A Partnership for Improving Northeast Honey Bee Breeding Stock by Implementing Novel Selection Criteria

Project Overview

ONE20-355
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2020: $30,000.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2023
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Dr. Samantha Alger
University of Vermont

Commodities

  • Animals: bees
  • Animal Products: honey

Practices

  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, genetics, livestock breeding, parasite control
  • Crop Production: beekeeping, pollinator health
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: feasibility study
  • Pest Management: genetic resistance
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal abstract:

    Since 2006, Vermont beekeepers have lost an average of 33% of their honey bee colonies each winter and in 2018-2019, Vermont’s average annual colony losses ranked third highest across the nation (Bee Informed Colony Loss Survey). One mechanism whereby beekeepers can mitigate colony losses is through selective breeding programs that select for stock well-adapted to local environments and pest/pathogen resistance. However, in the Northeast, there are very few queen bee breeders who maintain stock locally bred and selected for high production, the ability to overwinter in the North, as well as pest and pathogen resistance/tolerance. As a result, beekeepers rely on imported bees which are not adapted to the local climate and also present a risk of disease spread. To strengthen the quality and availability of locally adapted bee stock, we propose a collaborative initiative that brings together one of the largest, longest-running bee breeding operations in Vermont with the expertise and resources of bee disease experts at the University of Vermont. Our team will build upon French Hill Apiaries’ existing breeding program and develop selection standards for a Northeast bee stock that is adapted to the local climate, high producing, and resistant to pests and pathogens. By implementing these standards and selecting for a superior bee stock, we will improve the quality and availability of bee stock to the Northeast, and reduce beekeepers’ reliance on imported bees and in turn, reduce the likelihood of pest/pathogen spread. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to leverage the capabilities and resources of the Vermont Bee Lab at the University of Vermont and French Hill Apiaries, the largest Vermont-based bee breeding operation in order to:

    1. Develop and implement improved metrics by which Northeast honey bee stock is selected, including pest/pathogen resistance,
    2. Improve the quality and availability of Northeast honey bee stock, and
    3. Spread awareness to beekeepers regarding the strengths of locally adapted bee stock.

    By improving the quality and availability of locally raised bee stock, this project will improve honey production and reduce colony losses for Northeast beekeepers as well as reduce beekeepers’ reliance on imported bees, which are a potential source for pests and pathogens.

    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.