Lobbying for Bee Research:  The More Specific the Better

Bee Culture (April) Vol. 136: 21-23




Malcolm T. Sanford



Examples of the extreme funding challenges the beekeeping community might be faced with this year have come to my attention.  First is the following from Bee Culture’s “Catch the Buzz” electronic newsletter: “Word has it that USDA-ARS will close the entire Weslaco Agricultural Research facility as of September 2009.  This is one of several money-saving efforts USDA is considering to make up a $86 million shortfall in their budget.  Closing the Weslaco facility would save about $10 - 13 million.  Apparently the powers that be are not displeased with the Honey Bee Research program at the lab, but other research areas located there have been noted as not performing as expected.  The decision is expected to be made by the end of September, 2008.”1  Fortunately, my sources indicate that this should not materially affect the honey bee research component now present in Weslaco; it will simply be moved elsewhere, perhaps to the Beltsville, MD lab.

The other consists of recently reported remarks by University of Florida President Dr. Bernard Machen.  He is quoted as saying, “"agriculture is a dying industry in the State of Florida" and "not worthy of the investments being made by the Legislature" in the university's College of Agriculture or Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS).  He has denied this, but it has brought a storm of protest, as reported in the February 12, 2008 edition of the Ocala Star Banner newspaper.2  

Both of these reports have resulted in beekeepers and others “circling the wagons.”  Several e-mails have asked about lobbying and what “plans of action are in place.”  There are continuing efforts by the American Beekeeping Federation3 and The American Honey Producers Association4 with reference to the 2007 Farm Bill, some of which were on the table at the National Beekeeping Conference in Sacramento.  An editorial in this morning’s Gainesville Sun (February 14, 2008) states that the College of Agriculture (Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, IFAS, especially its research and extension outreach) should not be a “scared cow” when it comes to budget cutting.5  You can bet this sort of thinking will also extend into the Federal Budgetary process and unfortunately might be lumped in with all those “high and often unwarranted farm subsidies” we keep hearing about. 

Comments for the 2007 Farm Bill are now closed.6  But the “official analysis” will no doubt provoke more opportunities for beekeepers and others the chime in.  It now appears, however, that agricultural programs can’t simply be lobbied for by using the “business as usual” model.  It is important to isolate certain programs that are really needed to get the best possible outcomes for the beekeeping industry and provide ammunition for legislators to use with their peers.

Fortunately, the beekeeping industry can indeed point to several specific efforts in bee research at the federal level that qualify.  I presented some of the discussion about these in detail in the April 2007 edition of this magazine, when I discussed National Program 305.  In that article subtitled “The Next Half Decade at the Bee Labs,” I wrote then that a plan of action was due to be produced by June 1.  It was actually published in September 4, 2007.7

A report based on this plan was given in Sacramento by National Program Leader, Kevin Hackett.  It can be referred to whenever questions arise about bee research by USDA-ARS and used to show legislators what needs to be accomplished and what is currently being done with funds appropriated.  Reporting units include, Baton Rouge LA, Weslaco TX, Beltsville, MD, Tucson, AZ, Gainesville FL, Fargo ND, Logan UT, Madison WI, and Montpellier, France.

Goal 1: Enhancing Honey Bee Health.  Research required in this category includes:
1.  Developing Integrated Pest Management strategies for mites: 
                        Federal approval of Hivastan® ongoing (Weslaco TX)
                        Testing beta plan acids for Varroa control and formulating 2-heptanone (honey bee alarm pheromone component) as a miticide.  Scheduled to begin in 2008 (Tucson AZ)
                        Control of Varroa using the fungi Hirsutella thompsonii and Metarhizium anisopliae.  Field trials continue in Texas and Florida.  In Montpellier, France experiments continue using the fungus Beauveria bassiana.  Both above efforts have private enterprise partnerships.
2.  Clarification of role of Varroa mite:  Research is needed here to determine the relationship of mite predation to suppressed bee immunity and virus vectoring.  (An overarching goal that is part of the research at most locations noted above).
3.  Methods to protect hives from small hive beetle:  Scientists have developed new trapping methods using a naturally-occurring yeast attractant (Gainesville FL)
4.  Increasing understanding of honey bee resistance:
                        Demonstration of vertical and horizontal virus transmission (Beltsville MD)
                        Progress in defining the Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) trait has resulted in a reduced need for chemical treatments (Baton Rouge, LA)
                        Attempts to complement the VSH trait with others (brood-induced suppression of mite reproduction) to broaden the base of resistance (Baton Rouge LA)
5.  Improving molecular tools:  Genomic analysis must continue now that sequencing has been accomplished (Beltsville, MD and Weslaco, TX).
6.  Bee cell lines need to be established for further analysis (New hire requested with this specialty for Beltsville MD)
7.  Disease diagnosis needs improvement in sensitivity (ongoing Beltsville, MD)
8.  Development of improved honey bee management using
                        Australian packages (Weslaco TX and California Beekeepers Association)
                        Using Russian bees in 8-frame nuclei (Baton Rouge LA)
                        Russian and Italian bees in almonds and blueberries (Baton Rouge LA)
                        Using bees for sunflower seed set (Tucson AZ)
9.  Determining effects of miticides and pesticides (acute and chronic effects).
10. Developing miticide resistant management programs and procedures for reducing exposure to pesticides
11. Determination of effects of nosema on colony growth.
12. Developing best management practices for migratory beekeeping.
                        Identifying nutritional factors affecting bee colony health (Tucson AZ)
13. Identification of signals that simulate feeding to produce queens
14. Development of nutritionally sound feeding regimes for colonies
Characterization of microbial associates of healthy honey bees

Goal 2:  Improving Pollination of Crops.  Research in this area includes:
1.  Developing methods for supplementing colonies with protein: 
                        The best example of this is the so-called Tucson Bee Diet (Tucson, AZ)8
2.  Assess effects of supplemental feeding
                        Relationship between artificial diet and 6-frame strength criterion reveals that nuclei infected with Nosema ceranae built up for almond pollination  better when fed a supplemental diet.  (Weslaco, TX).

Goal 3:  Developing and Using New Research Tools:  Research in this area includes:
1.  Development of new tools for identification purposes
2.  Improved knowledge of the honey bee genome
  Development of stress assessment techniques
  Molecular studies on the cause and prevention of bee diseases
                        Genome analysis of the Paenibacillus larvae completed (Weslaco TX)
                        Understanding of chalkbrood increased (Weslaco TX)
5.  Increased knowledge of factors leading to queen-worker development
  Reliable long-term storage methods for bee germplasm
                        Efforts to preserve bee germplasm (recruiting a scientist Beltsville MD)
7.  Understanding of mating and queen survival
                        Queen supersedure rates correlated to Varroa mite infestations (Baton
                        Queen-specific volatile compounds indentified (Tucson AZ)

Another part of National Program 305 is that based on so-called non-Apis bees, which has two goals.

Goal 1:  Managing Crop Pollination:  Research in this area includes:
1.  Determining effects of handling on bee nests for alfalfa leafcutting and blue orchard bees.
2.  Analysis of stocking densities for alfalfal leafcutting bee.
                        Native pollinator (alkali bee) effective for alfalfa seed pollination (Logan UT)
3.  Nesting establishment and orientation cues evaluated
                        Blue orchard bee incubation box shown to improve bee emergence (Logan UT)
4.  Old nest components shown to attract female alfalfa leafcutting bees and blue orchard
bees (Logan UT)
5.  Determination of role of chemical cues in parasite attraction to nests
6.  Investigation of the condition known as “pollen balls”
  Improved understanding of Ascosphaera fungi
                        New genes sequenced for Ascosphaera (Logan UT)
8.  Determining modes of disease transmission for Ascosphaera
  Development of molecular tools for studying Ascosphaera
Development of tools to study immune response of bees (Logan UT)
10. Identifying methods for controlling chalkbrood
                        Testing of ozone as fumigant (Logan UT)
11. Management systems for mass production of blue orchard bee
                        Patent filed for incubation system to hasten emergence of blue orchard bees (Logan UT)
12. Identification of bumble bee species
                        Research initiated to identify bumble bee  species for artificial propagation (Logan UT)
13. Evaluation of parasites and diseases in bumble bees
                        Preservation efforts to improve understanding of queen behavior (Logan UT)

Goal 2:  Enhancing Bee Biodiversity and Contribution to Land Conservation:  Research in this area includes:
1.  Assessment of bee diversity
                        Bee diversity in public rangelands and national parks (Madison WI)
2.  Assessment of bumble bee populations
                        Development of bumble bee genetic markers to evaluate population health                     (Logan UT)
3.  Revision of classification of the bee family Megachilidae
  New identification techniques for bees (imaging systems; interactive keys)
5.  Maintenance of the U.S. National Pollinating Insects Collection and database9
                        Guide to bee identification (Logan UT)
6.  Identification of suitable forbs and pollination strategies to restore wild lands
                        Pollinators identified for restoration of the nation’s rangelands (Logan UT)

There is a lot here for anyone to digest.  I have provided this outline in some detail, more than any legislator need be shown, so that those requesting support of the bee labs from law makers can get an idea of the entire effort, and will have as much information to use as may apply in any situation.  It implies that those using the above outline will be necessarily employing only as much as needed to get certain points across. 

In pursuing their goals, those lobbying for bee research must also develop a balance when thinking about efforts between study associated with honey bees (Apis) and native bees non-Apis.  Both efforts have some common themes that can be identified, which would benefit both types of insects and their managers. 

An important caveat too is that beekeepers can point to a series of research efforts they themselves are supporting.  CCD study for example is being funded by a wide range of entities, including beekeeping associations and departments of agriculture10 And the Project Apis m11 reveals that beekeepers are helping themselves by funding vital research activities in cooperation with almond growers.

Finally, it must be mentioned that those lobbying should not “go it alone.”  There’s too much at stake.  The question above, what “plans of action are in place?” is a good one, and it would do well to take it to heart and either develop such a plan or find a program already in place.  Other organization besides beekeeping ones might also be recruited (vegetable and fruit associations) or in some cases developed, such as Project Apis m.  In Florida, the Farm Bureau is the “go to” organization for those wishing to educate the University of Florida president.  The organization has several advisory committees at the national level, including I believe one on beekeeping12

References: (All URLs accessed February 17, 2008)

1.      <http://home.ezezine.com/1636/1636-2008.>

2.      <http://www.ocala.com/article/20080212/NEWS/802120338/1368/googlesitemapnews>

3.      <http://www.abfnet.org>

4.      <http://www.americanhoneyproducers.org/>

5.      <http://www.gainesvillesun.com/article/20080214/OPINION01/802140301/-1/opinion01>

6.      <http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1UH?navid=FARM_BILL_COMM>

7.      <http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Program/305/NP305ActionPlan-Final09-04.pdf>

8.      <http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS109134+17-Dec-2007+PRN20071217>

9.      <http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/np/systematics/pollinating.htm>

10.  <http://maarec.cas.psu.edu/ColonyCollapseDisorderInfo.html#reportsResearch>

11.  <http://www.projectapism.org/?action=research>

12.  <http://www.fb.org/index.php>