COMB, Conventional & Organic Management of Bees Stakeholder Meeting

Stakeholders at our first COMB meeting in November 2017

On November 17, 2017 stakeholders from across Pennsylvania converged to State College to discuss beekeeping protocols for our upcoming research project. The project, funded by the USDA’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), will be a side-by-side comparison of honey bee health using three distinct management systems: conventional, organic and chemical-free. The López-Uribe Lab invited beekeepers that use these different management systems to participate in this meeting by providing details on the protocols they use in their operations. In addition, we requested that each group discuss a general definition of their management philosophies and new terminology to identify themselves.

Efforts to classify beekeepers into the various beekeeping philosophies is difficult. These management philosophies are a continuum more than discrete categories. However, for the purpose of the meeting, participants were split into three groups. One category grouped the beekeepers that are willing to use any product on the market to maintain healthy parasite-free colonies. These beekeepers, who we initially called conventional, re-named their group as ‘Adaptive Beekeeping’ because they are flexible in their decision making. The second group comprised beekeepers that do not use synthetic pesticides or antibiotics in their hives. Beekeepers in this group only use naturally-occurring chemicals, such as formic or oxalic acid, to treat pests. They also heavily rely on mechanical methods to control pests. Because they do not strictly use organic chemicals but multiple methods for pest management, they identify themselves as the ‘Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Non-Synthetic Management’ group. The last group of beekeepers was comprised of beekeepers who are unwilling to apply ‘non-bee’ derived products to the colony. Instead, these beekeepers rely on the bees’ natural mechanisms and their genetic disposition to keep the colonies thriving, only intervening with mechanical techniques when emergencies arise. This group identified themselves as the ‘Holistic Chemical Free Beekeeping’ group.

Bringing together experts and experienced beekeepers working in these different categories was a highly valuable and informative experience for everyone. Our goal with this project is to identify the costs and benefits of each of these management systems in the context of honey bee health, environmental safety, and an economic perspective. This stakeholder meeting has set the stage for this project. We learned a great deal from all the participants and everyone had time and space to speak their minds. By the end of the day, we worked out a preliminary protocol for each management system. Some work is still needed, but everyone is excited and we feel that things are getting off on the right foot. We hope to keep the support of the beekeeping community throughout this experiment.

By Robyn Underwood

Research Associate

Penn State University