Are Pollinators Still Declining?
Regardless of the bumper crops hobbyist beekeepers boast about and random pockets where bees appear to be thriving, the fact is American honey bees and other pollinators are in serious trouble. Although each administration makes an attempt to do something to help protect our pollinators, we have a long way to go before we can even think about following in the footsteps of the EU and pass a ban on neonicotinoids.
Recently, the Congressional Pollinator Protection Caucus was held in Washington, DC. Mr. Tim May, President of the American Beekeeping Federation attended and has some interesting facts to share. In this segment of The Neonicotinoid View Radio Show, bee health advocates, June Stoyer and Tom Theobald talk to Tim May about this briefing. Mr. May will also share his views about how American beekeepers are faring, despite confusing statistics from USDA. To listen to the interview, press the play button below.
Are These Efforts Really Helping Bees?
There are numerous efforts by all sorts of groups ranging from novice bee health advocates to pesticide manufacturers who are dependent upon the sales of these chemicals to sustain their profits.
Each group professes to be making a sincere effort to protect pollinators and offer hope of ending this global decline crisis. The efforts appear to cover all of the major stressors affecting pollinators which are as follows: poor nutrition, mites, disease and pesticide exposure.
One group is advocating for the Highways BEE Act (BEE is an acronym for “Bettering the Economy and Environment” Pollinator Protection Act), introduced in Congress by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), co-chairs of the Congressional Pollinator Protection Caucus (CP2C), to create and/or preserve pollinator habitat along our highways. While this effort appears to be great, it neglects to consider the potential contamination of local water and land due to crops treated with neonicotinoids.
Another effort involves dropping seed bombs or planting pollinator friendly plants in an effort to feed bees. Once again, if the land and water have been contaminated by exposure to neonicotinoids, this effort is simply creating nothing more than toxic foraging. Aesthetically, it may look good to humans but the chemical exposure renders it deadly to pollinators. This seems to be a key issue that many industry spokespeople tend to ignore.
Recently, a few celebrities have suggested that if you find a honey bee on the ground, you should do your best to save it by racing to your cupboard and feeding it a simple syrup consisting of water and sugar. It makes the plight to save the bees something everyone can do by this simple action. This solution tugs at the hearts of many people who are unfamiliar with honey bees but have previously found stray puppies or kittens. The logical thing for these animals seems to be to feed them immediately.
However, the issue that should be addressed is why would a honey bee be found in this state? A key question to pose would be if it were possible that a chemical application was used nearby. Furthermore, it should be noted that honey bees do not crawl around on the ground unless they are impaired. For the most part, they are out foraging or working with the rest of their colony. To suggest that they are crawling on the ground like a lost puppy is highly suspect. When in doubt, call a local beekeeper and it would not hurt to contact EPA, especially if there are numerous honey bees found incapacitated.
While all of these efforts appear to make sense, they avoid the hard core facts that have been proven by some of the world’s most respected scientists such as Professor Dave Goulson, Dr. Henk Tennekes, Dr. Jean-Marc Bonmatin, Dr. Christian Krupke, Dr. Menzel and numerous others. The bottom line is that until the agencies responsible for protecting the environment take the proper action, all of the memorandums to caucuses will do nothing but prevent the inevitable decline of our own species.
What happens to the bees, will inevitably happen to us! Neonicotinoids must be banned. The only party that stands to lose by a ban is the industry that makes billions.
JS: Can you talk about your experience as a beekeeper? How many years of experience do you have and how many colonies do you have?
TM: Sure! My business is a family business that has been around for about 70 years now. I am a 3rd generation beekeeper. We run about 1500 colonies in the N. Illinois and S Wisconsin area. We are based outside of the Chicago area. We mainly do honey production but we also pollinate for apples, pumpkins, cucumbers, and other fine crops. We do not ship our bees down south our out west. They do remain in this area for the winter. So, we’re experiencing some difficulty in that aspect but the difficulties are happening for even the beekeepers that are moving their bees south.
We are experiencing tremendous losses, in fact this past year was our worst loss as far as colonies go. It might have been the second worst loss or percentage that we’ve had in 70 years. So, we did lose about 80% of our colonies this past year.
We think it is a combination of many variables. We just can’t find the actual cause. It is partly, maybe mite related, it might be partly pesticide related. Our mite levels were fairly, consistently low throughout. We did have a couple of areas that we had a little bit of elevated mite levels but for the most part we were counting zeros and up to maybe threes. We test our hives all of the time. Every time we go in, from mid-Spring to the Fall we are testing for mites and we had pretty good results. Unfortunately, we still lost 80%.
Is USDA Avoiding Compensation For Losses Due To Mites Or Pesticides Because It Would Validate The Impact Of Neonicotinoids?
TT I’ve had some conversations with some commercial beekeepers and they are talking about the ELAP program (Emergency Assistance Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish). As I understand it, if you have a farm income of over $1000 dollars, any losses over 15% can be compensated at $142 a colony. Is that accurate? Are you able to avail yourself of that? What kind of an effect is that having on these losses for the beekeepers?
TM: That program is very good. In fact, they had a $20 million dollar cap on that program, nationally, so no one was getting $142 per loss, they were getting a percentage of that because it was applied for by many beekeepers. So, that money went fairly quickly.
We applied for it about 3-4 years ago and I think we got about 30% of what we were qualified for. With that program, it is a good program and it is needed. If we didn’t have that program available to us we probably wouldn’t be in business today, we would be really struggling.
The thing is, you only qualify for certain types of losses. For some reason with USDA, it’s a weather related program, for the most part. In our area, if temperatures dipped below a certain temperature for a certain length of time, you can qualify but if it doesn’t and you are still losing the bees, it doesn’t qualify. Anything with the mites, if your bees die or are determined to die because of the mites, that does not qualify. So, it’s mainly a weather related program. If you can prove that your bees were affected by a weather program, you can get some compensation for that.
It has been brought to our attention that what Mr. May was referring to was not ELAP but was compensation for disaster.
The ELAP program will compensate beekeepers. The only qualifier is that the losses CAN be attributed to the vague concept of “Colony Collapse Disorder”. The reimbursement for 2017-2018 is $258 per colony for losses above 15%.
Meet Tim May!
Tim May, the reigning President of the American Beekeeping Federation, is a 3rd generation beekeeper from the northwest of Chicago. He is the owner and operator of May’s Honey Farm, a family run business which has been producing and packing Sunny Hill Honey since 1948. Phil May, Tim’s father is still working for the company part time at the young age of 82.
May’s Honey Farm manages 1500 colonies that are wintered in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Their honey is distributed throughout the Chicagoland area.
Colin May, Tim’s son is now taking the helm and carrying on the family tradition as it ventures into the 4th generation of beekeeping. Tim is devoted to helping his fellow beekeepers as he continues to educate others.