When Bayer CropScience announced our Healthy Hives 2020 research initiative on April 28, I was concerned about finding the right mix of experts that could find time to meet to discuss how we can improve the health of honey bees within the next 5 years. After all, this time of year is extraordinarily busy for nearly everyone associated with agriculture or beekeeping. I shouldn't have been worried.
Last week a diverse group of honey bee experts representing academia, beekeeping, government and private industry came together for a two-day workshop at Bayer's North American Bee Care Center to seek tangible solutions to the problems affecting colony health in the United States. Despite our different perspectives, the group was able to develop a working definition of what constitutes a healthy hive. While this may seem obvious to some, a proper definition is currently lacking and is fundamentally important to improving colony health. In fact, it's so important the group plans to publish this definition as a useful benchmark to help facilitate future research.
The workshop participants discussed a broad range of projects that could measurably improve or significantly increase our understanding of colony health over the next 5 years. These ideas were then provided to the Healthy Hives 2020 Steering Committee, which met to convert the workshop's input into several key areas for potential research initiatives:
- Development of Varroa mite management strategies suitable for commercial beekeeping
- Test and establish genetic strains of honey bees for traits related to improved colony health
- Long-term studies of commercial beekeeping to ‘ground-truth' survey data and allow for economic evaluation of apicultural management inputs and practices
- Evaluate and implement the latest "smart hive technologies for colony monitoring and management
While these research areas are still being developed, they provide a potential roadmap for the future. When the assessment of these projects is completed, the steering committee will present fully-developed proposals and work with partnering organizations in order to turn these ideas into reality.
What struck me the most about this workshop was the dedication of the attendees to work together to seek meaningful improvements in honey bee health. I'm convinced that this type of collaborative effort will lead to real solutions and healthier hives by 2020.