10/29/2011 10:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent
The USDA awarded a three-year, $59,000 grant to the Empire State Honey Producers Association to help the state’s beekeepers address hive problems plaguing honeybees.
The grant will train beekeepers to prevent, diagnose and treat honeybee problems and, in turn, support the training of beginning beekeepers in how to keep their colonies healthy.
“This grant will allow beekeepers to learn and identify honeybee disease,” said Greg Kalicin, president of the Empire State Honey Producers Association. “The knowledge that the trainers acquire will continue to benefit New York beekeepers for many years.”
Nationwide, bee colonies have experienced large losses which have baffled experts and discouraged beekeepers. But recently, more people have started keeping bees in both urban and rural areas, partly because of the media attention to honeybee losses and also due to the increase in urban and suburban gardening.
Of course more honeybees equals better pollination for crops and plants in general, and more local, New York State honey,” said Pat Bono, representing Seaway Trail Honey in Rochester.
Bono and Peter Borst of Ithaca are co-directors of the grant in conjunction with the Empire State Honey Producers, which will provide matching funds. Borst represents the Finger Lakes Bee Keepers Association.
“The underlying causes for the bee decline are complicated and numerous,” Borst said. “All the same, bee health is one of the key areas of interest and one which we can address directly.”
Other factors that are harder to address may include large mono-cropped areas, loss of natural habitat and exotic foreign parasites that plague honeybees.
Although fewer bees means less honey and a spike in honey prices, producers’ low yields make it tough to take advantage of the price swing.
“By restoring vigor to their colonies, they will be able to obtain larger honey crops,” Borst said. “Better crops and better financial returns will increase the incentive to treat bees as valuable assets and encourage honey producers to pay close attention to the details which lead to healthy colonies.”
Honeybees pollinate about $300 million in value of New York State crops, such as apples, berries, squash, pumpkins and grapes.
“Many growers actually pay beekeepers a handsome fee to bring bees in, so this is an additional source of income for honey producers, provided they have healthy bees early in the season when they are needed,” Borst said. “But beyond that, there are many farms that benefit from bees being present locally, even if they do not hire beekeepers directly. Essentially, locally produced bees provide a valuable resource for gardeners and farmers.”
Agriculture represents a pillar of New York’s economy, so keeping honeybees healthy is important to the state’s overall fiscal viability.
“Every single hive of bees is beneficial and can pollinate plants up to a three-mile radius, which is significant not only for farmers and gardeners, but also the diversity of wild plants,” Bono said.
She said she hopes that the grant will foster better communication among all beekeepers statewide.
New York is not the only state launching a big bee study. A $3.3 million federal grant issued by the Department of Agriculture will help researchers in eastern states study wild honeybee populations. Though not generally a source of honey for human consumption, wild honeybees play a vital role in pollinating crops, it’s important to keep their numbers adequate.
The University of Massachusetts-Amherst received the grant and will work with researchers from the University of Maine; Cornell University; the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station; and the University of Tennessee.
The study will look at pathogens and parasites that may affect honeybees and how various factors impact honeybee diversity, including landscapes, farm size and pesticide use.
The USDA-NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program will administer the grant. The organization provides funding to support training, education, outreach and technical assistance initiatives for beginning farmers or ranchers.
The Empire State Honey Producers Association, the state beekeeping organization of New York, welcomes new members and presents informational and educational programs twice a year. The group has been promoting the interests of New York beekeepers since 1868.
Empire State Honey Producers Association: www.eshpa.org