A Curious Beekeeper considers Biosecurity

This week I was e-mailing with a Beekeeper in Canada when a reason for keeping the border closed to routine bee crossings was suggested: the lack in the US of cohesive bee biosecurity.

 I know my state apiarist sampled my hives for Tropilaelaps Mites last year.  I know too what the Asian Hornet looks like.  Maine is well known for the great job our apiary people have done over the years in tracking down and eliminating AFB.  There was all of one identification of AFB in the state last year.

 But then it struck me that not every state does things the way we do in Maine.  What about the states that lack an apiary inspection service.  What about funding?

 Real biosecurity must be done on a National Level.

 Australia has a big (or at least it seems big to me) program to detect a variety of Honey bee pests (they consider diseases pests too) that they don’t currently, ah enjoy, and active endeavors to keep pests that they do have, like AFB, from decimating their industry.

 Importantly, they see hobbyists as part of the beekeeping industry.  “All beekeepers, from commercial operators, to backyard enthusiasts, to people starting up their first hive, form part of the honey bee industry.” (from BioSecurity Manual for Beekeepers, © Plant Health Australia)

 Last summer Varroa destructor was discovered in a colony on a ship from the US at the Port of Melbourne.  It was dealt with, and for the time being, Australia still considers itself free from Varroa destructor.

 Wouldn’t beekeeping be even more wonderful if we didn’t have Varroa to worry about?

 Beekeepers in a Province to my north are terribly concerned about Small Hive Beetles.  In an e-mail I described them as relatively straight forward to deal with, once you get over the shock of having yet another pest to learn about.  My correspondent reported  being told that SHB wouldn’t reproduce there, only to later discover that in fact they do.  Hmm.

 The SHB arrived in colonies imported from other provinces for Wild Blueberry pollination.

 Granted Australia is small compared to the US and being essentially an island has a well defined border.  I’m just starting to think about strategic responses to invasive pests and I don’t necessarily like what I conclude.  Some pests, like the Africanized Honey Bee, are beyond our ability to keep out.  Same with the now established SHB.  They are going to spread now that they are here, and the best we can do is to somehow limit their range, doing what is possible to limit range expansion.

 In talking with Wild Blueberry folks here abouts, they certainly recognize that some commercial pollinators bees are -shall we say so “hot”, that the bees are placed far away from people.  I don’t know if these are Africanized bees or simply ill tempered European Honey bees.  My point is that some responsible party ought to examine the bees and based on what is learned take appropriate action.  I’d rather not have swarms of either Africanized or ill-tempered bees around.

 Maybe one answer is in using more local bees to pollinate crops.  We start down the road of economics there.  Is it worth the time and trouble for local beekeepers to make the investments necessary to have bees available for local pollination?  I’m sure each crop has its own woes – for wild blueberries there are too many people producing too much fruit.  Some growers have given up on the game – not pollinating and some have not bothered to harvest.

 Given that, establishing a sound economic plan for achieving  pollination will be challenging.  Perhaps increased use of local bees?  The goal should be a plan that increases Biosecurity while being economically viable..

 There are consequences all over the place.  The fact that the US is one big trading zone means that it is easy for me to have bees sent to me from Africanized areas of the US.  If biosecurity is a priority, that door needs to be shut.  Talk about huge challenges!

I think we’re well past the time to begin the biosecurity conversation. I’d be delighted to learn that it is already going on, and I just haven’t been aware of it.

 In the meantime, good sanitation practices in my own bee yard and regular inspections (by myself and qualified others) seems prudent.

 Your thoughts?

Andrew Dewey