Friday, September 07, 2007

A Bee C

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Despite his recent capitulation to public protests, Farmer Ed Stelmach still has not heard the buzzing of Alberta apiarists.

Canada's largest commercial apiary industry, gets no attention from the farmers in the Stelmach government, cause they all raise beef.

Bee Keepers across North America are facing a crisis no different from BSE yet the response in oil rich Alberta to the case of the disappearing Bee's is indifference.

Billions were given to the commercial agribusiness interests and large scale processing houses, the secondary and tertiary business, and spare change given to beef farmers after the discovery of one dead BSE infected cow. During this crisis of Alberta's disappearing bee's nary a word from agribusiness interests or the government.

Drops in honey production, combined with low prices, could financially sting beekeepers.

"It's going to be a real struggle for some operations across the province," Kevin Nixon, central director of the Alberta Beekeepers Association.

"Another year of low production combined with lower prices ... could really damage things within the industry."

Lee Townsend of Stony Plain said he thinks he will get about 81 kilograms of honey for each of his 1,600 hives compared with his normal yearly harvest of 122 kilograms per hive. About 30 per cent of his bees died this year.

"It was just one of those years when everybody was hit with high losses ... . You could talk to anyone in the province right now and they would say the same thing," Townsend said.

A mysterious bee epidemic in the United States is alarming commercial beekeepers in Canada, but the government isn’t moving fast enough to provide money and support for research and surveillance programs, says the Alberta Beekeepers Association.

Although the border was closed between the US and Canadian bee industries in 1987, it is impossible to halt all bee migration between the countries. According to Kevin Nixon, Central Director of the Alberta Beekeepers Association, “any pest or disease that affects bees in the U.S. is usually seen here four or five years later.”

Nixon is worried that colony collapse disorder, or CCD, could prove devastating for Alberta’s $350 pollination industry if it moves north. CCD is a disorder which has killed between 50-90% of some bee colonies in 24 US states.

The Alberta Beekeepers Association has given Alberta Agriculture and Food a list of demands that includes the hiring of an additional provincial apiculturist and numerous full-time bee inspectors. Nixon would also like to see more funding for research programs.

“The cattle and grain farmers are getting allotted large amounts of money here in the province. It’s extremely frustrating to see this money being given to other commodities. The government doesn’t seem to understand the importance of what’s going on in the US.”

In Ontario the government has already addressed this issue, with compensation. The federal government gave a stingy supplement to Ontario Bee Keepers and once again nothing for Alberta beekeepers. Consider how many billions were given for BSE.

Beekeepers Eligible for Compensation

Ontario Beekeepers can now apply for compensation for lost hives over the winter.

As many as 22 thousand hives are thought to have been wiped out over the winter -- but no one really knows why.

The province has earmarked 2.4 million dollars for direct compensation.

The Ontario Beekeepers Association is also getting some money.

They'll get 600 thousand dollars that will go toward research and Ontario honey promotions.

Danny Walker, president of the Ontario Beekeepers Association, also applauded Dombrowsky's response.

"They're the first government I know of that stepped up and put up money for farmers," Walker said.

But beekeepers were asking for $6 million to help them recover, he said. They're now waiting on Ottawa to ante up the difference.

The federal government chipped in nearly $137,000 this spring for research to determine what has been killing bees.

Stephen Page, spokesman for Agriculture Canada, replied in an e-mail bees and beekeeping are a provincial responsibility, but the federal government is working closely with the Canadian Honey Council and provincial apiarists to monitor threats to the health of Canada's managed bee colonies.

Added to the low price of honey and the imports of Chinese and Argentinian honey marketed as Canadian honey, the return for the producer is less than the cost of production. "The price of honey is the biggest problem we face," Vichos states.

If the current situation continues, Vichos sees "a real demise in the industry. We’ve been able to struggle through and get our numbers up, but you can’t go on like this year after year.

You can only do this for so long and then you have to walk away.

"Had this been the poultry or dairy or any other agricultural industry, all hell would have broken loose," says Vichos. "People don’t understand the importance of the industry, which isn’t due to honey or wax, but pollination. This problem has brought a bit of light and people have started to see. For every dollar that honey produces, there’s hundreds of dollars in pollination that the bees have accomplished."

"It’s not enough money and it’s not a small problem," says Jeff Benson, a beekeeper supplier in Metcalfe. "The government has to realize that pollination is the most important aspect of this, and that without pollination, there’s not going to be any crops."

And its not like this was not known about for years though it became news months ago alarms were raised two years ago.


Source: American-Bee-Journal. 1982; 122 (3): 189-191.
Publication Year: 1982

Abstract: A commercial beekeeper's report of disappearing disease stimulated an investigation utilizing the diseased colonies. The effects on population growth and honey storage, of giving 1 comb of pollen, of feeding Fumidil-B and of feeding soybean flour with yeast and soybean flour alone were observed in an experiment involving 36 colonies of bees. Addition of 1 comb of pollen led to a significant gain in bees and the production of more honey. Fumidil-B had no effect. Feeding of expeller processed soybean flour, from a supply 3 or 4 yr old, especially without yeast, hindered population growth. Inadequate amounts of natural pollen along with feeding an inferior pollen substitute were 2 causes of this beekeeper's losses.
Update Code: 1983

  1. That shortage of pollen can cause dwindling.

  2. Fumigillan did not help, so we can assume that nosema was not a prime contributor to decline.

  3. Old soy flour, fed alone, made matters worse.

  4. Bad pollen supplement was worse than nothing

  5. Adding yeast helped

  6. Feeding combs of pollen had a good effect

This study raises questions that are not answered, but seems to indicate that old soy flour can be worse than nothing. Nothing is learned here about fresh soy flour, and we are not told the age of the yeast or pollen.

Why it is happening is another question.

Agriculture Department scientists are mobilizing to fight the puzzling and potentially catastrophic collapse of the nation’s honey bee colonies.

Citing a “perfect storm for beekeepers,” alarmed officials admitted Friday that they don’t know why bees are dying in large numbers in more than 22 states. But pushed by Congress and farmers alike, the scientists will be devoting new resources to protecting the diligent pollinators

Virus Implicated In Colony Collapse Disorder In Bees

The issue is the of the impact of industrialization on this ancient form of farming.

Huge monocrop farming systems and specialisations, and the spread of suburbia across natural habitat, are removing natural diversity. Bees have been lumped together in the millions, in a factory farm type environment not so unlike that of our chickens and other livestock animals. Many of these bees are transported across several states to perform pollinations in orchards and farms around the country. Today they are in contact with substances they shouldn’t have to deal with - pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and pollen from genetically modified crops. Researchers are scrambling to find answers, and as the spring season is upon us, time is running out.

By 1994, an estimated 98 percent of the wild, free-range honeybees in the United States were gone.
The number of managed colonies—those maintained by beekeepers—dropped by half.

The honeybees may have been especially vulnerable to the varroa epidemic. When the honeybee genome was sequenced a few years ago, researchers discovered fewer immune-system genes than you'd find in other insects. This despite the fact that the honeybee lives in tenementlike conditions, anywhere between 15,000 and 30,000 of them crammed into a hive the size of a filing cabinet. To make matters worse, a weakened hive often becomes the target of honey-raiders from healthier colonies, which only helps the parasites to spread.

It's possible that if the American honeybees had been left to their own devices, they would have died off in epic numbers and then evolved natural defenses against varroa (like more effective grooming), as they did in Asia. But crops had to be pollinated and no one had the time to sit around and wait.

Beekeepers opted to keep their colonies on life support with selective breeding, and by sprinkling them with medicine and insecticides aimed at the invading mites. This was no longer a hobby for amateurs. The only honeybees left—i.e., the ones that started disappearing in October—had become the cows of the insect world: virtually extinct in the wild, hopped up on antibiotics, and more likely to reproduce via artificial insemination than by their own recognizance.

The cause of colony collapse disorder is unknown, although poor nutrition, mites, diseases and pesticides have all been suspect. There is also concern that some genetically modified crops may be producing pollen or nectar that is problematic for the bees, says Mr. Brandi.

"Lesser known is the fact that some pesticides can also kill or deform immature bees, adversely affect queen and drone viability or may cause bees to lose their memory, which prevents them from flying back to their hive," he says.

It’s frightening to note as well that research in Britain indicates that birds near mobile phone base stations or towers don’t breed well.
The sparrows have disappeared completely from cities at least four years ago in England as mobile phones grew in popularity. A recent article in The Independent suggests that both birds and bees are impacted negatively by phone waves.

Wild bees and flowers both declining, survey finds

But we do know that the honey bee population in Alberta, and across Canada, is integrated with the U.S. where it became apparent last fall that there was a problem. And they too are addressing it, unlike Alberta's farmers government.

Bees are important pollinators for agroecosystems. Due to a decline in the availability of honey bees, many growers are now looking to wild bees to pollinate their crops. However due to land clearance and intense agricultural practices, potential wild bee habitat is disappearing. To quantify these effects, we assessed wild bee abundance and diversity in canola fields adjacent to either tilled fields or semi-natural pastureland in southern Alberta, Canada. Habitats were assessed within 800m immediately surrounding fields and their impact on bee diversity and abundance was determined.
How Honey Bee Genomics explains the Demise of the Bees.

And while commercial Apiaries are suffering so will secondary and tertiary industries, since Alberta produces high quality commercial and export grade honey, and byproducts.

The intoxicating nectar is mead, an archaic drink made by fermenting honey with yeast and water. The elixir was reputedly the booze of choice for Zeus and other Olympians.

The drink fell out of favour in most of Europe more than 500 years ago. But today in North America, mead is enjoying a renaissance. In Canada, almost two dozen meaderies have opened in the past decade, and connoisseurs are quaffing the ancient libation.

Not all mead makers have their own beehives, though.

Alley Kat Brewing in Edmonton became Alberta's first commercial mead maker when it introduced a spiced variety last Christmas, using honey supplied by local beekeepers. The sparkling mead sold out in liquor stores within days, says Alley Kat owner Neil Herbst.

Honeybees play a role in pollinating a number of Canadian fruits, vegetables and crops, particularly cucumbers, melons, blueberries and cranberries and canola, according to the Canadian Honey Council.

A 1998 study by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimated the value of the bees to pollination at $732 million, a value the council now says has climbed to more than $1 billion.

There are about 10,000 beekeepers in Canada, operating a total of 600,000 honeybee colonies, according to the CHC.

Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba produce about 80 per cent of Canada's 154 million kilograms of honey annually.

Besides honey, they play key role in food production

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