The Buzz about the Bees

The Bigger Picture

Few realize the importance of these furry little creatures.

Published on: May 9, 2013

Bees, honey bees in particular, have been in the news a lot lately. Most notably, USDA and EPA recently released a comprehensive scientific report on honey bee health. The report states that there are multiple factors playing a role in honey bee colony declines, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure. But why should we care?

"There is an important link between the health of American agriculture and the health of our honeybees for our country's long term agricultural productivity," says USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.

Honey bees, and other pollinators, play an important role in the pollination of many flowering plants and food crops. Although the global number of bee colonies increased by about 45% over the last half century, the decline in some countries in Europe and North America over recent years is cause for concern.

HELPING THE BEES: Planting of blooming strips on agricultural and municipal areas helps promote honey bee health.
HELPING THE BEES: Planting of blooming strips on agricultural and municipal areas helps promote honey bee health.

An estimated one-third of all food and beverages are made possible by pollination, mainly by honey bees. In the United States, pollination contributes to crop production worth $20-30 billion in agricultural production annually.

A variety of factors are related to the decline in bee populations – parasites, diseases, extreme climatic and environmental factors and certain agricultural and apicultural practices. The main threat is the honey bee mite, Varro destructor. It is a relatively new parasite of the honey bee. It was introduced to Europe and North America in the 80s and has spread throughout the world.

Thus, promoting bee health around the world should be something everyone should support. Last fall I had the opportunity to tour the Bayer Care Center in Monheim, Germany. Needless to say, I was a bit surprised (or naive) that so much attention is being paid to honey bees.

IMPORTANT FOR POLLINATION: It is estimated about one-third of all plants or plant products eaten by humans are directly or indirectly dependent on insect pollination.
IMPORTANT FOR POLLINATION: It is estimated about one-third of all plants or plant products eaten by humans are directly or indirectly dependent on insect pollination.

“This Center (in Monheim) brings our extensive experience and knowledge under one roof and consolidates existing and future bee health projects from Bayer companies,” says Annette Schuermann, head of Bayer Bee Care Center.

“The Center serves as a scientific and communications platform for discussion and joint projects with external partners. It is designed primarily to provide meeting and presentation facilities for beekeepers, farmers, research institutions, educational professionals and others concerned with the health and welfare of honey bees.”

The center has a dedicated and full-time staff of specialists, including three experienced bee keepers. There are nearly 40 bee hives at the Monheim site.

U.S. Bee Care Center
Since this is a worldwide problem, and significant in the US, Bayer is opening the North American Bayer Bee Care Center this July at the Bayer CropScience North America headquarters in Research Triangle Park, N.C.  It’s a more than 6,600 square feet building with a full laboratory and research apiary, as well as honey extraction and workshop space needed to conduct bee health research and to support a practical apiculture. The research will focus on Integrated Pest Management for the multiple causes affecting bee health, such as parasites, like the Varroa mite, predators, diseases, seasonal management, and environmental stressors.

Even though we may feel we have more important things to worry about, we all should be cognizant of what’s happening to honey bee colonies and what we can do to help.

To view the USDA/EPA report, which represents the consensus of the scientific community studying honey bees, click here.

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