Jan, 31 2023

Beekeeping Takeaways from North America’s Conference Season

MyApiary general manager Darren Bainbridge recently returned from the North American beekeeping conference season, where his management software company exhibited at the American Honey Producers Association (AHPA) convention and trade show, plus the Saskatchewan Beekeepers Development Commission annual convention in Canada. As you might imagine, there was plenty to take in and some key takeaways to interest Kiwi beekeepers…

First up was the AHPA conference, held in sunny Tucson, Arizona, where the discussion was all about home-brewed varroa treatments and the pros and cons of overwintering in barns versus moving hives south. The consensus seemed to be barns provided healthier spring bees with fewer overwinter losses due to the forced hibernation and brood break (note: hives are not fed or treated while in the barns, this has to be completed beforehand – one of the downsides to the practise).

Beehives in Canada are wrapped in thermal “sleeping bags” this time of year, giving beekeepers time to attend conference season.

In New Zealand we might be getting more familiar with the exercise of soaking shop towels in oxalic acid as a form of varroa control, but in the States it seems a home brew treatment of the towels soaked in Taktic (a broad-spectrum product which contains amitraz to control ticks and mites) is becoming common. It is being applied at least twice to hives before wintering. This stuff is potent, not Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified for use with bees, and I’m certain the beekeepers using it don’t know the actual dosage levels they are applying to the hives. However, when nothing else works (with resistance to several EPA registered products well documented), what other option do they have?

Another key scientific learning in the US was how omega-3 and omega-6 imbalance in pollen supplements affects the cognitive performance of bees, i.e it dumbs bees down and makes them less resistant to disease. A ratio close to 1:1 is desired, but some supplements are as high as 8:1.

In Canada the big discussion point – fiercely debated over a few drinks – was the pros and cons of opening the USA-Canada border to bee movements. There seemed to be no winner to this argument. Those for it want to make up winter losses by bringing in bees from American beekeepers who wish to destock after their earlier spring, compared to Canada. This solves a problem for the Americans too, as apparently hives there have too many bees after almond pollination and before honey crops start in the north. The ‘nos’ argue the bio-security risk of introducing Africanised bees and importing more resistance strains of varroa are not worth it.

Venturing out in Saskatchewan, Darren Bainbridge takes in the
delights of a Canadian winter during his visit to exhibit MyApiary
at various beekeeping conferences.

However, Canadian varroa are fairly robust already and displaying resistance to flumethrin and tau-fluvalinate products and potential developing resistance to amitraz. Therefore, many beekeepers are starting to look more closely at organics in Canada. The current organic treatment method is predominately oxalic acid vaporising and so the scientific community is exploring the potential that singular use of organic treatments could also breed resistance.

A scary take away for me was antibiotics oxytetracycline and tylosin are licenced for American foulbrood (AFB) treatment in Canada and AFB seems to be quite prevalent. Presentations were given proving resistance to oxytetracycline, leaving only tylosin as a fall treatment due to the risk of honey contamination.

With the symptoms of AFB being masked by antibiotics, leading to higher incidence, I am glad New Zealand took the route of banning the use of antibiotics. AFB could quickly get away on Canadian beekeepers once the antibiotics options are no longer useful.