We successfully conducted a training event at the Eastern Apicultural Society short course for extension agents and master beekeepers. The purpose of this training was to disseminate the latest knowledge and technologies to promote bee health to those who will further deliver them to beekeepers. This training was held at the 2010 annual conference of the Eastern Apicultural Society, which holds the largest yearly gathering of beekeepers on the eastern seaboard. Our objective was to train extension agents, Master Beekeepers, and other outreach officials at the week-long conference in key issues concerning the industry. For agents or other inexperienced officials, we offered trainings on basic beekeeping at the Introductory Short Course during the first two days of the conference. For experienced Master Beekeepers or agents, we offered advanced trainings on varroa IPM, queen rearing and bee breeding, CCD, and the Africanized honey bee. For all participants, we provided a series of presentations and workshops from relevant experts during the latter part of the week.
Objective 1: Educate novice extension agents in basic beekeeping techniques to create new conduits for apiculture outreach.
Objective 2: Provide hands-on training to participants in applying new control methods for varroa mites so that they may further teach varroa IPM strategies to beekeepers.
Objective 3: In conjunction with other ongoing extension projects, provide workshops on queen rearing and clinics on bee breeding (including instrumental insemination) to advanced beekeepers.
Objective 4: Hold a break-out session on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), including updates from the leading researchers and a round-table discussion involving apiculture officials, academics, and commercial beekeepers.
Objective 5: Develop and deliver a comprehensive plan for public education of Africanized honey bees (AHB), the so-called “killer” bees, in preparation of their predicted invasion and spread along the eastern seaboard.
Objective 6: Consolidate slide sets, handouts, and other materials for each participant to utilize in their own outreach efforts for delivery of learned information to their local beekeeper clientele.
In agriculture, insects can play an important beneficial role through pollination, which enables seed and fruit set and helps to increase yields of approximately 100 crops grown nationwide. Arguably the most beneficial insect in agriculture is the honey bee (Apis mellifera L.), which serves as the primary pollinator of crops. Indeed, honey bees are beneficial to many agricultural crops and absolutely critical to others; cucurbits and other crops co-evolved with honey bees, and thus they are required for their successful pollination and fruit set. It is estimated that honey bees account for approximately $14.6 billion annually in pollination services and increased crop yields nationwide. It is critical to help bolster this industry that impacts approximately one-third of everything we eat.
Professional beekeeping in the U.S. maintains strong ties to the southern third of the country due to its mild winters and longer foraging season. Migratory beekeepers annually overwinter their colonies in the southern states then pollinate various crops as they move northward. Queen and colony production are also concentrated in the southern states to supply the rest of the country with commercial stock in the early spring. Despite the strong regionalism of apiculture in the southeast, there has not been a corresponding, proportional effort in honey bee research that has targeted issues specific to those states.
In 1981, the National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated that there were 4.2 million managed bee colonies in the U.S.; in 2005, they estimated 2.41 million colonies, a 42.6% decline. Much of this shortfall can be attributed to the decimation of honey bee populations over the past 15 years, for which parasitic mites are largely responsible. The varroa mite (Varroa destructor) is an ectoparasite of bee brood (developing pupae) that results in worker deformities, and an untreated colony typically succumbs to infection within two years. These pests have almost completely wiped out the feral honey bee population and continue to parasitize most managed colonies. Beekeepers have been able to treat their colonies for varroa mites using synthetic pesticides, but many varroa mites have become resistant thus forcing beekeepers to adopt alternatives.
The central role that honey bees play in our agricultural infrastructure has recently come to light through the media coverage of Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, where the entire adult population of an afflicted colony seemingly disappears. The underlying cause(s) of this phenomenon remains largely unknown, and researchers are collectively and collaboratively investigating three main areas: (1) diseases and parasites, such as something new about an existing pathology (for example, a novel interaction between a virus and parasites) or possibly a yet-unknown new disease that may be associated with the disorder; (2) environmental contaminants, such as certain in-hive chemicals or other agricultural insecticides that bees may pick up from their external environment; and (3) colony stress, such as the developmental constraints of placing hives in or near certain agricultural crops (depleting them of foraging resources that the bees need for healthy and proper development) or the cumulative costs associated with various pathologies or chemicals.
While CCD has been making a lot of headlines because of its mysterious nature, only a minority (20-30%) of the nation’s honey bees colonies that have died last year are attributed to the disorder (CCD Working Group Report, 2007). Thus beekeepers and apiculture officials need to continue their previous efforts to keep our colonies healthy and productive, and not lose sight of the other issues that the industry has been facing all along. Indeed, the recent USDA Action Plan for Apiculture (http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/br/ccd/ccd_actionplan.pdf) highlights the global need to “improve the general health of bees to reduce their susceptibility to CCD and other disorders”.
The purpose of this project was to collaboratively and collectively train beekeepers, both large and small scale, in best management practices in apiculture. We conducted a one-stop-shop training for all beekeepers to get “Back To Basics” and promote healthy, sustainable honey bee management. We specifically focused on five main issues that face best management practices: pollination, honey production, healthy bees, Africanized “killer” bees, and queen breeding. Together, training in these subjects will help codify best management practices within the beekeeping community and help bolster a beleaguered industry.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
The purpose of this project was to train those who educate beekeepers in how to maintain a healthy honey bee population. This “train the trainer” program targeted two main audiences: Cooperative Extension agents and participants in one of several Master Beekeeper Programs in the region. Both groups were given priority for attendance. This program was a “meeting within a meeting” and held in conjunction with the annual Short Course and Conference of the Eastern Apicultural Society (EAS), which holds the largest yearly gathering of beekeepers on the eastern seaboard (typically >500 attendees). The 2010 short course and conference was held in Boone, NC during the first week in August (http://www.easternapiculture.org/programs/2010/).
Master Beekeeper Programs (MBP) are analogous to CES Master Gardener Programs, but with some important distinctions. First, most MBP are not top-down programs with heavy extension-agent delivery of trainings. Rather, most programs are grass-roots programs aimed at beekeepers self-study and involvement in outreach. Second, there is a diversity in the structure of different MBP within the region. For example, the NC, GA, and SC programs are structured across four ascending levels, from beginner (‘Certified’), intermediate (‘Journeyman’), advanced (‘Master’), and expert (‘Master Craftsman’). Both emphasize service credits of participants educating other beekeepers and the general public about the importance of honey bees and beekeeping, particularly at the top two levels. The NC has been extremely successful for the last 30 years, with over 5,500 participants and 50+ Master or Master Craftsman beekeepers. Alternatively, the EAS MBP emphasizes detailed knowledge of bees and beekeeping, and does not include entry- or intermediate levels. Currently, there are 60+ EAS Master Beekeepers spread across states ranging from Maine to Alabama.
In many states in the southern region, Master Beekeepers greatly complement extension agents in their delivery of apicultural information. In North Carolina, for example, many Field Faculty with apiculture responsibilities often do not have any official training (or even access to training) in beekeeping; the majority of agents are horticulturists or field crop specialists, assigned beekeeping duties because of its obvious connection with pollination. As such, many extension professionals rely very heavily on their local beekeeping groups in general and Master Beekeepers in particular. This synergy and cooperation is important, since it provides extension agents access to knowledge, resources, and connections with the beekeeping community that in turn enables them to serve other clientele and grower groups. However, it does highlight the importance of involving extension agents in trainings on beekeeping so that they may more effectively serve their clientele.
To address this need and opportunity, we conducted a training session that is targeted to train MBP and Agents in various aspects of apiculture. Although others may participate, we held an advanced training with the specific intent of enabling the audience to provide further instruction to their local clientele. While this short course assumed intermediate to advanced knowledge of honey bee biology and management practices, we also permitted extension agents to attend the concurrent Introductory Short Course (which itself will be conducted entirely by the EAS Master Beekeepers) to become familiarized with basic biology and beekeeping techniques. Also concurrent with the main training session was a hands-on apiary practicum as well as a unique microscopy training that will cover detailed anatomical dissections and disease diagnoses used by apiary officials and scientists. While these opportunities were available as alternative choices, the main training session, however, concentrated on educating the Master Beekeepers and Extension Agents in up-to-date information on disease treatments, pollination practices, and other topics so that they will be adequately informed to conduct future trainings in these areas. We invited many of the top Extension Apiculturists in the nation to help conduct these trainings, and thus the participants came away with a wealth of information for their outreach activities.
To ensure that we were able to attract a sufficient population of Master Beekeepers from the region, we solicited Extension Agents in the regional states (particularly within and those adjacent to NC, namely SC, GA, TN, and VA) to nominate local Master Beekeepers to attend the training session. For each state, we then asked each Extension Apiculturist (University Specialist in Apiculture) and State Apiarist (Department of Agriculture Inspector) to select their top 4 choices of MBP and 4 choices of Extension Agents from their state. We then invited these 40 trainers to attend the Train-the-Trainers session by waiving their registration fee ($100 each), although we encouraged all nominated Master Beekeepers and Agents to attend on their own volition.
We provided all Master Beekeepers and Extension Faculty with educational materials to incorporate into their own outreach programs. Each participant was provided a three-ring binder filled with a wide variety of written information, including handouts, lecture notes, research and extension articles, and instruction guides. Each participant was also provided a comprehensive CD-ROM containing slide sets and handout materials for them to utilize in their own outreach efforts. Included with each presentation was a pre- and post-evaluation form. When the agents or Master Beekeepers deliver this information in the future to their local clientele, they will be able to quantify impacts of their trainings (number of contact hours, change in usage, economic impacts, etc…). We also asked each participant to submit summary forms to us after their delivery so that we too may be able to provide data on the success and impact of this train-the-trainer session.
The positive impacts of this training were evident in the short course evaluations. Insufficient time has elapsed to record any feedback from subsequent trainings from the participatory agents or master beekeepers, but many have indicated their plans to incorporate the materials and knowledge from the short course into their outreach activities. These data will be collected and consolidated to gauge the continuing impacts of the training activities across the region.
The 2010 EAS Short Course was the largest and most attended in its 55-year history, with over 220 participants. Of these, 40 were previously identified County Extension Agents or Master Beekeepers from surrounding states. These focus individuals were provided handouts and electronic materials of the very presentations and topics that were provided during the advanced track of the short course (Objective 6). The advanced track, among many other topics, highlighted the importance of IPM for varroa-mite management (Objective 2), which was among the most popular seminars of the series. The introductory track was also well attended (approximately 75 new beekeepers), including some extension agents without previous experience with apiculture (Objective 1). The PI personally conducted a workshop on honey bee instrumental insemination (Objective 3), and two of the plenary speakers were internationally recognized experts in Colony Collapse Disorder (Objective 4) and Africanized bees (Objective 5).