The 2013 Sustainable Agriculture Pest Management Conference
Here is a remarkable and mostly unreported fact: 2013 marks the highest losses of honey bee populations in the U.S. Some of the country's biggest beekeepers have lost over 60% of their bee population. We’ve seen our own losses within the TheraBee apiaries and partner beekeeping operations.
With that in mind, we were fortunate to be invited to the 2013 Sustainable Agriculture Pest Management Conference held at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. The conference was sponsored by Cal Poly’s Center for Sustainability, whose charter is to collaborate with stakeholders from every department within the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) across an array of initiatives that include topics like pest management, composting and other sustainable agriculture areas.
We were clearly the little guys at this meeting, with plenty of representation from very large farms, academia and companies representing pest management control systems. For us it was a hard-core introduction to some of the complexities facing food production and raising bees on a large scale. Honeybees pollinate over 100 distinct crops in California worth about $6 billion. The largest single pollination event in the world is the annual migration of commercial bees to the California almond orchards. If you want to see how big this is, a recent and fascinating episode of Dan Rather Reports – Buzzkill is worth watching.
Topics included sessions on the basic biology of bees and classifications of pesticides and their effects on bees. An incredible resource is a publication entitled “How to Reduce Bee Poisoning from Pesticides” and is available as a PDF download here. If you want to learn more about the effects of ingredients in common and commercial pesticides (organic and non-organic), this booklet has a table that includes active ingredients, common product names and their relative toxicity to bees.
We also got a primer on how to identify other types of plant pollinators including wasps, bees, flies, beetle, butterflies and moths. It made us realize that planting pollinator-friendly plants will benefit more than just our honey bees. Our plan for this spring is to create a broader diversity of plants to attract new pollinating critters as well as providing more forage area for our TheraBee babies.
Lastly we jumped on the chance to take a tour of the Cal Poly apiaries including a special queen-breeding area and hive-construction workshop. Campus Beekeeper and Lecturer Scott Jeffreys of Cal Poly is incredibly modest, yet incredibly revered on campus and his classes are always sold out. We thank him for the tour!