August 13, 2013

Bee Health - Perspective from New Zealand

Time Magazine Cover, A World Without Bees

Time magazine recently published an article on the plight of the honeybee under this cover.  One of the most frequent questions I get from people when I talk to them about our honey and business is about bee health.  In June, I attended the National Beekeepers Association annual conference in New Zealand.  Bee health was a popular topic at the conference, and the subject was covered from a number of perspectives.  New Zealand is not currently having any occurrences of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) which is the subject of the time article (enclosed link),9171,2149141,00.html

While the root cause of CCD is not understood, there is a general belief that the contributing factors include: pesticide use, especially a new class of pesticides known as Neonicotinoids; poor nutrition due to monoculture farming practices; and, stresses imposed and viruses carried by the Varroa mite.  Many New Zealand beekeepers also believe that the long distances that hives are transported in the US for pollination work, along with the associated staging of massive quantities of hives further exaserbate the problem adding stress and opportunity to spread disease.

In New Zealand, on balance we are much kinder and gentler to our bees.  Pesticide use is much less prevalent and farming practices & topography provide a much richer and more diverse bee food source.  Hives are transported, but the distances are much shorter with fewer opportunities to mix with hives from other beekeepers.  So on balance New Zealand bees are healthier than North American bees for a variety of reasons.

At Bees & Trees, our bees are only utilized for honey production, we do no pollination work.  We have wintering sites that are about 1-2 hours from our cropping sites where the bees spend most of the year (April - December).  Each of these wintering sites was selected based upon criteria that included the availablity and diversity of nectar and pollen sources.  Where possible, we tried to focus on sites that are adjacent to native "bush", which we think provides some of the best food sources.  We make sure no pesticides or herbicides are going to used around our hives.  Our cropping sites tend to be remote, and further removed from potential issues related to farming practices.  Many sites are either inside of, or on property bordering national parks and reserves.

Bee health will continue to be a key focus for the New Zealand beekeeping industry understandable.  It was also good to see at the conference in June that the New Zealand government, through the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is starting to focus on this issue as an overall national priority.  Much of the New Zealand economy is driven by export of agricultural products, many of which are pollinated by bees.  It was gratifying to the beekeepers at conference that the health of their bees was getting this deserved attention and recognition.  We are hopeful that NZ will follow the EU lead in banning Neonicotinoids which are present but not prevalent in New Zealand today.