A honeybee IPM program for pollinator health in blueberry production

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2015: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2017
Grant Recipients: Fruitwood Orchards Honey; Rutgers University
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Dennis Wright
Fruitwood Orchards Honey
Dean Polk
Rutgers University

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: berries (blueberries)
  • Animals: bees


  • Crop Production: beekeeping, pollination, pollinator health
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research

    Proposal summary:

    Major NJ beekeepers who pollinate NJ blueberries experienced severe bee mortality in 2014. We experienced up to 40% brood death along with queenless hives that needed to be rebuilt throughout the season. This damage not only contributes to a lack of sustainability for NJ beekeepers, but will also contribute to increased pollination costs for NJ blueberry growers, who require about 16,000 hives per year to produce the crop. The proposed program brings our staff together with Rutgers IPM program assistance to establish a monitoring system to assess bee mortality, pesticide use, brood health and pesticide residues in hives, as contributing factors in colony decline. We will establish a monitoring program during the blueberry pollination period to assess acute pesticide toxicity by using dead bee trays. We will break down hives shortly after they are removed from blueberries and measure brood health, and send samples to an independent laboratory for pesticide residue analyses. Pesticide use records will be collected from contracted blueberry growers, and analyzed for any correlations to decreased colony health. We will establish communications with blueberry growers where we can outline the reason for this project, summarize project results, and desired practices growers might use to minimize negative impacts on honey bees. We will involve Rutgers Cooperative Extension as a partner for outreach activities that include grower meetings, articles in newsletters, and an online poster.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Fruitwood Orchards consists of 3 businesses, Fruitwood Farms, Fruitwood Orchards Honey, and Fruitwood Apiaries. The pollination services business is operated by Fruitwood Apiaries. Our farm was started by Everitt and Gloria Wright in 1951. The Wrights started with 110 acres of apples, peaches, nectarines, pears and cherries. Not long after that a pollination business was started. Fruitwood Apiaries manages 4,500 hives in New Jersey and Florida, and is the largest honeybee and pollination service provider in NJ. Dennis Wright, Everitt’s son, is part owner of Fruitwood Orchards Honey and Fruitwood Apiaries. Dennis has been managing honey bees for 38 years. Fruitwood Apiaries owns the pollination services, which for blueberries, gross about $250,000 per year. We are also a major pollinator for the NJ cranberry crop as well as several other crops. We maintain office, packinghouse and field staff totaling 6 people. Fruitwood Orchards Honey is responsible for packaging and marketing our honey products, and sells honey to both domestic and export markets.

        The proposed project is important to our business, and to other NJ beekeepers. We cannot sustain the colony damage that occurred in 2014. That experience alone caused NJ beekeepers to raise their pollination rates to blueberry growers, thereby affecting their production costs. Several of us have even discussed leaving many of the colonies in Florida for honey production if the problems get any worse. While this would negatively affect our pollination business, it would likely raise pollination rates even higher for blueberry growers.
         While the field data produced in this project will be easily interpreted, laboratory results and pesticide use records will be analyzed with the help from Dean Polk, Statewide Fruit IPM Agent, and other pest management specialists at Rutgers.

    Objectives – 1) Establish an acute bee mortality monitoring system during blueberry pollination. 2) Identify pesticide use during the early part of the season up to bee removal. 3) Correlate hive damage, brood and queen mortality with possible pesticide factors, using a combined pesticide use survey and laboratory screening tests. 4) Create an “off season” communication system with blueberry growers that inform them of beekeeper issues related to pesticide use, and how those issues may relate to blueberry crop yield.

    A) Study/Demonstration area – The project will be carried out in Hammonton, NJ. Hammonton is popularly known as the “Blueberry Capital of the World.” We will use a defined area of 1,000 acres of contiguous blueberry production in order to include a number of growers and different management practices. It is planned that 2-3 major NJ beekeepers will provide the pollination services for the 6 growers within the pollination area (PA).

    Individual farm and grower’s management practices will be considered as “treatment”. Prior to placing colonies in fields, 10 colonies placed on each farm will be supplied with new brood foundation frames. During 2014 we had contracted with one farm that is well outside of the main proposed PA in a site surrounded by NJ Pinelands forests and not other blueberry fields. That site received minimal sprays, and upon breakdown, those colonies were much healthier that other colonies placed in the central Hammonton blueberry area that year. If contracted
    this year, colonies placed at that remote site will be used as the control comparison. The data is not blocked and treatments will be compared using the Students t-test.

    B) Within the PA, a sampling of 100 hives will be set up with 1 sq yd hardware cloth, ¼” mesh trays placed in front of each hive entrance. Hives will be visited once per week during  pollination, and dead bees that have been ejected from the hive will be counted. This will be the acute bee mortality monitoring system. All monitored hives will be GPS referenced and identified. Therefore if any monitored colony were to show any collapse or other disorder upon later breakdown, the colony and proximity of pesticide use can be identified.

    C) All blueberry growers (there are no other crops produced in the defined PA) within the PA will supply pesticide use records.

    D) Within 7 – 10 days of hive removal from blueberry fields all hives will be broken down,  cleaned and honey removed. Data will be taken from the monitored hives in the following manner. Hives will be rated for queen presence and health. Brood frames will be gridded and an estimate made for percent brood surface area. Brood solidness will be measured by using a grid opening that allows for 100 cells to be counted and rated for filled or empty cells. Other methods will be used as outlined in Delaplane et. al. 2012, ‘Standard methods for estimating strength parameters of Apis mellifera colonies.’

    E) Brood comb will be sampled from 20 colonies at breakdown. Samples will be taken from 10 colonies that show more severe disorder, and 10 samples will be taken from healthy appearing colonies for two treatments. Samples will be sent to a laboratory (Pesticide Research Institute, Berkeley, CA) for a pesticide screening to determine residues. Data will be compared between the 2 hive types and by residue with a Student’s t-test.

    F) Pesticide use records will be compared to colony measurements at breakdown, weekly dead bee counts, and residues found from laboratory screenings.


    Project planning will be continued during the winter of 2015, including the signing of blueberry pollination contracts. In March hives will be prepped in Florida for moving into NJ blueberry fields. Hardware cloth dead bee screens will be made.  Colonies will be set on request from the contracted growers planned for mid April. Acute toxicity (dead bees) will be counted through the 3 week pollination period. Hives will be broken down in mid to late May and brood samples sent to the laboratory. Grower spray records will be collected beginning at the end of the growing season in the middle to late August. Data will be analyzed during the fall of 2015 through January 2016.


    A report and project summary will be reported to the NJ Beekeepers Association, NJ blueberry growers at the annual Blueberry Open House (winter 2016 with over 90 grower participants) and the first blueberry twilight meeting held in the spring of 2016, usually with over 60 participants. A poster presentation will be made to display at other twilight blueberry grower meetings, and be posted online in conjunction with the Blueberry Bulletin Newsletter (in print and online), the Rutgers Cooperative Extension newsletter for blueberry growers. The fact that the project is taking place will be published in the Blueberry Bulletin. The Statewide Fruit IPM Agent, Rutgers Cooperative Extension is functioning as the technical advisor. The blueberry IPM program directly involves over 40 NJ blueberry growers, and makes recommendations on those farms and for all NJ blueberry farms through the Blueberry Bulletin newsletter. The core group of NJ beekeepers that initially met with Rutgers pest management specialists in 2014 will continue informal meetings to explore project results. Additional collaboration will be with the NJ  Department of Agriculture, State Apiarist by informing them of project results. NJDA’s  involvement will lend expertise and help communicate both the situation and results to others in the agricultural community.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.