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Honey Bee Health Initiative for Best Management Practices

Honey bees are critical to US agricultural productivity, and recent problems with loss of entire hives of bees has brought best management practices to the forefront of agricultural research.

The technology transfer component of a newly funded nationwide initiative designed to monitor and maintain honey bee health will be hosted by the University of California Cooperative Extension in Butte County.

Bee Informed Partnership

The "Bee Informed Partnership" was created with a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Technology transfer is headquartered in Butte County, California because of the locale's importance to beekeeping nationwide and Cooperative Extension's established leadership in honeybee research and extension.

California Bee Breeding

California bee breeding is centered in the counties of Butte, Glenn, Tehama and Shasta. Honeybees overwinter well in California's favorable climate and beekeepers can build up hives in early spring when almonds bloom. The area is responsible for one-third to one-half of the nation's bee industry.

UCCE advisors Susan Donohue and Joe Connell in Butte County will coordinate the technology transfer effort. Connell already serves as a liaison officer to the Almond Board of California, which funds research to improve honeybee colony strength. The Almond Board is supporting work to identify colonies that have stronger hygienic behaviors, which scientists believe may help alleviate pest and disease problems.

Beekeeping Management Practices

The Bee Informed Partnership will use an epidemiological approach to identify common beekeeping management practices and develop best practices on a regional level. In addition to involving institutions already doing pollinator work, the partnership will include citizens involved in beekeeping and associated industries.

"We would like to reduce honey bee mortality, increase beekeeper profitability and enhance adoption of sustainable management systems in beekeeping," said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, senior extension associate at Penn State, who will lead the project. "At the same time, we want to increase the reliability of production in pollinator-dependent crops and increase the profitability of pollinator-dependent producers."

Honey Bee Health Web Database

Project partners will create and maintain a dynamic Honey Bee Health database with an interactive web-based interface. They will also survey colony mortality, pathogens and parasites, as well as beekeeping management strategies, costs and outputs. They will create a pollinator quality and availability reporting system and an emerging-issues alert system.

Some of the surveys planned by the partnership include the continuation of the colony winter loss survey, an annual survey of management practices and a survey of pollinator availability. Other surveys will focus on determining colony mortality, parasite loads and socioeconomic factors.

"By surveying beekeepers about their management practices as well as their colonies' overwintering success, we can use epidemiological methods to tell beekeepers which practices work and which do not," vanEngelsdorp said.

The project's goal is introduction of best management practices that will reduce national losses in honeybee populations by 50 percent in the next five years, according to vanEngelsdorp.

The lead institution is Penn State. Co-investigators are University of California Cooperative Extension, University of Illinois, University of Georgia, University of Tennessee, University of Minnesota, North Carolina State University, Appalachian State University, Lincoln University, USDA-Agricultural Research Service and the Florida Department of Agriculture. Other collaborators include NASA and USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.