said. “More highways leaves them with lack of variety, selection and ultimately, a poor diet.”
The USDA estimates that 80 percent of insect crop pollination is accomplished by honey bees. In the United States, honey bees pollinate more than $20 billion worth of crops annually.
They are an excellent choice because as pollinators, honey bees are manageable, moveable, adaptable and won’t harm the plants in the pollination process.
To pollinate their crops, U.S. growers rent approximately 2.5 million colonies of bees each year.
Commercial beekeepers, those who manage more than 300 colonies of bees, number more than 1,500 in the United States.
For more information, visit http://beeinformed.org