President’s Address to AIA 2011

Below is an address I recently gave to the AIA

First off, I would like to thank the people who worked hard to arrange this meeting. You have all noticed that we are a bit decentralized out here, and I’m sure you can imagine the logistics to organize shuttles, security, catering, in addition to planning a great program were not easy. Planning required a lot of effort and time. AIA Vice President Paul Cappy, USDA-APHIS Honey Bee Program Manager Robyn Rose and USDA-ARS Entomologist Bart Smith have done an extraordinary amount of work to plan this joint meeting with AAPA and ABRC. They deserve our thanks and appreciation. I have also noticed how friendly the APHIS staff is, despite being inundated with us, make sure to smile back as we shuffle through security lines.

I would also like to thank Keith Tignor, Paul Poling and Ed Levi (who is now retired, but we hope to keep seeing each year as long as possible) for their continued efforts for AIA, their work throughout the year and at these meetings is critical to make AIA effective.

And lest I forget, I would like to congratulate Dennis vanEngelsdorp on his PhD. We are lucky to have someone in his position with acute understanding of AIA interests and functions, and looking forward to cooperating with the Bee Informed Project. I also want to wish Jerry Hayes the best of luck as he moves from running what is probably the best Apiary Program in the nation, to take a job in industry. We hope to hear great news from Jerry as new RNAi tools are developed to improve honey bee health.

It has been another big year for bees. Not just in the media but in peoples real lives, everything from questioning the label on the honey jar to installing bees in their own back yards, awareness continues to grow connecting our daily food supply with honeybees. The commercial beekeepers, who have always understood the importance of bees, continue to rebuild despite recurrent and substantial annual losses (around 30% again this winter) and increased management expenses, while fighting to protect the value and reputation of the commodities they produce
Registration of backyard beekeepers continues to increase at a rate I wish I could invest my retirement in, but what I do invest in that trend is also valuable- my efforts, as we all do, in the words of past president Jerry Hayes; with Competence, Confidence, Professionalism, and Flexibility. From newbie to biggie, the AIA supports all beekeepers. And in doing so, we are protecting the industry, adapting the industry and growing the industry.

But bee health and pollinator-loss issues continue to confound us. We are fortunate to have strong leadership in this cause. Those leaders are earning high-profile attention for our concerns, including gaining funding that takes our efforts to great new levels. We will hear exciting news about how the National Survey information, which started essentially as an AIA phone-tree effort, will be folded into the Bee Informed Partnership, with greater resources and analytical power to answer questions about our bees with epidemiological models, while building a strong database as a legacy for the whole beekeeping industry.

Apiary Inspectors have been instrumental in making possible the Honey Bee National Survey, and in turn, that infusion of funding has allowed many State Apiary Programs to reach out to our beekeepers and strengthen our position to support them like never before.

And yet, the more we learn, more questions arise. I am reminded of Dewey Caron’s querry at the annual WAS meeting, ‘Is the honeybear half empty or half full?’ It is a pleasure to work in a field at the forefront of the American consciousness. People love bees, and by proxy they like you when they find out you work to help bees. As the AIA president this year, I presented to very interested and supportive groups including the National Plant Board, and the Canadian Beekeeping Meetings. There is no shortage of interest or concern. But it is a lot of work to answer growing hobbyist calls at a time when most of us are overloaded with projects for much larger constituencies. But sometimes that 15 minutes we take to help a newbie reminds us how invigorating it is to be helpful, and how exciting bees are for so many people.

In my own Apiary Program, I would like to use Roy Oness as an example. Roy is a nice ‘well seasoned’ beekeeper. He has been keeping bees over 60 years in Hawaii. He started at 12, with equipment from Sears Roebuck, and bees that he dug out of a house. It took 4 tries to get those bees, and he has had bees ever since. At the peak of his hobby, he had 125 of his own colonies and rented another 250 for migratory honey production, and he could have made it his livelihood, but Roy worked as an engineer, and bees were a hobby.
Roy showed up in my office right away when I started my job in Hawaii, I remember it well. He had always kept bees but recently got wiped out with new invasive pests, and he said to me that ‘he felt like he got caught with his pants down’, and wanted to do what he could to understand the issues and then rebuild. To do this, he started with one small nuc, and a bottom board oil trap, and began keeping data. Roy counted the number of Small Hive Beetle in the oil trap every day, and recorded it in meticulous engineer-style notebook columns. At first I was impatient with Roy’s data, busy as we all are with a day’s duties. But he kept showing up and I finally took the data seriously and graphed it. I show it today to illustrate the problems beekeepers are facing in Hawaii, as you can see, this one small colony has trapped over 16,000 beetles, which is intense pressure.
I also talk about Roy to illustrate the relationship Apiary Inspectors have with beekeepers, it is a special one.
One thing Roy said has stuck with me, and I am sure you can appreciate it. Roy is a much more religious person than I, and when I asked what he enjoyed most about beekeeping, he said “Bees are Gods creatures, and if you can figure out how they live, you can see more about how you yourself should live.” I thought that was a nice reminder of how lucky we are to work with the humble bees, and beekeepers, and to have the world’s interest and support for our work. Thank you for the opportunity to serve as AIA President this year, and for attending our annual meeting.