The average honeybee only lives five to six weeks. Of that, it only spends 10 to 14 days actually foraging for the nectar it and its hive mates fan down into honey.
Still, by pollinating an estimated $15 billion in U.S. crops each year, this little bug has gotten big attention – especially when its health has been put at risk by the frustratingly complex Colony Collapse Disorder. Numerous potential culprits for CCD have had the finger pointed at them over the years, including the Varroa mite, neonicotinoid insecticides, malnutrition, disease, loss of habitat – even transportation practices of beekeepers themselves. Even without CCD in the mix, hives can face a 15% or more winter die off each year.
Dave Fischer, director of pollinator safety at the Bayer Bee Care Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C., says bee losses don’t come down to a single source, although Varroa mites may be causing the most damage.
“It’s like a tick that feeds on and weakens the bee,” he says. “But worse, it transmits viral diseases, too.”
This mite immigrated to the U.S. from Asia around 1987. It is a relatively large parasite compared to its hos—it would be the equivalent of a human having a parasite the size of a dinner plate stuck to his or her back, Fischer says.
The 6,000 square foot Bee Care Center, which hosts a wide variety of research and education efforts, celebrated its one-year anniversary on April 27, 2015. In addition, Bayer CropScience kicked off Healthy Hives 2020, an initiative for improving the health of honey bee colonies in the U.S. over the next five years. The initiative brings together a cross-section of bee health stakeholders from multiple sectors, including academia, government, agriculture, business and the beekeeping community to address honeybee health issues.
The fact that Bayer produces some of the very neonicotinoid insecticides that are at the heart of the CCD controversy is not lost on the company. Part of the Bayer Bee Care Center’s focus includes education and stewardship around responsible use of those pesticides.
In many instances, farmers and beekeepers are already pairing up and sharing best practices with each other, Fischer says. For example, farmers might spray later in the evening or at night when area honeybee activity will be minimized.
“It all comes down to communication,” he says. “The farmer needs to know where the beekeepers have their hives and needs to let them know when they’re making applications in their fields.”
Communications outside the farming community are equally important, according to Bayer and other officials.
“We are fostering discussions and sharing new ideas with beekeepers, farmers and anyone else who wants to be a part of the conversation,” says Becky Langer, Bayer Bee Care program manager.
That outreach has included hosting more than 3,000 visitors to the Bayer Bee Care Center during its first year and tracking down inventive partnerships – the North Carolina Department of Transportation, for example, which planted tens of thousands of flowers for pollinators along its roads this past year.
North Carolina governor Pat McCrory proclaimed April 27 as Honeybee Day for the state. Representing the state at the center’s anniversary, Dr. Richard Reich, the assistant commissioner for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, says: “Everyone benefits from innovations in pollinator health because we all depend on pollinators to some extent for food.”
Sarah Myers, the center’s resident beekeeper, says about 70% of the human diet can be attributed to insect pollination.
For more information on the Bee Care Center, visit beecare.bayer.com.