Billy Synk Manages Seeds for Bees Program

Cover Crops and Bee Health

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

California Ag Today recently spoke with Billy Synk, director of pollination programs with project Apis m (the genus/species of European honey bee). We asked him about bees and the importance of cover crops in relation to bee health, and orchard soil health.

Early this year was difficult year with the lack of rain.

“Those almond growers that were on drip did not really have great cover crop stands,” he said.

The project Apis m mustard mix  is a combination of canola, musters, and daikon radish that will bloom before the almonds and give the bees a boost of nutrition energy before the almond bloom starts.

“All these colonies from everywhere in America that are at their hungriest or at the weakest are placed in almond orchards, and they’ve got their most important job to do: that’s pollinate almonds,” Synk explained.

These cover crops are important to get bees stimulated before almond bloom.

“If you can get them stimulated before the almonds bloom, they are going to have a lot more vigor and vitality and really attack those blooms when it is time,” Synk said.

The bees go after the almond blossoms in what is called a positive feedback loop.

“They are looking for signs of spring, day length, and temperature, but they’re also looking for the very first fresh pollen to come in that year,” Synk said.

Bees will lay more eggs inside their hive when the new pollen comes.

“That brood has a pheromone that cues the bees to  leave the hive to harvest more pollen to support more bees, and the whole cycle continues,” Synk explained.

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Bee Health Fugitives

Bee Health: Varroa Mite Is Public Enemy No. 1

By Laurie Greene, Editor

The varroa mite is “Public Enemy No. 1” for bees, according to Becky Langer, the North American Bee Care manager for Bayer CropScience. “It’s the giant tick that’s attaching to [bees],” said Langer, “transmitting viruses and bacteria. This mite has to be constantly managed and we’ve seen very high levels. When our bee experts were out visiting with people last fall, people were reporting very high levels of mites. So we anticipate high [bee] losses coming out of this winter because of the cyclic effect of the mite.” Langer explained. “It really re-emphasizes the necessity of controlling that mite—all the time—and staying on top of it.

Bayer Bee Health's Feed a Bee Program
Bayer Bee Health’s Feed a Bee Program

Commenting on other “Most Wanted Criminals” against bee health, Langer discussed recent research findings that well-fed bees are better able to defend themselves against the notorious nosema, a fungi-related parasite. “They actually found higher counts of nosema in those bees, but the well-fed bees could manage the nosema populationas opposed to not-well-fed bees.”

“That of course ties into Bayer Bee Care Program‘s Feed a Bee Program and its forage and nutrition initiative,” commented Langer. Launched last year to address the lack of food and habitat for bees Feed a Bee worked with more than 250,000 people and 75 partners to plant 65 million flowers and thousands of acres of forage across the country. “We’ve got to be feeding these bees better,” Langer reinforced.

According to their website, this year, Feed a Bee kicks off the spring with the launch of a new song and video for children of all ages. Other ways people can become involved with the program to help these hardworking insects are: request a free packet of wildflower seeds, for a limited time while supplies last; commit to growing pollinator-attractant plants of your own; and locate Feed a Bee plantings in your own communities on the interactive partner map. You can also tweet a emoji and #FeedABee to have Bayer plant on your “bee-half.” 

Langer commented on crop protection products—”the usual suspects”—by stressing the importance for growers to follow labels.  “If that’s the case and they are used properly and in the proper settings, there is no long-term effect on colony health,” she said. “Really, where we see colony health problems correlates well with the varroa mite and with forage and habitat issues.”

Among the Feed a Bee Program collaborators in California are: Wilbur-Ellis, San Francisco, CABee Happy Apiaries, Vacaville, CA; Carmel Valley Ranch & Golf Course; PROJECT APIS M.; and Vitamin Bee.

__________________________________________

Resources:

Fleming, James C.; Daniel R. Schmehl; James D. Ellis,Characterizing the Impact of Commercial Pollen Substitute Diets on the Level of Nosema spp. in Honey Bees (Apis mellifera L.),” PLOS ONE [an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication], July 30, 2015.

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Pollinator Bee Nutrition

Collaborators on Pollinator Bee Nutrition: Bayer’s Bee Care Program and Project Apis m. 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

 

The North American Bayer Bee Care Program which, according to director Becky Langer, has invested more than $12 million to maintain pollinator health, has been working closely with Project Apis m. (PAm), which funds research to enhance the health and vitality of honeybee colonies while improving crop production.

Project Apis m. pollinator bee nutrition“We have enjoyed working with Apis m,” said Langer, “because foraging nutrition is one of the top factors affecting bee health today. Our ‘Feed a Bee’ program, launched in March 2015, has the goal to partner with 50 different organizations as ‘Feed a Bee’ partners, and PAm, dedicated to pollinator health, and is one of the “Feed a Bee” partners.”

Bayer Feed a Beed Program logoLanger explained that PAm really focuses on crops growers can plant around their orchards to provide for the bees when they arrive in California before the almond bloom, as well as after the almond pollination just before the bees move on to their next job. “Because PAm distributes free wildflower seeds and other to growers,” Langer said, “we see it as a great partnership that really helps pollinator health thrive and move forward.”

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Bayer CropScience Gives $100,000 to Sponsor Project Apis m.’s Honey Bee Forage Program

Every year, more than 1.7 million honey bee colonies are brought to California’s Central Valley to pollinate the vast expanses of almond orchards. Many bees arrive in the fall when little is in bloom to escape their native cold temperatures in anticipation of the world’s largest pollination event.

Prior to and after the almond orchard’s bloom in late winter and spring, there is a shortage of food to help the bees survive. Bees’ food consists of nectar and pollen gathered from blooming plants.

To help address the pre- and post-bloom food challenge, Bayer CropScience is giving $100,000 to Project Apis m., a nonprofit organization dedicated to better bee health through its work with growers. Project Apis m. will use the funds to provide seed mixes to growers in California and Washington who have agreed to plant cover crops for honey bees before and after almond bloom and other key seasons. The project will help build a healthier bee population to support crop pollination nationwide as bee colonies are transported to other states for other growing seasons.

“This initiative is a direct response to the lack of adequate forage needed to keep honey bees healthy and thriving,” said Jim Blome, president and CEO of Bayer CropScience LP North America. “In 2015, Bayer CropScience is committed to research and partnerships that will make a positive impact on honey bees.”

Bayer’s expanded partnership with Project Apis m. will complement its joint field research projects conducted on fence rows near almond orchards at Bayer’s Western Bee Care Technology Station in Fresno, California. Findings from Bayer’s research with Project Apis m. show that forage plantings also can have benefits for growers.

If growers allow forage plantings adjacent to fields, rather than planting from fence row to fence row, they can reduce the loss of irrigation water, better manage soil quality and weeds, and help support wildlife, including pollinators. Local growers and landowners will plant the provided seeds on land with crops and on nearby plots to help ensure direct benefit to them and nearby bee colonies.

“With funding from Bayer, Project Apis m. will be able to work with growers to plant more acres of honey bee habitat right where it can be accessed by honey bees before the almond crop’s first bloom around Valentine’s Day,” said Christi Heintz, executive director of Project Apis m. and liaison to the Almond Board of California’s Bee Task Force. “Additionally, with Bayer’s help from its Fresno Research Station, we know the best plant species and mixes to use to feed bees and save them from starving.”

Project Apis m. will work with almond and other growers to get commitments for cover crops that will be planted in Fall 2015.

 

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