Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bee check up


Just making sure we still have them and are trying to save them.
In early June, Germany halted the sale of seven insecticides linked to the deaths of honeybees in 11,500 colonies. The main culprit was Bayer AG's corn seed treatment clothianidine (trade name Poncho), which the German crop research institute determined killed the bees. Bayer said improper seed handling caused particles containing the insecticide to blow away during the sowing of corn to nearby areas where it was ingested by the bees.


Treating corn seeds with these chemicals is arguably safer than spraying the stuff. And apparently the insects they combat are serious corn pests. Still, when bees and other pollinators are in such dire straits as it is, use of these chemicals seems like a risky proposition, particularly with the increased acreage being devoted to corn for ethanol. I'm not an agronomist, but which is worse: reduced corn crops due to insect infestation, or failure of many crops due to a loss in their pollinators?
Interesting to note that I just recently posted about Bayer with another pesticide.

And here:
Michael Schacker’s “A Spring without Bees” speculates that pesticides are to blame for these bee losses.

But most beekeepers and researchers say that pesticides may just be one of several causes, including multiple suspicious viruses, working together to form a lethal combination that kills off bees. Since there are so many variables at play — and some of those variables actually change based on certain conditions — the equation is complicated at best. Beekeepers say it’s not unsolvable, though –- that it requires attention from people with the resources and the power to find the answers. That attention, they say, is exactly what CCD is not getting.

CCD took a turn for the worse this year, killing off 1.1 million bee colonies across the country -– that’s 35 percent of the nation’s colonies, more than ever before. Some commercial beekeepers struggling to survive say the federal government has failed the beekeeping industry and endangered food crops. With the new farm bill about to survive a presidential veto, that could change. The bill includes a provision that would give about $75 million over five years to bee research. But it could be too late for many beekeepers who will be forced to shut down within five year’s time. And, some point out, the legislation promises billions in farm subsidy policies that could be harming the bees in the first place.

CCD puts about $15 billion of vegetable, fruit and nut crops in jeopardy. Apples, cucumbers, blueberries, strawberries, soybeans, almonds, avocados, melons and pumpkins are just a few of the crops that depend on honey bee pollination. Honey bees are also needed to pollinate seeds for a number of crops, including cabbage, broccoli and herbs.

The frustration is evident in this beekeeper's post:
While waiting for those initial scientific reports on Colony Collapse Disorder to get published so whatever information they contain can be officially released to the beekeepers who can use it (and those who actually provided the samples to produce the results), and for new research to get started (and those results to be released in the distant future), much peripheral knowledge has been collected that is beneficial for general colony management.

Advances in Varroa control, Nosema management and nutrition enhancement have been, and will continue to be made as a result of the CCD research going on. Moreover, an unprecedented amount of cooperation (and focused competition) has already resulted between government and university bee researchers, beekeepers and non-honey bee researchers, than has ever been accomplished. Add to this the phenomenal amount of exposure bees, beekeepers, beekeeping, pollination and honey production have received from the general and even not-so-general press to the non-beekeeping world. There’s no way we could have ever engineered that, or paid for it or made it happen. And if you don’t think it has been important, consider this – CCD has made prime time TV and the Primary Elections haven’t moved it off the top 10 topics in the news.

So whether you believe this is a real phenomena of not, believe in what it has done for the industry in terms of understanding and support. And then, find some way to help support the research studying and the beekeepers suffering from this mystery.

Some think, however, that this attention to a critical food production sector of agriculture is so long overdue that who ever is managing honey bee research has not been paying attention.

A friend, one who’s leading the pack at full speed on this feels the industry has been fundamentally short changed on what research has been carried out for the past 20 years. His argument isn’t so much pointing at what has been done, but what hasn’t been done. And, if funding hasn’t been available to do the multi-state, long term studies needed to solve problems - why the heck not?

The much ballyhooed Five Year Plan just released to improve the health of honey bees should have been in place 20 or more years ago so the industry wouldn’t have crashed in the first place, he says. What the heck were they doing while Rome burned and bees died is the question beekeepers, and my friends, keep asking.

Well, the answer may be closer than you want to think. Industry group legislative committees have spent thousands, probably many thousands of dollars visiting Washington to lobby for some kinds of favorable honey import legislation during that same 20 years. And still honey prices are in the crapper (See the Phipps article in this issue), because beekeeping is a global activity that no longer (and for a long time hasn’t) stops or starts at a border. The money was spent, it seems, on marginally useful goals when it could have funded long term, far reaching projects that looked down the road and saw....CCD? Pollination as the only business? Stress in a beehive? Foreign pests legally brought into the country? New pests? Missed pests? Technology that existed in other sciences that we could have been using? Better ways to use what we have? Other ways to use Byrd money? All of the above? But, alas, the money was spent on other things.

As a result there are still low honey prices, a single, solitary breeding program that works (that would be the Russians), a not very useful alternative to AFB control...and...and...a !!**NEW**!! Five Year Plan to help the health of honey bees. For 20 years bees have been dying and now there’s a NEW program?
So I take it we still haven't addressed the fact we are still losing bees that help put food on our tables and the Bush administration has yet to treat it as the crisis it is?

Why am I not surprised?

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