UC Davis bee specialists working with California State Apiary Board

Honey bee specialists at the University of California, Davis, are working closely with the California State Apiary Board to help maintain a healthy bee population in the Golden State.

UC Davis Apiculturist Eric Mussen, a liaison to the board, chairs a committee that’s reviewing the Apiary Protection Act. Mussen drafted changes, sought input from agricultural commissioners, beekeepers and others, and will present the document to the board for its approval at the next meeting.

The five-member board is chaired by Jackie Park-Burris of Palo Cedro, also president of the California State Beekeepers’ Association. The board also includes Vice Chair Steve Godlin of Visalia; Leroy Brant of Oakdale; Lyle Johnston of Madera; and Richard Ashurst of Westmorland. All were appointed by California Secretary of Agriculture A. G. Kawamura.

The board identified a list of priorities at its organizational meeting on Oct. 3 in the Laidlaw facility. The list targets the parasitic Varroa mite and Nosema; improper pesticide practices or labeling issues; and honey bee malnutrition. Topics also include honey bee testing in the pesticide registration process; right-to-farm issues; diagnostic laboratories for testing nutrition and pathogens, and a proposed honey bee “safe haven” or “bee farm,” advocated by Kawamura. The bee haven is where beekeepers can take their bees for what Mussen called “R&R — rest and recreation.”

The beekeeping industry seeks closer working relations with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture. John Connell, director of the CDFA’s Plant Health and Pest Prevention Services and Gary Leslie, a supervisor with CDFA’s Pest Exclusion Branch, addressed the board as did DPR Director Mary Ann Warmerdam.

Warmerdam echoed the need for a healthy bee population. “Without a healthy bee population, a lot of economic vigor that we experience in agriculture is going to decline and we really don’t want that to happen.”

It’s crucial, she said, “to protect the vigor of the bee population.” Honey bees pollinate about one-third of the American diet, including fruits, vegetables and nuts, Mussen said.

The board is also studying the impact of pesticides and pathogens on queen breeders; and the seedless mandarin-honey bee conflict in the citrus belt of the San Joaquin Valley.

Mussen, editor of the UC Apiaries newsletter, wrote in the current edition that mandarin growers and beekeepers are clashing over honey bee pollination of two mandarins, Clementines and Murcotts, planted next to one another in the San Joaquin Valley. When honey bees transfer pollen between the varieties, the result can be an unwanted “seedy” mandarin.

“Not waiting for any official word, creative citrus growers are trying some solutions for the problem,” Mussen wrote. “First they have placed bee-proof netting over much of the Murcotts (least number of acres) to prevent cross pollination. Second, they have begun using x-ray examination to spot and cull mandarins with very many seeds. And finally, they have removed the word ‘seedless’ from their packaging and advertising.”

“California has some very touchy rules about calling something seedless, so it is easier to avoid that hassle,” Mussen wrote.

During the Apiary Board’s daylong meeting, Susan Cobey, UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist, showed her enhanced line of New World Carniolans, cross-bred with their Old World counterparts from Germany. The Laidlaw facility also includes newly hired Neal Williams, native bee pollinator specialist, to join the faculty next year; Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor who studies native pollinators; Kim Fondrk, who manages a line of bees; and Michelle Flenniken, the Haagen-Dazs post-doctoral researcher studying bee viruses.

Kawamura, who reared bees in his youth for four years, told the board that the bee industry is beset with problems, including colony collapse disorder, in which bees mysteriously abandon their hives. He recalled how a bacterial disease, American foulbrood, ended his beekeeping activities.

The Apiary Board thanked Mussen for the “enormous amount of work he’s doing.” Mussen, a Cooperative Extension apiculturist at UC Davis since 1976, is widely recognized in the bee industry. He received the California State Beekeepers’ Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 1999; Apiary Inspectors of America’s Exceptional Service Award in 2000, and the California State Beekeeper Association’s Beekeeper of the Year Award in 2006. In 2007, the American Association of Professional Apiculturists honored him with an Award of Excellence in Extension Apiculture, one of only five awards the group has presented in 20 years.

Earlier this year Mussen was named the recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America.

Among the speakers at the luncheon meeting were Richard Standiford, associate vice president of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources; Neal Van Alfen, dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; and Lynn Kimsey, chair of the Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology.

Those attending included representatives from Häagen-Dazs and Whole Foods, who assist the UC Davis honey bee research program. Donations may be made online, at the UC Davis Department of Entomology Web site, entomology.ucdavis.edu/home.cfm.

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