Not all settlers who helped establish the Jamestown colony in the early 1600s contributed the same kind of effort. In 1622, a group arrived whose contributions were sweet, golden honey and significant assistance for the colony’s struggling farmers.

When Europeans brought honey bees to Jamestown, the insects helped streamline the pollination process, thus improving the quality and quantity of the crops. Four hundred years later, the bees are still hard at work, providing the same service for at least 80 insect-dependent crops in Virginia.

However, according to State Apiarist Keith Tignor, current bees and beekeepers in Virginia have encountered significant problems which could affect crop production in the state.

Speaking to attendees at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Convention in Chantilly, Va., Tignor outlined the history and importance of honey bees in Virginia. He went on to explain the findings of a 2006 study authorized by the Virginia General Assembly about the status of beekeepers and bees, and provided a progress report on recommendations.

The study examining the plight of Virginia’s beekeepers concluded that Virginia is currently losing valuable honey bee hives at an annual rate of 30 percent as new pests or diseases are introduced every five to 10 years. The greatest concern now is the Varroa mite, which transmits diseases, reduces honey bee productivity, and contributes substantially to the nearly fourfold increase in the mortality rate of honey bee hives in Virginia.

A new problem, Colony Collapse Disorder, gained national attention last spring when widespread colony losses decimated the nation’s pollination resources without a clear, identifiable cause.

The study recognized that the occurrence of Africanized honey bees (AHB) in Gulf Coast states increases the risk of their accidental introduction into Virginia. Research also determined that 90 percent of beekeepers in Virginia are hobbyists, many of whom want additional training and information.

To counteract the problems, study participants made four recommendations: developing an integrated pest management program for Virginia's honey bees; supporting a multi-regional queen production program; assessing the risk and monitoring the occurrence of Africanized honey bees, as well as educating the public about the importance of honey bees; and promoting crop pollination.

Tignor reported that implementation was well under way on the study’s recommendations, including:

• Establishing research and demonstration apiaries across state.

• Conducting training programs for new and experienced beekeepers.

• Implementing a Master Beekeeper program.

• Surveying for AHB.

• Working with first responders and beekeepers to prepare for AHB incidents.

• Training beekeepers to raise commercially available queens.

• Recruiting beekeepers to provide pollination services.

For more information about honey bees and beekeepers in Virginia, contact Keith Tignor at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, keith.tignor@vdacs.virginia.gov.