Kim Flottum i s editor of BeeCulture in USA, one of the big bee magazines over there. In his April issue he had an editorial, named as always ‘Inner Cover’. He covered a serious and difficult issue, as well as very much focused on in bee world today. I asked him to use it, and I do it here and will too in my Swedish blog.
Kim Flottum BeeCulture April 2013 – editorial Inner Cover
A month ago on these pages, and a couple of weeks ago in an Editorial on the Buzz I talked about the trainwreck waiting to happen in the California almonds this year. Not enough bees to pollinate those ever expanding orchards, and many of the bees there too weak to do a good job – bees still stressed since the last time they were there by the drought at home, so’s there’s not been nearly enough good food almost anywhere all year; Varroa still unchallenged by beekeepers or bee scientists and all the while spreading viruses to every bee in every colony everywhere they go. Meanwhile, nosema up the ying yang and the Coup de grace – just a touch of poison from everywhere and anywhere crops are grown – systemic insecticides and fungicides, herbicides – all extreme biocides each with its own special carrier, adjuvant, spreader or sticker – every one of them bringing their own secret synergistic partner in crime, the stuff that makes bad poison worse.
But those first mentioned challenges – food, Varroa, virus, nosema – bees can actually handle them – it’s tough, but so are bees. Really. They don’t thrive when they’re under attack and, yes, sometimes they die, though mostly they deal with them. But the game changer is when they add that last drop of poison, that last straw, that final curtain. And everywhere honeybees go there’s that good to the last drop waiting for them.
Corn, for instance. Over 100 million acres of it this year. The high prices paid for biofuels have refueled an expansion unparalleled in U.S. farm history. And every one of those acres is saturated with systemic pesticides. Two, three, four, five, six, seven years running. The buildup in the soil continues unabated. More and more and more. One year’s worth, no problem. Two, some’s still left from last year, but not so much. But after five, six, seven years…there’s almost more poison than soil left in those fields. And every year more is added. More and more and more.
The research says, rightly so, that it’s not the poison that’s the problem. Not when the bees are given only one dose at a time from a first year field when there’s no other problems going on, like Varroa, Nosema or virus. Then, after a single dose they’re measured for reactions to the pesticide they encountered for only a few days or a few weeks – nothing long term, nothing of substance, actually. Kind of like that canola study. And the second one. But you can’t argue with the refereed journal facts. When you take out the Varroa, nutrition, nosema and virus variables, the poison isn’t an issue. A little bit of poison all by itself just isn’t an issue. Those science folks have it exactly right. It’s just a little bit of poison. And that’s the problem.
Here’s the real world story. When you compress beekeepers from all over the U.S. into the tiny world of the central valley of California for a few weeks, they get to talking. Not that they don’t otherwise, phonewise, but when they’re there it’s face to face over breakfast, lunch, or a beer after dark. And they’re from all over. From the east, where these not-so-new poisons have been used for more than a decade. From the Midwest, where they’ve not been around for not quite so long but there is oh so much more of them. And now heading west – there’s no place to hide and no bees can escape the onslaught. The poison is everywhere corn is, and corn is everywhere. And you know, it’s not just the corn because a whole grocery basket worth of crops are involved.
And when beekeepers get to talking it always comes back to where to go and the conversation always, always comes down to ag bees compared to woods bees. Ag bees seem to crash and burn on a regular basis. All the variables are there – Varroa, virus, nosema, bad food . . . and poison. And like I said, it’s that last one that’s the kicker – it’s like jumping off a 20 story building – it ain’t the fall that kills you, it’s the very sudden stop right at the end. That poison, years and years of poison buildup, that’s the very sudden stop that kills bees on a regular basis every year it seems. And it’s not just us. The research people have seen this again and again and again. Just ask them. I heard a Penn State report this weekend that said exactly that. Add a pesticide to this industrial waste mix our bees have to deal with – maybe a systemic insecticide or a fungicide and things go south – fast.
Spores build up, viruses skyrocket, bees die. Trainwreck. Woods bees, however, seem to avoid that sudden stop – that dose of poison that tips the scales. They have Varroa, virus, all the rest, except they don’t get that dose of poison. And for the most part, they don’t crash and burn. But even then sometimes they do, spectacularly. The virus and nosema especially, couples with not enough food, and sometimes that combo wins no matter where they are. Sometimes. If your bees crashed and they aren’t in Poison County, maybe this is the demon you have to deal with.
But one instance in California told to me by a beekeeper there this year sort of demonstrates the real world when poison is involved. The bees checked in from Dakota-used-to-be-clover-but-now-corn-country – got evaluated at seven to eight framers no problem. Lookin’ good. Less than a week later the beekeeper’s looking for those good colonies to show off – and they had only three or four frames, and a bunch were already empty – dead. Gone. What happened? I saw the same thing last year wandering the orchards so it’s not a rare occurrence. It happens a lot, and a lot more this year. What happened? Trainwreck.
And the story gets told over and over and over. Ag bees mostly crash, woods bees mostly don’t. But folks,
Ain’t No Safe Place To Go
anymore it seems there ain’t no safe place to go at all. We’re running out of places and we’re running out of bees. I’m listening to a late Saturday night geezer music festival on PBS finishing this up and a tune catches my attention . . .
And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
By Barry McGuire
On a sort of related note . . .
Have you noticed the attention honeybee health has been getting of late? It’s been gratifying to see. Lots of folks are concerned about our charges all of a sudden. Well, in the last couple of years anyway. I’m not talking about people taking up beekeeping – that’s been going on longer. No, it’s the folks who are worried about actual honeybee health that I find interesting. Haagen Dazs and others came in early and are still in the game, certainly. Two others in particular have surfaced. Monsanto, who suddenly found out there were honeybees out there, and maybe they have something that can be used, and Bayer, who hasn’t been killing them left and right, day and night for some time now.
Have you seen Bayer’s traveling road show yet? Or seen the plans for their Honey Bee Health center opening soon in North Carolina? Or have you read about Monsanto’s generous donation to Project Apis m’s forage planting program, providing food for almond’s bees in California? I’m sure there’s more these agricultural giants have done for bees and beekeeping. I know they do a whole lot of good stuff for the rest of the world – giving money to worthy causes and making generous donations to all kinds of folks for all kinds of projects. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not finding fault with either of these behemoths, at least when it comes to good money given to good programs.
But we all know that these are the companies everybody loves to hate. Monsanto has this thing with seeds and food, and Bayer has a thing with poisons. And they both have more money than God.
So, how hard is it to take money for a good cause – bees and beekeeping and beekeepers – from companies who haven’t paid attention to any of the above, ever, for any reason at all until now?
But recently it seems there must be good reasons, though by any metric the money spent so far is pocket change to these guys. But they have very deep pockets.
So I’ll ask again, is it OK to take money from these, and in all probability others who have not had our best interests at heart in the past. Good money from, maybe, not so good companies?
The British Beekeepers Association was in a situation for several years where they received financial support from a pesticide company because they simply agreed with the label on the bottle, “. . . when used according to label instructions these chemicals are safe for bees.” They paid a heavy price for that money from beekeepers that wouldn’t support the organization and refused to benefit from those pieces of silver.
I understand that they have, or will shortly quit that position, and with that stance end the chemical welfare they were on. But they did good things for beekeepers with that money. Good money from, maybe, not so good companies?
Is ‘money’ bad? Or, because it comes from someone perceived to be bad, the money is bad?
Should you say, “no don’t ask, don’t offer, don’t even think of giving us money? You can’t buy your way out of this.” Or, do you take the easy way out “… you caused it, you fix it. Of course you give us money. In fact, you should give us a lot of money, you should change your ways and you should offer a (financial) mea culpa to us all for being greedy, short sighted and downright evil.”
Well, that they are evil isn’t a given, at least when it comes to bees. Not yet anyway, though there’s plenty of evidence pointing in that direction. But the sudden influx of cash and attention gives pause, doesn’t it? It was only a couple of years ago that they fought us at every turn, out lawyered us at almost every trial, and simply outweighed everybody that got in their way. Curious, no?
Well, I have a thought. You knew this was going somewhere, right? Since these giants didn’t cause any of the problems they are now trying to fix, which is a good thing, if they really want to help advance the business and science of keeping honey bees, why don’t they also fund research that doesn’t have anything to do with any of the things they are trying to fix? Not the same amount of money simply spread further, but more money.
Things like drone congregation areas. Or better wintering equipment. Or better honey ID science to snoop out those Chinese crooks they finally caught. And what about just setting up some graduate programs, so Universities could study whatever they wanted to do with bees or beekeeping? Wouldn’t The Bayer Chair On Honey Bee Genetics look good on your annual report? What about supporting both of the national meetings, so they don’t cost so much to attend so Joe Beekeeper can learn the latest in disease control, management techniques, and marketing. In fact, why aren’t they supporting far more than just the nationals?
But of course you immediately reply, you cynic, what’s the price of that support? Speakers on the program, full page ads, an open bar at the banquet? Nope. Nothing. No mention. Just a check.
So if any of you companies out there are feeling a little bit guilty, what about helping out where you’re not causing a problem. That’d go a long way in convincing me you have our best interests at heart. Not just yours.