Honeybees; American Honey Producers Association; Parasitic mites
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
13 Nov 1996
MarylandPrince George's County
- Beltsville; USDA Bee Research Laboratory
- 39.04112 -76.86391
Stereo=1; Decoded MS stereo
NPR/NGS RADIO EXPEDITIONS
Log -Bees, USDA
November 13, 1996
DAT # 10
RA = Richard Adee
TR = Thomas E Rinderer
AC = Alex Chadwick
NG 1:45-6:09 ambi in hallway of bee research center
6:45 RA: ... [talking about how to get to his place in South Dakota]
9:40 RA -I am Richard Adee, past president of the American Honey Producers Association, a national org of bee keepers. I also am a commercial bee keeper. We operate 45,000 colonies in 5 states in the Midwest for honey production, and also pollinate in Washington and California. We have a bee breeding operation in Mississippi, so we are very active in the actual, physical production of honey and bees. 10:05
10:06 AC -You take your bees around from place to place to do pollination for other people?
10:10 RA -We send bees from the midwest to California basically to pollinate the almonds.
AC -Tell me where you send bees for every -every place you send a bee -where would that be, and what would they be doing? Just name the places.
10:25 RA -Ok. We send bees -I can just start off just after we raise them. After the queens are bred why we start in Miss. and they go to Kansas and Nebraska, SD, Minn., and ND and that is all for honey production. And then from the Dakotas and Nebraska they usually qo to California for almond production and then possible Washington state for apple production. And then from Cali they also qo back to Miss. for queen breeding and bee breeding. 10:57
10:58 AC -So your bees -this is a big operation. You've got bees going around to a lot of different places -there are a lot of places effected by bees -that is what I am trying to get at.
11:05 RA -Right, we probably move on average 150 semi-loads of bees a year. AN average distance of probably 12 to 1500 miles.
AC -You are talking about a semi truck load of bees?
11:19 RA- semi truck load of bees, usually carrying 480 colonies of double story hives (?) in the fall and about close to 800 or 850 in the spring of single story colonies coming back from our bee breeding operation. 11:31
AC -A 150 semi trailer loads of bees going around ¬
RA -Yes. We move each year. One way or the other in the whole process of raising honey and pollinating.
11:44 AC -Tell me when you started to think there was a problem with bees. with this current situation that we are in.
RA -It started to develop at the time the mites came in. I started looking at it at a different perspective. Up until that time we had the bacterial diseases of the brood, but we had the antibiotics to handle those, but when the mites first entered the I country we knew we had a problem. with all the problems they had in Europe and Asia and even down in south America we had an idea that this was not going to be business as usual.
12:27 AC -ANd when was that?
12:28 RA -ANd that was about 19 -when we first found -about 84 or 85, '86 -probably about 1986 when we first -and the tracheal mite was the first mite in, and so we moved in to quickly work out techniques to handle it, and keep in control, and we even used menthol before we even had the mites, just so we could work out the mechanical techniques as to how to dispense it.
AC -The menthol?
12:58 RA -Which is now a registered product. When we first started using menthol we had no idea how to dispense it and we used little number 2 paper sacks that you get down at the store and put it in and put it on top of the bees and that had some.. MORE ..... 13:31 That was very fortunate that we did that bc when the mites came in we had some of the bugs worked out in the techniques.
13:36 AC -Do you think yo have techniques now 0 control these mites; to defeat these mites?
RA -Ah -the varroa mite we have the chemical fluvalinate and that is a real good chemical. Now they are saying some resistance is starting to develop against that chemical in Italy. We haven't seen it here in the US yet. The tracheal mite we have some chemical ....MORE ......we need new chemicals.... 15:08
15:09 AC -Mr. Adee why don't you develop a bee that is resistant to these mites rather than chemicals to treat the mites that are attacking the bees that you've got?
15:19 AD -Yeah. That's a really a good question, and that is what we discussed in here today. That is the ultimate solution is a mite resistant bee, and we are working towards that, and the sooner we get to that goal, the better our industry is going to be but it is a long long process and it is really complicated by the way the bee mates -the queen mates. MORE ..... It is really tough to breed for resistance. We will get there but is going to be a long time consuming process. And I would say if we are there w/in 10 yrs and have good mite resistance stock that we can hold. That we won't loose after a few generation, why we would have achieved real accomplishment. We will get there and that is the ultimate answer. 16:49
16:50 AC -What kind of shape is American agriculture going to be in in 10 yrs with the mite situation that you've got now?
RA -We are going to control the mites with chemicals until we can come up with resistant stock. 17:01 I know there is real concern out there about having adequate pollinators and that is a legit concern and we are concerned about as well as the growers who are in need of that pollination bc we do want to provide it, bc if we don't provide it there won't be the demand created for those bees once we do get them up into a resistant mode. And so we are going to do our best to with the chemical we have available to maintain an adequate supply of bees for pollination. I think -I think we will get there - now you have heard the reports that we have lost a lot of bees this past year, and we did loose a lot of bees. If you look at the honey production over the years, we have gone from about a 4 million colony bee population to down to about 2 million. But if you look at the honey production, that has been pretty stable which says that the bees that are left are being taken better care of and producing a little more honey for those who have gone out of existence. So I think we will be able to maintain a bee population adequate to supply the pollination needs. But the thing the growers have to realize is that we are now -it is changing industry, and they can not call us March the first and say we need bees in April to pollinate cranberries, apples or whatever. You know it takes lead time, and they are going to have to work with the bee keepers to make sure that the bee keeper understands that need. If it could be a year in advance it would be better so that the bee keeper can get his bees up in shape and be able to supply...18:48 There will be no bees available at the last minute for pollination. It is going to take a lot longer lead time. We can supply it given we have adequate lead time. I am confident of that but -and there will be a cost to this. And the grower will have to determine if the extra cost will be off set by increased production. But as the old saying goes, there is going to be no free ride, and the bee keepers are going to have to put (?) a lot of money in to maintain their stock, and getting it up to where it will do an adequate job of pollinating. 19:22
19:23 AC -As a honey issue are you concerned about just the whole issue of treating bee colonies with chemicals bc you know people are very concerned about chemical additives in any part of the food process now, and it is just not something that people want.
19:47 RA -That is true, and we are very concerned about that ¬ah -that is why, in all the labeling of these chemicals it specifically says that these chemicals are not to be used when honey production is taking place. ANd so that's why we are limited in the time that we can use these chemicals, and that is why menthol is one of those chemicals that work real good bc we are limited in not being able to use it during the honey production season when the temps are warmer. But we have those safe guards in there to prevent the contamination of honey from the use of chemicals and we are very concerned about it and we are monitoring it very closely to be sure that doesn't happen. We are full aware that the public's perception of honey as a good wholesome food and we are protecting that image. 20:38
20:39 AC -I would think you would be. It is a product that kids and adults use alike, and it is a product with a wonderful reputation. But how long can that reputation endure?
20:53 RA -If we are careful, and people do not abuse the use of the chemicals and use them as they are prescribed to be used I think we will be ok and then we are going to come up with this mite resistant bee. I think we will get over the hump here ok. Bee keepers are very very cognizant of the product they are selling, you know -and they are very proud of it, and they are going to do the best of their ability, and they are going to make sacrifices. Not only in the loss of honey production, but in the cost of maintain their colonies by not using chemicals when they are in danger of getting into the food supply or into the honey. They are very proud of their product, and I have a lot of confidence in them. I think we will make it all right -and we are not going to contaminate any food. But as you said it is a legit concern on all food. Not just honey but the consumer wants to be sure that the food supply is safe. We realize that's our responsibility in that concern. 22:04
22:18 AC -How many bees do you have -you have a big bee keeping operation in Bruce, SD. How many bees do you have there, do you know?
RA -Well, first of all we are headquartered in Bruce, SD. And we have bee operations in Kansas, Nebraska and two of them in SD. But our entire operation we run about 45,000 colonies and during peek honey production months of July and August we have about 75,000 bees per colony. That is the goal we shoot for. And then by fall the colony is reduced back down to about 30,000 bees per colony, but we try to maintain 40,000 colonies for honey production. About 35,000 for pollination. 23:10
23:28 AC -Do you know all the different kinds of crops in all these different states that your bees pollinate?
RA -Yes. We have a good idea of all the major crops. Now there are the wildflowers, and sometimes those come and go depending on the season. But yes, we are fully aware of those. And that is why we are there. We are pollinating alfalfa and clovers in the midwest during their early part of the honey producing season. Then the sunflowers come on, buckwheat comes on. Then we have soybeans if the soil is right. so we know all the major crops we are pollinating. Yes. That is part of knowing whether you are going to succeed or fail in the bees business is you better know your crops; you better know whether they are seek reading (?) nectar that your bees can live on, or whether you have to supplement their feed bc they are getting basically only pollen and you have to give then the nectar to live on or the honey.
24:25 AC -Are soybeans -[RA -yes, that's a crop] Do they depend on bees for pollination?
RA -they don't depend on bees but bees will enhance their production in certain soils and certain climates. 24:40
24:41 AC = And in Cali?
RA -In CA we are entirely on the almonds -though there are other crops in CA that do need bees for pollination that I hesitate to say -but you have alfalfa, seed growers who need bees -we do just a little bit of apple pollination. The citrus out there benefits from bee pollination too. SO all those crops benefit from bee pollination. But almonds -their production is tied strictly to pollination. Then put all the other inputs (??) into a good almond crop and not have adequate bee pollination and they will come up w/maybe 25 -30% of what they would get with bee pollination. They tell us that w/out bee pollination on the almonds they can get 5 to 700 lbs per acre and the meats maybe small. But with good bee pollination they can get 2,000 to 2500 lbs per acre so it really is significant increase in production by having that pollination. So that is why bee pollination is so critical to the almond growers. 25:47
25: 48 -26:32 room ambi
26:36 STOP DOWN
TR = Tom Rinderer
28:11 Tom Rinderer. I am the laboratory directory of the US Dept. of Agricultural Research Services, honeybee breeding and genetics laboratory in Baton Rouge, LA.
AC -Are you the Dept. of Agriculture's top bee guy?
TR -Well, I am the Dept. of Ag. top bee geneticist guy.
28:34 AC -Tell me. You are quoted as saying that by this fall there will be no naturally occurring wild bees left anywhere in the US. Do you stand by that statement?
28:52 TR -I do. About perhaps 300 years ago when European pioneers came to North America they brought with them honeybees. And from that time forward honey bees have escaped from their kept hives and created a surviving population in the wild. Living in trees and walls of bldgs and that sort of thing. Currently with the mite problems plaguing not only the bees that are kept by bee keepers but also these wild populations -the wild populations are disappearing. Now we do have an annual refounding of those populations by escapees from bee keepers colonies. But essentially we no longer have self sustaining wild populations of honey bees.
29:46 AC -That is nearly unbelievable that all wild bees in the entire country are wiped out.
29:55 TR -Well, it is not all of the wild bees. It is all of the wild honeybees. We still have all of those native species ¬you know the bumble bees and you know a wide variety of thousands of species of other bees that are surviving. I am talking specifically now about honey bee populations, honey bee populations that are living in the wild and their ability to sustain themselves as a population Bee keepers of course have colonies of honey bees. They maintain them, they nurture them, they care for them. And through bee keeper intervention these bee are able to stay alive. SO we still do have honeybees and we still do have honey bees and we still do have honey bees available for pollination. But that is through the good services of bee keepers. Not the survivability of bees in the face of parasitic mites. 30:50
30:51 AC -Are honey bees the most important bee in pollination? Do other bees pollinate as well?
30:56 TR -Other bees pollinate as well. Honey bees -I recently heard the phrase -"the queen of pollination" -which is kind of a nice phrase. What it indicates is that honey bees are among the most versatile of bees as bees themselves and the variety of crops they will except. And I think it also reflects the ability of bee keepers to put large numbers of colonies on trucks and move them to specific sites that require some pollination, and then move them away so that the pesticides can be applied to the crop and the bees can be taken off for some place else for another pollination activity or perhaps honey production or some other thing.
31:41 AC -Dr. Rinderer, to what extent to you think the answer to the current crisis is chemical and to what extent to you think it is genetic. That is would it be easier or better to come up with a mite resistant bee rather than try to figure out to defeat these mites with pesticides?
32:03 TR -Chemicals are our short term solution to the problem. We have 2 registered chemicals that are available. One is commonly used, and these are the tools that we use in order to maintain our bee populations in the short term. In the long term it would be very desirable to have stocks of bees that themselves are resistant in some way to the problems caused by the mites. Perhaps not in eliminating the mites entirely but stocks of honey bees that are resistant to the mite problems to the degree that bee keepers no longer have a reliance on chemicals. 32:40
AC -Why is there a problem with honeybees and these mites. These mites i think originate in Asia and have kind of moved their way into this country, but aren't there still bees in Asia producing honey?
33:02 TR -Well there are 2 main species of hive bees that are of apicultural interest. We have our western hive bee that -which is the honeybee we have in North America in Europe, in South Am. It is native to Europe and Africa and has been brought into the new world. NAm, SAm, Australia, New Z. and then in Asian we have the Asian hive bee which is the natural host of one of these parasitic mites, Varroa jacobsoni, In Asia, the Asian honey bee and its parasite are co-adapted so that the Asian honey bee survives as a feral population, it survives in bee keeper hives, and the bees aren't particularly troubled by the mite. with the advent of modern transportation bees and mites have been moved around where the point now where this Asian parasite -parasite of the Asian honey bee -is now in the Western honey bee. That's a very ill-adapted parasitism. The parasite is killing its hosts; the Apis mellifera is not well adapted, very low levels of genetic resistance and as a consequence it has caused major amounts of problems. 34:24
34:25 AC -Could you just get a colony of Asian honey bees that are resistant and bring them over here and say this is going to be the stick of our honey bee population.
TR -Well that would be one last desperation effort I suppose. The problem is the Asian honeybee is not nearly the agricultural honey bee that the Western honey bee is. It doesn't produce nearly enough honey. It has a tendency to abscond or leave their colony when bee keepers manipulate it. In Asia it is very much an annual event of collecting colonies of bees from the wild, harvesting some honey from them; they leave again. So their production and their management characteristics are much less desirable than that of the western honeybee. SO we would much prefer to keep the western honey bee and solve the problem in that species. 35:16
35:17 AC -But it doesn't sound like this problem is going to be very easy to solve at all.
35:23 TR -There have been glimmers of hope recently and there are some possibilities that resistance either can be found or can be developed in stocks of bees to alleviate the problem at least to some degree.
35:39 AC -If I am sitting at my Thanksgiving dinner table looking at the things spread before me. What are the kinds of things that would be on someone's Thanksgiving table that would involve honeybees.
35:55 TR -That is interesting. Practically everything to one degree or another. Overall, 3 out of every 4 bites that Americans eat in one way or another is dependent upon honey bees. Something are directly dependent for their production, for example apple crops that a bee is necessary to pollinate the apple blossom and produce the apple. There are other kinds agricultural connections. For ex. honey bees are absolutely essential for pollinating an alfalfa seed crop. The seed is grown by another farmer to produce a forage -for ex some alfalfa crops are used to produce catfish food. So when somebody is eating catfish along that whole chain of agricultural production at one point honey bees were essential to produce that material. So it is odd. You don't think of catfish as being pollinated by honey bees but yet commercial pond catfish some where along the length of agricultural production that is associated with them, honey bees were an essential ingredient. And it is these kinds of things that result in honey bees being a support system for at least 10 billion dollars worth of agricultural product each year.
38:36 AC -If I go into the grocery store where can i see the decline of honey bees? where does it show up -is honey costing more these days? is it scarce? I just wonder -for people listening to these reports, where do they see the outcome of what you are talking about.
38:55 TR -There is in fact a world wide decline in the availability of honey and a consequence increase in the price of honey. Bee keepers have experience almost 2 fold increase for example in the price of honey that they get, and that is also reflected in the grocery store shelves that the price of honey has gone up. Honey is used not just as a simple commodity on the grocery shelf but also as an ingredient in a wide variety of products in a grocery store. It is an additive in cereals, it is used in bread baking. There are many many products on practically every shelf in your grocery store that have honey as an ingredient, and certainly as the price of honey has gone up that impacts the price of those commodities as well. 39:47
AC -But I am not sure that people really understand that there is a pollination crisis in this country.
39:59 TR -I am not sure that they do either, and it is important thathey do. Pollination is an essential in the mix that brings about equality agriculture. It is a little bit like salt unfortunately -you don't need a great deal of salt. BEe keeping industry is a small industry but it is an extremely vital industry. W/o it all of these other things that we depend upon and rely upon very quickly disappear. So the notion that we have a pollination crisis is in part overcome by bee keepers good management. The other side of this crisis is that bee keepers are operating, as a consequence of these parasitic mites especially, on a thin edge of survival. If for ex we have difficulties in future w/mites which become resistant to the treatments that are applied to bee colonies than we are nudged over the edge a little bit more. SO right now we don't have an apparent crisis. What we do have is the bee keeping industry that is threatened, and as the bee keeping industry is threatened so is all of that agriculture which is dependent upon bee keeping as a delivery system for pollination.
41:21 AC -I don't want to raise any sense of concern on the part of listeners but i think i have a acute enough sensitivity to know what will upset people anyway to know that concern is going to be there. When you start talking about introducing chemicals into the process of something like honey there must be some concern on your part that people will react to that by saying, oh my god there are going to be these chemical additives and it is going to be dangerous, are my kids safe...pesticides.....
42:16 TR -It is a worrisome thing. Fortunately w/ honey bees we have registered compounds for the treatment of mites in bee colonies. And it is not that these compounds are put in the honey. The compounds are put into the colonies of bee that produce the honey at a time when the colony is not producing the honey. SO that the application of this material in bee hives is a very orchestrated affair where in the off season the bee colonies are treated. Those bee colonies are taken away before the production of honey. The honey is produced. The colony is managed for that honey production w/a very conscious effort and realization that honey is a pure product free of chemicals -its been one of hallmarks throughout history. bc bees are sensitive to pesticides if honey can be produced by bees the bees themselves are a screen against pesticide contamination of their product. They would die and there would be no product if there was pesticide present. SO if there is a product the bees wouldn't die bc there was no pesticide. That is kind of the way it has worked, and bee keepers are very conscious of this and are continuing to produce that quality honey product. 43:37
AC -So how -if bees can't tolerate pesticides how are you going to spray them with a pesticide that will kill these mites, but not harm the bees.
TR -Well, we don't spray them. We use a plastic strip.....MORE ...44:07 as I say this material is only put on in the off season, not while the bees are producing honey...More ... it is not found in honey...MORE ... 44:59 Honey is a very seasonal thing. Most of the life of the bee hive is pent in preparation for producing honey, in prep for the colony to survive through winter... so the vast majority of the agricultural cycle as far as bees are concerned either is leading from or leading to a rather short period in which honey is produced. 45:24
45:26 AC -if I wanted to describe the impact of these mites would it be fare to say that there are bee colonies in every state in the country?
TR -Oh yes, absolutely.
AC -So there is no place that has not felt the impact of these ¬
45:47 TR -I think at this point these mites have been found in all of the states. every state has bees. most states have bees for pollination. certainly all states have bees in which bee keepers produce honey.
46:03 AC -Are the Africanized bees any more resistant to these mites than the other bees?
46:11 TR -that's to a degree the silver lining in this cloud of parasitic mites as it is. Africanized bees have moved northward in the continental us. Varroa mites have moved southward and the bees -African. bees have met the mites, and the mites have won to a large degree. Afr. bees in North Am with the sorts of mites that we have in North Am are devastated by the mites as well as commercial colonies and our feral populations, or our wild populations, of European bees. 46:48
46:49 AC -SO the Afr. bees which are moving forward as wild colonies they hit some sort of line where these mites are active, and they are wiped out?
47;00 TR -Yes.
47:04 AC -Are the mites going to defeat the Afr. bees?
47:07 TR -Oh I think to a large degree they already have. they have certainly contained them in areas much farther south than we would have imagined that they would extend to. So we've thought that -for ex. in LA we thought that they would come to LA 4 years ago, and so we had projects set up waiting for them to come, and to monitor them. And they still haven't gotten there, and probably the principle reason why they haven't is not that they couldn't survive there, but that the mites have prevented them from getting there.
47:41 AC -So, are the mites good or bad?
47:44 TR -Well, I think on an entire balance the mites are quite bad, and they now represent a serious and important industry problem and Afr. bees would have been a problem that the industry could have dealt with perhaps more easily than the can deal with the mites. So on balance i think I would have voted to have afr. bees rather than the mites -if they would have given me the vote. But whoever decides these things they didn't give me a vote.
49:00 AC -well, what about the Russians?
49:02 TR -maybe the broader question might be: what about resistant stocks of bees? and currently we have 3 projects......MORE .... 49:34 currently -there are really 2 kinds of projects .....49:45 we have a project of classical breeding and selection to produce stocks of bee which are resistant to mites in the sense that lower populations of mites are present in the colonies, and the colonies are not debilitated by the presence of those mites. so we have had some success in that area. we have 2 other projects taht are geared towards finding resistance as it occurs some place. in one instance we are working w/bee keeper throughout the country where they are sending us survivor queens -queens that are the last one in an apiary that wasn't treated for ex. or queens from trees that has been known to have mites for 3 or 4 years yet these colonies have survived. so these last remnants of bee populations are being sent to us. we are bringing them into one common gene pool. testing them, reading from the best and starting from there. the thought here being that even if resistance did occur from here or there in a single bee colony that was isolated from other colonies tat were resistant who would that colony breed with...MORE ...so we are kind of enhancing natural selection providing these colonies of bees that may have some level of naturally selected resistance...MORE ... 51:20 the 3rd opportunity is that while the US was having its wild west, Russia was having its wild east, and it followed a very parallel kind of track. they had military exploration, mapping expeditions, a few wagons and then finally a transcontinental railroad...MORE ...52:55 In 1996 we had a study group to go to that part of the world....researching whether they have stock of bees that are resistant...MORE ... 43:47 The proposal now is that we bring this stock of bees to North Am ...and explore this circumstance further ....
54:11 AC -Dr. Rinderer, to what extent might one say that this is a problem brought about by a monoculture approach to agriculture industry. you have everything riding on the honeybee....MORE
54:40 TR -Well, I think it is more when I think of large field of one thing rather than a reliance on a species and I think more than a consequence of monoculture, it is an effect of international transportation and the modern era of transportation. and we have not only pests of honey bees that have been moved around, but a variety of other bees that have been moved throughout the world and would continue to be so...MORE ...keeping out exotic pests...MORE ....55:40 an important carry home message from all of this is that we don't move agricultural products that might carry pests ....w/out acknowledging the regulation which is there and cooperating with them. 55:58
56:06 -56:37 room ambi
END OF DAT