Problem and justification- New Jersey a leading blueberry and cranberry production states. National highbush blueberry and cranberry production is over $1 billion (USDAAPHIS, 2017). Honey bees pollinate the $90-$100 million NJ blueberry and cranberry crops, where during the last 5-6 years beekeepers have seen a decrease in hive strength, reduced brood, and queenless and dead colonies. One NJ beekeeper stated that 90% of his Florida colonies used for NJ pollination were dead by February, while colonies kept in Florida had about 20% mortality (Ham, pers com. 2017). Both crops have required a high degree of pesticide use, which beekeepers attribute as the major cause of colony decline. As colony losses increase, pollination fees increase and the quality of pollinating hives goes down. In 2012 blueberry pollination fees were $60 per hive, and by 2017 fees were $90 per hive. Costs for cranberry pollination were over $100/hive. Blueberry requirements average of 2 hives per acre but often 3-4 hives per acre for pollination, as is the case for cranberries. Total hive requirements exceed 18,000 hives from NJ based and other migratory commercial beekeepers. Because of the cost and need for bees, both commercial fruit growers and beekeepers have a vested interest in the continued health of honey bees.
Solution and approach – This project will focus on examining pesticide residues in pollinating hives, correlating residues with colony health measurements, and standard beekeeper practices; and changing fruit grower pest management practices that can reduce residues, thereby improving colony health. It has evolved from meetings that beekeepers organized with fruit growers and extension/researchers. Three grower clientele groups have funded pilot investigations – blueberry growers, cranberry growers, and beekeepers. We will use Rutgers managed hives and commercial hives. Colonies will be measured for brood growth, queen presence, diseases, parasitism, and pesticide residues. Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) measurement protocols will be used for measuring hive health, along with BIP management recommendations. Parasitism and disease diagnostics will be submitted to the UMD/USDA APHIS through BIP. Fruit growers will adhere to known bee safety and pesticide use recommendations, and supply pesticide records. Resulting data will form the basis for changes in pesticide use, while other analyses of hive health may lead to changes in colony management. For example, frequency of varroa or disease treatments or other management practices close to pollination periods.
Performance targets from proposal:
- Twenty fruit growers, producing fruit on 3,000 acres, will reduce applications of bee toxic insecticides, and replace with alternatives that result in decreased pesticide residues in hives.
- Three beekeepers, with improved colony management plus lower hive residues will see a 30% increase of brood growth from overwintered levels, as measured by percent brood coverage in monitored hives, and compared to baseline data gathered prior to the start of this project.