Beekeepers and Disaster Assistance

(This message brought to us by CATCH THE BUZZ: Kim Flottom,  Bee Culture, The Magazine Of American Beekeeping, published by the A.I. Root Company. Twitter.FacebookBee Culture’s Blog.)

 Alan Harman        4/8/14

Beekeepers and other agricultural producers can begin signing up for federal disaster assistance programs – some backdated to 2011 – beginning Tuesday, April 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the quick implementation of the programs, re-established and strengthened by the 2014 Farm Bill, has been a top priority for USDA.

“These programs will provide long-awaited disaster relief for many livestock producers who have endured significant financial hardship from weather-related disasters while the programs were expired and awaiting Congressional action,” Vilsack says.

Enrollment begins April 15 for producers with losses covered by the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) and the Tree Assistance Program (TAP).

ELAP assistance is provided for losses not covered by the Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) and the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP). It was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill as a permanent program and provides retroactive authority to cover losses that occurred on or after Oct. 1, 2011.

TAP gives financial assistance to qualifying orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters.

A total $125,000 annual limitation applies for payments under the LIP, LFP and the ELAP programs.

ELAP provides emergency assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish for losses due to disease, adverse weather, or other conditions, such as blizzards and wildfires, not covered by LFP and LIP.

For beekeepers, it covers assistance for honeybee feed, colony and hive losses.

Total payments are capped at $20 million in a fiscal year.

The Direct and Counter-Cyclical Program and the Average Crop Revenue Election program are repealed and replaced by two new programs – Price Loss Coverage and Agricultural Risk Coverage.

The Marketing Assistance Loan program and sugar loans continue mostly unchanged.

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), USDA’s largest conservation program, continues through 2018 with an annually decreasing enrolled acreage cap. The contract portion of the Grassland Reserve Program enrollment has been merged with CRP. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program is extended and funded at $25 million a year.

The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program has been expanded to include protection at higher coverage levels, similar to buy-up provisions offered under the federal crop insurance program.

The Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE), which covered losses through Sept. 30, 2011, is not reauthorized.

The USDA says the changes in the act give the Farm Service Agency (FSA) greater flexibility in determining eligibility including expanded definitions of eligible entities, years of experience for farm ownership loans, and allowing youth loan applicants from urban areas to access loans.

FSA’s popular microloan and down payment loan programs, important to furthering the administration’s objective of assisting beginning farmers, have been improved by raising loan limits and emphasizing beginning and socially disadvantaged producers.

The act also provides greater enhancements for lenders to participate in the guaranteed conservation loan program and eliminates term limits for the guaranteed operating program, allowing farmers and ranchers the opportunity for continued credit in cases where financial setbacks may have prevented them from obtain­ing commercial credit.

Adjusted gross income (AGI) provisions have been simplified and modified. Producers whose average AGI exceeds $900,000 are not eligible to receive payments or benefits from most programs administered by FSA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Previous AGI provisions distinguished between farm and non-farm AGI.

The total amount of payments received, directly and indirectly, by a person or legal entity (except joint ventures or general partnerships) for Price Loss Coverage, Agricultural Risk Coverage, marketing loan gains, and loan deficiency payments, may not exceed $125,000 a crop year.

Enrollment will begin April 15 at all local FSA offices and additional details on the types of information required for an ELAP application will be provided as part of the sign-up.

The USDA says to expedite applications, all producers who experienced losses are encouraged to collect records documenting these losses in preparation for the enrollment in these disaster assistance programs. Information on the types of records necessary can be provided by local FSA county offices. Producers also are encouraged to contact their county office ahead of time to schedule an appointment.

New Model for Virtual Hive Lets Everybody Look at Bee Problems

This message brought to you by Bee Culture Bee Culture, The Magazine Of American Beekeeping, published by the A.I. Root Company.)

By Alan Harman           3/6/14

British scientists have created a virtual hive that gives them just about everything except a bee sting.

In their search to unravel the complex causes of colony decline, the new computer model will help scientists, beekeepers and regulators to understand multiple environmental effects on honeybee colonies.

The model simulates a honey bee colony over the course of several years.  It is freely available at

The scientists, led by Prof. Juliet Osborne of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter, created what they call the Beehave model to simulate the life of a colony including the queen's egg laying, brood care by nurse bees and foragers collecting nectar and pollen in a realistic landscape.

“It is a real challenge to understand which factors are most important in affecting bee colony growth and survival,” Osborne says. “This is the first opportunity to simulate the effects of several factors together, such as food availability, mite infestation and disease, over realistic time scales.”

The model, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, allows researchers, beekeepers and anyone interested in bees, to predict colony development and honey production under different environmental conditions and beekeeping practices.

To build the simulation, the scientists brought together existing honeybee research and data to develop a new model that integrated processes occurring inside and outside the hive.

The first results of the model show that colonies infested with the common parasitic mite Varroa can be much more vulnerable to food shortages. Effects within the first year can be subtle and might be missed by beekeepers during routine management.

But the model shows these effects build up over subsequent years leading to eventual failure of the colony, if it was not given an effective Varroa treatment.

Beehave can also be used to investigate potential consequences of pesticide applications. It can simulate the impact of increased loss of foragers. These results show colonies may be more resilient to this forager loss than previously thought in the short-term, but effects may accumulate over years, especially when colonies are also limited by food supply.

Beehive simulations show that good food sources close to the hive will make a real difference to the colony and that lack of forage over extended periods leaves them vulnerable to other environmental factors.

Addressing forage availability is critical to maintaining healthy hives and colonies over the long term.
“The use of this model by a variety of stakeholders could stimulate the development of new approaches to bee management, pesticide risk assessment and landscape management,” Osborne says. “The advantage is that each of these factors can be tested in a virtual environment in different combinations, before testing in the field.”

While Beehive is mathematically very complex, it has a user-friendly interface and a fully accessible manual so it can be explored and used by a large variety of interested people, she says.

“It is a real challenge to understand which factors are most important in affecting bee colony growth and survival,” Osborne says. “This is the first opportunity to simulate the effects of several factors together, such as food availability, mite infestation and disease, over realistic time scales.”

British Beekeepers Association president David Aston says the model will be an important tool in helping to understand the interactions and impact of the diverse stressors to which honey bee colonies can be exposed.

“Not only will it be invaluable for scientific research purposes, but it will also be an important training tool to help beekeepers better understand the impacts of their husbandry and other factors on the health and survival of their colonies,” Aston says.

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Money For Bee Food - It's About Time!

By Alan Harman   2/25/14

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing close to $3 million in technical and financial assistance for Midwestern farmers and ranchers to help improve the health of bees.

The funding, focused investment to improve pollinator health, will be targeted in five Midwestern states, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the future security of America's food supply depends on healthy honey bees.

“Expanded support for research, combined with USDA's other efforts to improve honey bee health, should help America's beekeepers combat the current, unprecedented loss of honey bee hives each year,” he says.

Funding will be provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to promote conservation practices that will provide honey bees with pollen and nectar while providing benefits to the environment.

It follows studies showing beekeepers are losing about 30% of their honey bee colonies each year, up from historical norms of 10% to 15% overwintering losses experienced prior to 2006.

The new assistance will provide guidance and support to farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees.

For example, appropriate cover crops or rangeland and pasture management may provide a benefit to producers by reducing erosion, increasing the health of their soil, inhibiting invasive species, providing quality forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators, as well as habitat for other wildlife.

Midwestern states were chosen because from June to September the region is the resting ground for over 65% of the commercially managed honey bees in the country. It is a critical time when bees require abundant and diverse forage across broad landscapes to build up hive strength for the winter.

Applications are due by March 21.

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Miticides, Ag Chems, and Inert Ingredients A Deadly Mixture in a Beehive

This message brought to you by Bee Culture   1/28/14

Alan Harman

Disturbing new research finds four pesticides commonly used to kill mites, insects and fungi – fluvalinate, coumaphos, chlorothalonil and chlorpyrifos – are also killing honey bee larvae within their hives.

A team from Penn State and University of Florida also found that N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) – an inert, or inactive, chemical commonly used as a pesticide additive -- is highly toxic to honey bee larvae.

“We found that four of the pesticides most commonly found in beehives kill bee larvae,” says Penn State’s Jim Frazier. “We also found that the negative effects of these pesticides are sometimes greater when the pesticides occur in combinations within the hive.

“Since pesticide safety is judged almost entirely on adult honey bee sensitivity to individual pesticides and also does not consider mixtures of pesticides, the risk assessment process that the Environmental Protection Agency uses should be changed.”

The research was funded by the National Honey Board, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture-Agriculture and Food Research Initiative-Coordinated Agricultural Projects and the Foundational Award programs. Frazier says the team's previous research demonstrated that forager bees bring back to the hive an average of six different pesticides on the pollen they collect. Nurse bees use this pollen to make beebread, which they then feed to honey bee larvae.

To examine the effects of four common pesticides – fluvalinate, coumaphos, chlorothalonil and chlorpyrifos – on bee larvae, the researchers reared honey bee larvae in their laboratory. They then applied the pesticides alone and in all combinations to the beebread to determine whether these insecticides and fungicides act alone or in concert to create a toxic environment for honey bee growth and development.

The researchers also investigated the effects of NMP on honey bee larvae by adding seven concentrations of the chemical to a pollen-derived, royal jelly diet. NMP is used to dissolve pesticides into formulations that then allow the active ingredients to spread and penetrate the plant or animal surfaces onto which they are applied.

The team fed their treated diet, containing various types and concentrations of chemicals, to the laboratory-raised bee larvae.

“We found that mixtures of pesticides can have greater consequences for larval toxicity than one would expect from individual pesticides,” Frazier says.

Among the four pesticides, honey bee larvae were most sensitive to chlorothalonil. They also were negatively affected by a mixture of chlorothalonil with fluvalinate. In addition, the larvae were sensitive to the combination of chlorothalonil with the miticide coumaphos.

In contrast, the addition of coumaphos significantly reduced the toxicity of the fluvalinate and chlorothalonil mixture.

Penn State professor of entomology Chris Mullin says the pesticides may directly poison honey bee larvae or they may indirectly kill them by disrupting the beneficial fungi that are essential for nurse bees to process pollen into beebread.

“Chronic exposure to pesticides during the early life stage of honey bees may contribute to their inadequate nutrition or direct poisoning with a resulting impact on their survival and development,” he says.

The researchers note that fluvalinate and coumaphos are commonly used by beekeepers in their hives to control Varroa mites, and are found to persist within beehives for about five years if not removed by beekeepers.

Chlorothalonil is a broad-spectrum agricultural fungicide that is often applied to crops in bloom when honey bees are present for pollination because it is currently deemed safe to bees. Chlorpyrifos is a widely used organophosphate in crop management.

“Our findings suggest that the common pesticides chlorothalonil, fluvalinate, coumaphos and chlorpyrifos, individually or in mixtures, have statistically significant impacts on honey bee larval survivorship,” Mullin says.

“This is the first study to report serious toxic effects on developing honey bee larvae of dietary pesticides at concentrations that currently occur in hives.”

The team also found that increasing amounts of NMP corresponded to increased larval mortality, even at the lowest concentration tested.

"There is a growing body of research that has reported a wide range of adverse effects of inactive ingredients to human health, including enhancing pesticide toxicities across the nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory and hormone systems,” Mullin says.

“The bulk of synthetic organic chemicals used and released into U.S. environments are formulation ingredients like NMP, which are generally recognized as safe. They have no mandated limits on their use and their residues remain unmonitored.

“Multi-billion pounds of these inactive ingredients overwhelm the total chemical burden from the active pesticide, drug and personal-care ingredients with which they are formulated. Among these co-formulants are surfactants and solvents of known high toxicity to fish, amphibians, honey bees and other non-target organisms. While we have found that NMP contributes to honey bee larvae mortality, the overall role of these inactive ingredients in pollinator decline remains to be determined.”

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Unintended Consequences Using RNAi Pesticides?

(The following is brought to us by CATCH THE BUZZ (Kim Flottum) Bee Culture, The Magazine of American Beekeeping, published by A.I. Root Company.) 

By Alan Harman

A new technology for creating pesticides and pest-resistant crops could damage beneficial species that present toxicity testing will miss, U.S. Agricultural Research Service scientists are warning.

Jonathan G. Lundgren and Jian J. Duan say standard toxicity testing is inadequate to assess the safety of the new technology, which has the potential for creating pesticides and genetically modifying crops.

In a report in the journal BioScience, Lundgren and Duan argue that pesticides and insect-resistant crops based on RNA interference, now in exploratory development, may have to be tested under elaborate procedures that assess effects on animals' whole life cycles, rather than by methods that simply look for short-term toxicity.

RNA interference is a natural process that affects the level of activity of genes in animals and plants.

Agricultural scientists have successfully devised artificial “interfering RNAs” that target genes in insect pests, slowing their growth or killing them. The hope is that interfering RNAs might be applied to crops, or that crops might be genetically engineered to make interfering RNAs harmful to their pests, thus increasing crop yields.

The safety concern is that the artificial interfering RNAs will also harm desirable insects or other animals. And the researchers say the way interfering RNA works means that simply testing for lethality might not detect important damaging effects.

An interfering RNA, for instance, might have the unintended effect of suppressing the action of a gene needed for reproduction in a beneficial species. Standard laboratory testing would detect no harm, but there could be ecological disruption in fields because of the effects on reproduction.

Lundgren and Duan suggest that researchers investigating the potential of interference RNA pesticides create types that are designed to be unlikely to affect non-target species as well as a research program to evaluate how the chemicals act in real-life situations.

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No Imports of Funny Honey

(The following is brought to us by CATCH THE BUZZ (Kim Flottum) Bee Culture, The Magazine of American Beekeeping, published by A.I. Root Company.) 

China Worries About Importing Funny Honey. Really. Anybody else see the irony?

By Alan Harman

China is requiring strict biosecurity rules on its imports of Australian honey.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reports food safety scares within China have led to tough export conditions being imposed on Tasmania's honey producers who ship several hundred tonnes a year of their unique leatherwood honey to China.

Honey producer Julian Wolfhagen tells the ABC China is the only country to impose a strict limit on microscopic yeast and bacteria levels.

“In our perspective with honey, it's probably unrealistic really,” he says.

But Chinese honey distributor Chin Hon Toh says the market is sensitive.

 “There are a lot of food safety issues in China,” he says.

For those who negotiate the red tape the Chinese market is booming.

Tasmanian Beekeepers Association president Lindsay Bourke says the market is demanding twice as much each year.

“We have people coming to our premises every week, delegations from China,” he says.

Producers are investing in new equipment to keep up.

About two-thirds of Tasmania's honey production is from leatherwood blossom.  Flowering from January until April, the leatherwood tree (Eucryphia lucida) is unique to the island state and grows in rainforests in the southern and western areas.

Leatherwood honey has a strong flavor and particularly distinctive aroma and has established a worldwide reputation as a distinct honey type.

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