A sustainable distribution and evaluation program for selected honey bee stocks in the Pacific Northwest

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $172,938.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Walter Sheppard
Department of Entomology, Washington State University


  • Animals: bees


  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, networking
  • Farm Business Management: cooperatives, risk management
  • Pest Management: chemical control, field monitoring/scouting, prevention


    Selected stocks of honey bees from the Washington State University (WSU) Bee Breeding Program were propagated and distributed to Pacific Northwest (PNW) beekeepers throughout the project period (and continues). The primary germplasm disbursement mechanism was through the WSU-local/state beekeeping association collaborative apiaries and regional queen producers. These groups further distributed WSU selected honey bee stocks through their own local queen production activities with WSU queen "mothers." Honey bee germplasm (semen) from three Old World honey bee subspecies were collected and hand-carried into the U.S. under a USDA-APHIS permit to WSS and used to inseminate domestic honey bee stocks in 2008, 2009 and 2010. After release from quarantine, genetic material from these imported lines were incorporated into our bee breeding program to increase genetic diversity in U.S. honey bee populations. We established a honey bee pathogen and disease diagnostic laboratory at WSU, funded by beekeeper contributions, and have provided no-cost diagnosis of more than 4,000 samples for PNW beekeepers throughout the granting period. Numerous presentations were made by WSS, students and staff to local and state beekeeping associations in ID, WA and OR, and beekeeping short courses at WSU promoted the use of regionally-selected honey bee stocks. One 50% FTE extension associate was added and continues outreach to regional beekeepers, with queen rearing and instrumental insemination courses in both eastern and western WA locations.

    Project objectives:

    1. Develop local evaluation protocols for honey bee stock performance by beekeepers in Oregon, Idaho and Washington for use in selective scoring criteria.

    Breeding methods and stock evaluation procedures were widely disseminated through local, regional and statewide presentations and during short course/field days. For a typical example, see attached “pnw breeding.pdf.”

    2. Provide beekeeper access to selected honey bee germplasm by establishing collaborative apiaries. These apiaries will be supplied annually with the diversity of all maternal genetic lines under selection at WSU and will be used to train beekeepers in queen production. The propagation of daughter queens from WSU stocks by beekeepers will serve to distribute additional genetic variation into PNW bee populations.

    Collaborative apiaries were established in multiple locations in Washington, representing seven local associations (member associations of the Washington State Beekeepers Associations) and were supplied annually with new WSU breeding stock. Individual beekeeper collaborators or small queen producers in Idaho and Oregon were supplied with WSU breeding stock upon request, and one collaborator in Idaho produced about 3,000 queens annually for his own use and some distribution. New germplasm from imported honey bee semen was incorporated in WSU stocks and provided to local associations and some California queen producer/collaborators (suppliers of virgin queens for the germplasm inseminations).

    3. Train beekeepers in principles and methods of IPM, related to mite population monitoring, economic threshold-based treatment regimes and alternative treatment options. The implementation of IPM principles by beekeepers will assist in reducing pesticide use.

    A fundamental part of all outreach presentations included discussion of breeding for mite resistance and mite monitoring (sticky boards) as alternatives to scheduled mite treatments. Non-synthetic miticides (formic acid, essential plant oils, sugar esters) were used when mite control was necessary. All breeding stocks at WSU are maintained and selected for program inclusion and disease resistance without antibiotic use to 1) select for bees that can clean up early infection on their own (freeze-killed brood assay) and 2) to reduce the chance of selecting for antibiotic-resistant pathogens. (see attached “pnw breeding.pdf”)

    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.