Michigan is the second most diverse agricultural state, supported by commercial beekeepers who provide crop pollination. However, following pollination contracts on nutritionally poor monoculture crops, such as blueberry, honey bees often suffer from diseases such as European foulbrood (EFB). EFB is a bacterial disease that affects the larvae, often killing them, which can ultimately lead to colony mortality. EFB can also negatively affect colony size, which has economic implications for beekeepers through depressed pollination contract prices and honey production. While the link between EFB and nutrition has not been well established in a field-realistic setting, understanding it is an essential step in making management recommendations for beekeepers. Therefore, this study will evaluate the relationship between EFB recovery rates and nutrition to determine best management practices for mitigating these effects. To do so, it will analyze the effect of foraged pollen quality
(objective 1), landscape composition (objective 2), and supplemental feeding management (objective 3) on EFB recovery speed. This will be achieved by tracking the recovery rates of paired, infected and uninfected hives under each of the three objective treatments in Michigan during the summer feeding period immediately following blueberry pollination. Results will provide beekeepers with location recommendations to optimize colony recovery and advice on the necessity of supplemental feeding. To evaluate the adoption potential of the management suggestions made through extension to beekeepers, I will administer before and after surveys to assess change in knowledge, awareness and attitudes. Additionally, I will follow a focus group to assess change in actions as a result of extension. Mitigating EFB through nutrition, rather than relying solely on antibiotics is a more environmentally sustainable and affordable solution for beekeepers. Furthermore, because the FDA began mandating veterinary prescriptions for bee antibiotics in 2017, this is a particularly relevant issue. Additionally, disease pressure on the beekeeping industry will have broader implications on national pollination services and the food system. Not only will it cause social and economic tension between growers and beekeepers, as decreased pollination availability increases demand and price, but it will also affect food quality and price for society as a whole.
Project objectives from proposal:
will communicate with beekeepers through meetings, articles, extension, and email newsletters to increase knowledge related to EFB treatment, including A) resources to accurately diagnose EFB, B) EFB management costs (economic and environmental), C) how to optimize apiary location for quality pollen, D) nutrition and supplemental feeding effects on EFB. This information is expected to facilitate changes in skills and attitudes for nutrition-based management, initiating three action outcomes. First, beekeepers will more accurately field-diagnose EFB, decreasing unnecessary, costly management. Second, beekeepers will put EFB-stressed colonies in pollen-supportive apiaries. Third, beekeepers will include supplemental feeding practices. These are potentially more cost effective and environmentally conscientious treatments than antibiotics.
Many specialty crop growers are unaware that crop pollination can stress honey bees, and that stressed colonies require more inputs and are more expensive to maintain. Understanding the economic and social inter-dependence of the beekeeper-grower relationship is essential to maintaining reliable stocks of colonies and stable pollination contract services and prices. Through English and Spanish extension presentations and resources, blueberry growers will gain a better appreciation for the economic and environmental consequences of their support of honey bees, the role they play in EFB, and how they can support honey bee health on their farms. Because EFB is a stress-related disease, growers adopting stress-reduction practices can reduced EFB incidence. Supportive practices include night spraying, planting flowering strips, and carefully selecting hive drop sites. As a result of this awareness, growers may alter their practices to support the beekeeping industry on which they rely.