Trouble in Paradise: Pesticide Damage in Florida Citrus Groves

It was a tough spring in the citrus groves in Florida this year. We had a warm winter and cold spring which extended the bloom period an extra several weeks. With the devastating spread of Huanglongbing (HLB) a.k.a. citrus greening which is carried by the Asian citrus psyllid, many grove owners chose to spray certain insecticides (namely imidicloprid, a neonicotinoid class insecticide) during the bloom which is a violation of pesticide labeling. Many beekeepers (myself included) suffered extensive damage to our colonies resulting in colony death as well as a very poor honey harvest.

orange groves

My bees in citrus – Can you guess why this might be a bad location?

Relationships between beekeepers and citrus grove owners in Florida have been tense the last several years but this year it came bubbling over. Both need to make a crop and they need each other to survive, but this relationship isn’t balanced. Beekeepers need the groves significantly more than the groves need the bees. In fact, the groves only need about 5% of the bees that are sent down every year and citrus growers’ attitude toward beekeepers is that if you don’t like what we’re doing, don’t come, we don’t want you here.

Despite this tension, the Florida Department of Agriculture (FDACS) is working to find possible solutions that will help diffuse the situation. One solution is an interactive web-based application that utilizes arcGIS to map blocks of citrus and provide contact information for the grower of that block. It also allows beekeepers to post yard locations with contact information in order for grove owners to contact beekeepers in the spray vicinity. Due to the sensitive nature of yard locations, they are listed as a dot in an area to protect beekeepers. The individual groves are color coded by age to make yard selection easy as younger groves may have been treated with neonicotinoids. In addition to highlighting citrus, the map also includes nectar sources all over Florida throughout the year.  This application is not yet live but will be available January 2014 (just in time for next year’s bloom).

With the exception of testing for pesticide residue in pollen, wax, and dead bees which can be an expensive and lengthy process, the only indication of recent pesticide damage is unexplained dead bees in front of your hive entrances. If you keep bees in a cultivated agricultural area and fear pesticide damage, there are several steps you can take to prevent honey bee death.

1. Move your bees. If your colonies are stationary and you are not getting paid for pollination services, moving your bees to uncultivated areas is going to be the best way to keep them from getting sprayed.

2. If you are moving bees to orange groves, avoid young groves that are between 3-5 years old as these most likely have been treated with soil applied neonicotinoids. Older trees are also better for bee forage simply because they are bigger.

3. Try and contact the growers in the area. Ask to be notified if they are spraying or if they have a predetermined spray schedule.

South Florida Bee College

Hi everybody,

My name is Liana Teigen and I recently joined BIP to be a part of the FL/GA tech team. I am based out of the Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab (HBREL) at the University of Florida in Gainesville where I’ve had the pleasure to work with Jamie Ellis for the past several years on everything bees from Varroa research to native bee conservation.  For the most part I’ve worked on sustaining native bee populations for crop pollination and while I run my own bees on the side, I am thrilled to get back to honey bees full time!  HBREL is primarily an extension lab and thanks to lab manager and extension technician extraordinaire Jeanette Klopchin, hosts several large honey bee education events every year as well as the Florida Master Beekeeper Program.

The Ellis Lab as of July 2013

The Ellis Lab as of July 2013

The most recent of which was the first annual South Florida Bee College, which was my first event representing BIP. Although the classes are geared towards hobbyists and sideliners there is something for everybody whether it is hands on Nosema dissections, honey bee genetics, or lip balm and lotion making.  There was also a live bee removal workshop taught by Keith Councell which was very informative and exciting as new beekeepers were able to try their hand at cutting out colonies from trash cans, water meters and concrete planters. Special Guest Ernesto Guzman lectured on honey bee genetics and bee breeding while HBREL staff and students ran constant outdoor open hive demos.

Keith Councell demonstrating water meter cut out

Keith Councell demonstrating water meter cut out

This guy came because he has a feral colony in his laundry room and wants to box it up. Three hours in and already holding a wad of bees with bare hands

This guy came because he has a feral colony in his laundry room and wants to box it up. Three hours in and already holding a wad of bees with bare hands

The event was a success and now it’s time to start planning for the big Bee College in Saint Augustine in March!