It’s National Pollinator Week, (June 22-28) and a good time to look at what’s happening in the pollinator world.

American honeybee colonies showed some strong improvements over the winter of 2019, according to the Bee Informed Partnership’s 14th annual survey, which was released on Monday.   

During the 2019-2020 winter (1 October 2019 – 1 April 2020), an estimated 22.2% of all managed honey bee colonies in the U.S. were lost – a decrease of 15.5 percentage points compared to last year (37.7%), and a decrease of 6.4 percentage points compared to the 28.6% historic average winter colony loss rate documented by previous surveys.

Survey participants last year include 3,377 beekeepers collectively managing 276,832 colonies as of October 2019. The number of colonies managed by surveyed respondents represents 9.9% of the estimated 2.81 million managed honey-producing colonies in the nation, the report notes.

This year’s estimate is the second lowest level of winter loss reported since the survey began in 2006-2007, and it directly follows the highest loss on record that occurred during the 2018-2019 winter. Similar to previous years, backyard beekeepers lost more colonies over the winter (32.8%) compared to sideline beekeepers (31.8%), but this difference was negligible. Commercial beekeepers experienced less drastic winter colony losses (20.7%) than the other two groups. Backyard, sideline, and commercial beekeepers are defined as those managing 50 or fewer colonies, 51 to 500 colonies, and 501 or more colonies, respectively.

Summer survey results provide a much different picture. During the summer 2019 season (1 April 2019 – 1 October 2019), an estimated 32.0% of managed colonies were lost in the U.S. This is the highest summer loss rate ever reported by this survey. It is much higher than last year’s summer colony loss estimate of 20.0% (an increase of 12.0 percentage points) , and much higher than the 21.6% average summer loss reported by beekeepers since 2010-2011 (a 10.4 percentage point increase), when summer losses were first recorded by BIP.

“The observed increase in summer mortality during 2019 can most likely be explained by the high losses experienced by commercial beekeepers (33.0%), according to the report. Their historic average summer loss rate was 22.0%. For the entire survey period (1 April 2019 – 1 April 2020), beekeepers in the U.S. lost an estimated 43.7% of their honey bee colonies (Fig. 1). This is the second highest annual colony loss rate reported since the survey began estimating this measure in 2010-2011.This average annual loss rate is greater than last year’s estimate of 40.4% (a 3.3 percentage point increase), as well as the average annual loss rate since 2010-2011 (39.0%, a 4.7 percentage point increase). The report notes that lost colonies are represented by those that died or were combined with others, and that annual loss rate was not estimated by summing the individual summer and winter loss rates.

Cold storage for bees?

Rather than overwintering bees in states like California and Texas, researchers suggest keeping bees in cold storage (CS) for a period of time may prevent colony loss, according to a new Agricultural Research Service (ARS) website.

“Colonies put into CS after a fall miticide treatment avoid reinfestation with Varroa that can migrate into colonies on foragers. Bees clustered inside the hive rather than foraging have greater longevity and require fewer resources. The cost of overwintering bees in CS also might be lower than in areas with warm winters if resources are limited and bees need supplemental feeding and miticide treatments,” the researchers noted.

Last fall, ARS researchers released a new tool that can predict the odds that honey bee colonies overwintered in cold storage will be large enough to rent for almond pollination in February.

“By consulting the probability table for the likelihood of a colony having a minimum of six frames of bees—the number required for a colony to be able to fulfill a pollination contract for almond growers come February--beekeepers can decide in September if it is economically worthwhile to overwinter the colony in cold storage,” researchers noted.

Even with this cost-cutting help, the research team found that revenue from pollination contracts by itself is not likely to provide a sustainable income to a beekeeper anymore. They followed 190 honey bee colonies and recorded all costs.

Considerable resources were expended to feed colonies and on varroa mite and pathogen control. Costs were about $200 per colony.

Almond pollination contracts paid an average of $190 per colony in 2019.

Pollinator Partnership raises awareness

National Pollinator Week was established 13 years ago by Pollinator Partnership (P2) to raise awareness about the significant work pollinators do to help put food on our tables. Due to concerns over COVID-19, P2 is urging members to think of a socially distant activity to celebrate Pollinator Week. For example, landmarks across the US and Canada will be lit in pollinator colors (yellow and orange) including multiple building lightings in Orlando, San Francisco City Hall, Niagara Falls, and the Toronto 3D sign, according to P2.

Over 30 state governors and many mayors of cities and townships across the US and Canada have signed proclamations supporting the observance of Pollinator Week. In addition, for the first time in any administration, EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, has signed an agency wide proclamation for the EPA, joining Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

“Pollinators are vital to both our agricultural food supply and a healthy environment,” said EPA Assistant Administrator Alexandra Dapolito Dunn. “Protecting pollinators requires the work of dedicated people across the nation, and we are proud to partner with Pollinator Partnership to achieve our shared goals.”

For a full list of pollinator activities, click here.

BeeWhere grows

A coalition of agricultural groups led by the California Association of Pest Control Advisers (CAPCA) and the County Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Association (CACASA) launched an online pesticide notification tool known as BeeWhere  in early 2019 as a way to upgrade a decades-old system and enhance communication to avoid accidental colony exposures.

The program has nearly hit its target of registering 1.5 million honeybee colonies in the state since July 2019, according to Patricia Bohls, an environmental scientist with the Bee Safe program at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), who spoke at a recent meeting for the department’s apiary advisory board. The USDA estimate for colonies in California last year peaked at about 1.8 million.

Kern County tops the list, at 166,000 colonies, while Tulare, Fresno and Merced Counties are each above 100,000.

Jackie Park-Burris, who sits on the executive committee of the California State Beekeepers Association (CSBA) and has been involved with BeeWhere, said when the coalition first came together for the project the share of beekeepers registering was hovering at just 3%. The original laws for the registration requirement were passed in the 1980s.

“We need to continue this push to get more people registered, but we've done a very good job in a very short time,” she said. “But our notifications are still shaky.”

More than 19,000 “BeeChecks” have been run by applicators, growers and pest control advisors, which is when they check to see if any colonies are within a one-mile radius of the farm and if those beekeepers would like to be notified 48 hours ahead of an upcoming pesticide application. It saves time from the previous process of faxing or calling the local ag commissioner’s office during business hours to find out if any beekeepers put in a request for notifications.

Bayer, others launches new bee initiatives

In celebration of National Pollinator Week, Bayer announced two new initiatives: a nationwide call for the next generation of beekeepers and pollinator health advocates to apply for the Bayer Bee Care Blue Ribbon Beekeeper Award, and a seed giveaway program to make free seeds available to pollinator enthusiasts interested in planting forage through the Bayer Feed a Bee initiative.

The Blue Ribbon Beekeeper Award recognizes students between the ages of 12 and 18 who are actively working to support honey bee and pollinator health in their communities. Those who apply have the opportunity to win $3,000 (1st place), $2,000 (2nd place) or $1,000 (3rd place) to support the continuation of their work or to help fund their college tuition.  

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"Now more than ever, it's critical that the industry recognize and empower students who will become our future scientists, resource managers, environmentalists, apiarists and educators," said Aimee Hood, regulatory and scientific engagement lead for Crop Science, a division of Bayer. "Whether they're already keeping bees or working in the lab to find solutions for pollinators' most pressing issues, such as a lack of abundant forage, Bayer is thrilled to seek out the next generation of biodiversity champions."

Last year, Bayer introduced the Blue Ribbon Beekeeper Award, which recognized past winners and standout applicants of its former program, the Young Beekeeper Award.

Several other crop protection companies offer pollinator programs, including Syngenta’s Operation Pollinator and Corteva’s Grows Pollinator Habitat

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