When the Bee Informed Partnership was established we outlined a series of goals and levels of engagement with the beekeepers we wanted to serve. Starting with our initial online and paper surveys we’ve progressed and continued to move towards more direct methods of working with beekeepers to gather more real time data on hive management practices and outcomes. This data is introduced into our analysis systems to find the best practices that reduce colony losses.
We’ve outlined these tiers of engagement in a roadmap to guide us through our process. Below you can read more about where we’ve come from and where we’re headed.
1) Winter Loss Survey
In 2011 we began our efforts to reach out to beekeepers with a relatively short Winter Loss Survey specifically addressing colony losses experience over the winter months. This survey was actually an extension of efforts some of the team had begun in 2006-2007 with the Apiary Inspectors of America and USDA-ARS Beltsville Bee Lab. In addition, our first survey prompted the beginning of an ongoing partnership with our European partners also studying colony declines abroad. Together we were able to develop standard questions and methods of analysis to allow comparisons of loss data collected from around the world. The fact that colony loss was experienced throughout the year was an important finding from our work surveying beekeepers across the country. We have now expanded the scope of our winter loss survey to include questions that allow us to calculate and report losses year round.
2) National Management Survey
Closely tied to our Winter Loss Survey, our National Management Survey digs deeper and starts to look at the management practices beekeepers choose throughout the season. Larger in scope, beekeepers can share their choices on products used for pests and disease, feeding products, frame management and breed choices allowing us to correlate management practices with losses experienced throughout the year. Coupled with basic information about the beekeepers operations and geographic locations, soon we will be able to give very specific recommendations that consider apiary size and location.
3) Real Time Disease Load Monitoring
Moving closer to the ground, our Disease Load Monitoring program allows beekeepers to track the health of their hives throughout the season. With these data points beekeepers can base management decisions on real time metrics for both Varroa and Nosema levels across their apiary. We’ve begun pilot programs in North Dakota and continue to expand operations.
We initiated a pilot program in 2013 with 23 beekeepers, and in 2014 have opened it the monitoring program to beekeepers across the country. A grant from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture will allow 50 beekeepers in North Dakota to participate at no cost to them this year and the Eastern Apicultural Society (EAS) is subsidizing a similar effort for 21 of their members in a smaller scale version of this monitoring effort this year.
4) Tech Transfer Team Assisted Monitoring
A critical part of the Bee Informed Partnership’s mission is to work with commercial operations whose success greatly affects our nations agricultural food system. Both commercial beekeepers who supply pollination services for national crops as well as queen breeders who maintain the genetic viability of our pollinators are a key focus of our efforts.
To support these two groups we’ve put together a team of incredible field agents that work directly with commercial operators to monitor hive health by routinely inspecting hives, taking samples for disease and mite analysis and work with beekeeping managers to plan strategies that will reduce colony losses through the course of the season. Our Tech Team Members are a core component of our team and the data they gather increase the viability of our overall studies on national honey bee health.