The persistence of bee health issues poses threats to food security and ecosystems. While farmers and beekeepers have potential to protect bees and mitigate the effects of the current crisis, there is a lack of accurate and relevant regional information available for them to translate their potential into action. The University of Minnesota (UMN) Department of Entomology and its Bee and Pollinator Research Lab have a history of providing research-based solutions to farmers and beekeepers. As the pollinator crisis evolves, dialogue and problem solving between researchers, farmers, and beekeepers are paramount.
The Bee Lab, its Extension arm, the Bee Squad, and Dr. Bill Hutchison, UMN Professor, Extension Entomologist, and integrated pest management (IPM) expert, will partner to develop an innovative professional development program that will increase the knowledge of Extension Educators from seven states in the North Central Region, as well as of beekeeping association representatives and conventional farmers. The program will include 1) a daylong field day summit for beekeepers, farmers, and Extension Educators to learn side-by-side about improving bee health, increasing pollinator habitat, and incorporating IPM strategies into beekeeping and farm management; and 2) a series of five educational webinars based on the field day seminars that will be developed for Extension Educators and made available online to reach larger audiences.
By providing professional development and partnership opportunities to groups that have high potential to protect bees, the Bee Squad and Dr. Hutchison’s IPM Program will chart a healthier course for bees in the North Central Region.
Project objectives from proposal:
Through the Bee Squad’s professional development program, beekeepers will learn why bee health is declining, why habitat is critical for bees, and how to incorporate and maintain bee habitat. Specifically, they will learn about nectar and pollen-rich flowers and the effects of pesticides. Through in-hive demonstrations, beekeepers will learn how to monitor Varroa using IPM principles, and they will learn training techniques to share with members of their beekeeping associations. Overall, beekeepers will learn about research-based recommendations for managing honey bee colonies and avoiding colony losses.
Each presenter represents a different type of organizational approach to habitat construction, including a non- profit, a governmental agency, and a conventional farmer. Farmers will learn from Pete Berthelson, a Pheasants Forever habitat expert, Debra Hermel with the NRCS, and Keith Johnson, a conventional farmer with experience incorporating habitat into his own operation, about different approaches to sustainable pollinator habitat construction.
The Hutchison IPM Lab will offer farmers recommendations for incorporating IPM principles into farming operations based on research and task-force findings. These recommendations will prioritize effective pest management in farming operations while also promoting bee health.
Extension Educators will learn about commercial beekeeping, backyard beekeeping, planting for bees, pesticides, wild bees, the effects of pesticides in landscapes, and pollinator policy and outreach. They will also learn how to provide pollinator education to the public.
Beekeepers who attend the field day will train members of their organizations on Varroa monitoring and management strategies.
Beekeepers will monitor Varroa monthly throughout the beekeeping season, report mite levels to the MiteCheck website, and use the site’s interactive features to learn about bee health in their local area. They will apply IPM principles to Varroa management.
Beekeepers will plant and/or advocate for planting nectar and pollen-rich flowers to increase bee nutrition. Conventional
Farmers will implement IPM principles into their own farming operations. Farmers will also plant bee and monarch habitat, including 2 acres of habitat using seeds distributed at the field day.
Extension educators will use the knowledge they gain through the field day and webinar to provide the best possible pollinator education and outreach. They will provide research-based pollinator information to their audiences, which may include farmers, beekeepers, gardeners, 4-H groups, and the public.
By providing beekeepers with research-based recommendations and IPM strategies for monitoring and managing Varroa, the Bee Squad expects that mite levels will decrease in the North Central Region. Mite levels are tracked through the MiteCheck citizen science program.
As more backyard beekeepers monitor and manage mites and apply research-based recommendations to their beekeeping management, the Bee Squad expects to see a decrease in annual honey bee colony losses among backyard beekeepers. Participating beekeeping organizations will be asked to track Varroa levels and colony losses.
While the impacts of increased habitat are difficult to measure and more survey data are needed to track native bee populations, the Bee Squad hopes that the decline of some native bees will be slowed through an increase of habitat and a decrease in pesticide use. As the proposed professional development program contributes to national efforts to improve bee health, improved pollination of plants could lead to greater crop yields and more affordable food prices.
By highlighting bee forage projects and advocating for more of them, the Bee Squad expects an increased public awareness of the importance of nutrition in supporting bees in the North Central Region. By creating partnerships and information exchanges between beekeepers, farmers, Extension Educators and universities, the Bee Squad expects to see the development of additional innovative solutions to improving bee health. The Bee Squad and Hutchison IPM Lab expect farmers to become increasingly key players in transforming the agricultural landscapes of the North Central Region into zones that encourage and support pollinator activity.