New beekeepers helping to pollinate crops
With plans to expand to over 3,000 hives this spring, Doug and Carrie Hoffman have become part of only a handful of commercial beekeepers in Indiana.
Their growth has been rapid. In fact they only set up their first hive in 2008. One of their first attractions to beekeeping came when they realized the importance of honeybees in pollination, Doug says.
“It sounds strange, but we had noticed that our apple trees had no apples,” Carrie adds.
“The nearby beekeeper’s hive had died out, and there were no other bees in the area. At that point the question wasn’t whether we would be beekeepers, but how many hives we would go to.”
• Honeybees pollinate approximately one-third of the food supply.
• Disease and mites have caused large-scale honeybee drop-offs.
• Farmers can help by reducing pesticide drift and cleaning planting equipment.
The Hoffmans’ Apple Blossom Honey Farm, Star City, operates a multifaceted beekeeping business.
It sells honey, beekeeping supplies and bees while renting out hives for pollination across the Midwest.
The Hoffmans’ quick buildup has not been without challenges, however.
From honeybee health concerns to just needing more bees to fulfill pollination contracts, they’ve had to think quickly.
“As we rented out hives for pollination, there were more and more customers and still not enough bees,” Doug relates.
Declining honeybee population
Since cornfields surround many of their bee yards, the Hoffmans often speak to groups to educate the public, especially farmers, on the importance of protecting honeybee populations. Even being careful about spraying chemicals when there is a strong wind can reduce drift into bee yards, Doug says.
“We try to tell them that they can work with us if they know there’s a bee yard nearby,” he says. “If they can wait until early morning or late evening to spray, when the bees aren’t flying, it helps a lot.”
Greg Hunt, a Purdue University bee specialist, says that in addition to timing spray applications to minimize the effect on bees, farmers can also take care during planting.
“Every corn seed is coated with a neonicitinoid pesticide, and after planting, farmers should scrape out the talc powder instead of blowing it out into the air,” Hunt says. “Farmers can work to minimize drift and also be aware of the toxicity to bees of different pesticides,” he adds.
Hunt’s research on the small, reddish-brown varroa mite studies major problems of honeybee colonies. This mite is the biggest factor in colony losses, according to surveys in North America and Europe.
“Parasitic mite syndrome leads to all kinds of diseases,” Hunt says. Hunt’s lab is focusing on breeding bees for mite-grooming behavior, which controls mite populations.
The Hoffmans use breeding stock from the Purdue University Bee Lab and hope to have higher overwintering rates this year.
“There are more than enough specialty-crop farms that need pollination services in the Midwest, and we’re going to keep growing to fill that need,” Doug says.
Schluttenhofer is a senior in ag communications at Purdue University.
This article published in the March, 2012 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.