Alabama beekeepers are cautiously optimistic about the status of honeybee populations in the state.
According to recent studies, honeybee colonies in 28 states, Canada and Britain have reported large losses to colony collapse disorder (CCD).
Alabama and Louisiana are the only two southern states that have not reported significant problems with the disorder.
Some experts estimate that as many as a quarter of the estimated 2.4 million commercial colonies across the United States have been lost since fall. In Alabama, conditions actually seem to be good.
Jim Tew, an Ohio State University honeybee entomologist who works with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, says Alabama appears largely unaffected by CCD.
“So far, we have not seen CCD in Alabama,” says Tew. “That’s great news for Alabama beekeepers, but they should not let their guards down.”
Tew says while scientists are still trying to determine what is causing CCD, beekeepers need to use sound management practices to keep their hives as healthy as possible.
“Beekeepers should check their colonies every two to three weeks during the summer,” says Tew. “Colonies should be checked for diseases as well as insect pests. Keepers should also keep an eye on the queen’s performance. Right now, the continuing dry weather is making it challenging for some bees to gather enough nectar. Beekeepers may need to feed their bees in order to keep the hives healthy.”
Honeybees are crucial to the pollination of a number of Alabama crops including many tree fruits such as apples, peaches and pears. Blueberries, blackberries and strawberries also are highly dependent on honeybees for pollination.
Buddy Adamson, the bee and honey commodity director for the Alabama Farmer’s Federation, says honeybees are a vital part of Alabama agriculture.
“A healthy honeybee population is essential not only for Alabama beekeepers but for many crop producers, especially our fruit and vegetable growers who depend on honeybees for help producing a high quality crop,” he says. “I am hopeful that a solution can be found soon.”
Adamson estimates that honeybee pollination in the state has a value between $50 and $100 million.
According to recent survey data, there are more than 2,500 beekeepers in the state, and they can be found in all of Alabama’s 67 counties.
In 2006, more than 790,000 pounds of honey valued at $1.1 million dollars were produced in Alabama.
Tew also says that Alabama beekeepers should be aware of recommendations from a federal research effort into CCD on avoiding CCD.
Because the disorder’s causative agent is unknown at this time, the research group suggests these control options:
• Keep colonies strong by practicing best management practices.
• Use an integrated pest management approach for varroa mite control in honeybee colonies, minimizing the need for chemical use and lessening bee exposure to potentially toxic chemicals. Use approved miticides. Do not use off-label home remedies.
• If beekeepers ordinarily treat with an antibiotic to control American or European foulbrood, they should use Terramycin rather than Tylan. Tylan has been approved only recently for use in bee colonies. Unless the disease is resistant to Terramycin, keepers should use Terramycin because it has a longer history of use in bee colonies.
• If a keeper finds abandoned hive equipment and the cause of bee death is suspicious, the keeper should store the equipment and not allow other bees to access it. Do not reuse the equipment if the colony displayed symptoms of CCD.
• Do not combine collapsing colonies with otherwise healthy ones. Because the cause of CCD is unknown, it is possible that combining a sick colony with a healthy one will infect the healthy colony.