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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    Senate Document No. 20
    PUBLICATION YEAR 2006

    Document Title
    Study of the Plight of Virginia's Beekeepers

    Author
    Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

    Enabling Authority
    SJR 38 (Regular Session, 2006)

    Executive Summary
    Senate Joint Resolution Number 38 of the 2006 General Assembly requested the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) to study the plight of Virginia’s beekeepers and outline possible remedies to the problems identified by the study. The resolution also requested the Department to examine the regulation of honey production by small beekeeping operations.

    The Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services formed a Work Group to conduct the study. The work group consisted of beekeepers, farmers, and nursery and retail representatives, as well as specialists from the University of Mary Washington, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and Virginia Cooperative Extension. The work group administered a comprehensive survey to beekeepers and another to farmers in the Commonwealth, and conducted a listening session. During the listening session, experts made presentations on the issues identified by the surveys. A public comment period followed the listening session to provide individuals and groups an opportunity to share their concerns regarding beekeeping, pollination, and honey production. (The work group was assisted by staff in VDACS.)

    Key Findings

    After reviewing the surveys and listening session presentations the Beekeeper Study Work Group found that:

    1. There is complete agreement that honey bees are crucial to the success of agriculture and the health of the environment. Pollination by honey bees increases crop production and quality, thus enhancing producer revenue.

    2. The number of honey bee hives maintained by beekeepers in Virginia has decreased by more than 50% since the mid-1980’s. The feral, or wild, honey bee nests nearly disappeared in 1996 and have only recently begun to reappear in some limited areas.

    3. Interest in beekeeping has generally increased. Beekeepers are not seeking to increase the number of hives owned. However, they recommend beekeeping to others as a hobby or commercial endeavor.

    4. The chief concern of Virginia’s beekeepers is the occurrence of Varroa mites in bee hives. This parasitic mite transmits diseases, reduces honey bee productivity, and is the major contributing factor to the annual 31% mortality rate of honey bee hives in Virginia, up from less than 8% before the introduction of honey bee mites into the state.

    5. Besides parasitic mites, other invertebrate pests are adversely affecting the health and productivity of the honey bee. These pests include the greater and lesser wax moths, as well as small hive beetle (SHB). These pests damage honey bee comb, equipment, and hive products.

    6. Queens are replaced every 2 to 3 years to improve production and longevity in honey bee hives. Purchased queens are usually obtained from suppliers in another state. Most of the queen producers supplying queens to Virginia’s beekeepers are located in states affected by severe pests of the honey bee, such as the Africanized honey bee (AHB) and SHB.

    7. Chemical products, such as miticides and antibiotics, are frequently used to control pests and diseases of the honey bee. These products present a risk of contaminating honey and wax, and have potential adverse side effects on honey bees.

    8. Natural or organic alternatives are frequently requested needs for control of honey bee pests and diseases. A source of honey bee queens resistant to mites and diseases in Virginia is needed to reduce reliance on chemical products.

    9. The application of lawn care products and pesticides to control public health pests, particularly insecticides, is of higher concern than the application of agriculture pesticides in the accidental poisoning of honey bee hives. Beekeepers involved in pollinating agriculture crops take precautions and instruct farmers to avoid pesticide poisoning of hives. Beekeepers with apiaries in suburban and urban locations are more susceptible to the adverse effects of pesticides used to control insect pests.

    10. Loss of hive equipment and honey bees from black bear damage is a concern for rural beekeepers. These beekeepers maintain a larger number of hives and are more likely to be involved in commercial beekeeping activities than suburban/urban beekeepers. As the population of black bears increases and its range expands, human and black bear interaction is expected to increase. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries recommends education and use of exclusionary devices to reduce the damage to bee hives caused by black bears.

    11. Costs in managing honey bees is increasing due to the ongoing need to replace dead hives and unproductive queens, as well as increases in equipment, transportation, and other required business expenses.

    12. Housing development, road construction, power line installation, and other forms of construction are resulting in loss of food sources for honey bees. These activities also eliminate potential locations for the placement of honey bee hives.

    13. The occurrence of AHB in Florida and other Gulf Coast states increases the potential for its accidental introduction into Virginia. This pest affects not only honey bees, but also domesticated animals and the general public. Beekeepers will be an essential resource to local and state emergency management agencies responding to AHB stinging incidents and minimizing injury to people and animals. Negative public reaction and increased difficulties in managing AHB are expected to further reduce the number of beekeepers and bee hives in Virginia and jeopardize their continued availability.

    14. Beekeepers and farmers generally do not purchase personal injury insurance for accidental stinging by honey bees or product liability insurance for hive products sold to the general public, such as honey, wax, and pollen.

    15. Additional training and information on honey bee management is desired by beekeepers. A Master Beekeeper program, modeled after the Master Gardener program that is offered through the Cooperative Extension Offices, is highly desired. Beekeepers would also like to see additional information and support from Cooperative Extension agents and more apiary inspectors as a resource for information and assistance with honey bee management problems.

    16. Farmers want information and training in the use of honey bees to improve pollination of their crops. Most of the information they receive is provided through the Cooperative Extension program. Beekeepers expressed a need to improve Cooperative Extension agent training in honey bee management and pollination activities.

    17. Most of the beekeepers responding to the survey do not rent or loan hives for pollinating agricultural crops. Nearly half of the farmers responding to the survey do not obtain honey bees or other insects to pollinate their crops. The average cost of renting a honey bee hive for pollination purposes is $45 per cycle for any given crop. However, most pollination services are provided at no cost to the farmer.

    18. VDACS provides on-line access to a list of beekeepers available for pollination services for agricultural crops. However, farmers would prefer to have a hardcopy list of available beekeepers.

    19. The manner in which VDACS enforces state regulations for the production of honey by small beekeeping operations does not impede the sale of honey products. Instead, many small beekeeping operations appear to have been discouraged in their efforts to market their products by specific requirements imposed by retailers, farmers’ markets, and other sale venues for proof of sanitary operation of honey packaging facilities. In other cases, proof of inspection could be mandated by local ordinances or required by insurance companies to issue or renew insurance policies.

    Recommendations

    The Work Group recommends that the General Assembly appropriate $255,000 to VDACS in order to carry out the following initiatives:

    1. Develop an integrated pest management program that is tailored specifically for Virginia to address pest and disease problems affecting honey bees, particularly with regard to the occurrence of Varroa mites in bee hives. ($100,000)

    2. Support a multi-regional queen rearing program in Virginia for the production and distribution of a pest and disease resistant line of honey bees that is productive, sustainable, and free from the aggressive behavior by bees contaminated by AHB. ($90,000)

    3. Implement programs to (i) assess the risk, monitor the occurrence, and reduce the adverse impact of AHB; and (ii) educate the public as to the importance of honey bees to agriculture, environment, and the economy. ($24,000)

    4. Promote the use of honey bees by farmers to increase crop production and quality, and encourage pollination services of beekeepers so as to eliminate Virginia’s reliance on the import of honey bee hives from other states. ($41,000)