The Missouri Honeybee population, like that across the nation, is currently in a decline, causing a risk for diversified agricultural production across the state.
According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, humans rely on bees for about one third of their food supply.
“Missouri agriculture doesn’t depend on bees in the same ways that other states do, such as California or Pennsylvania,” said Sarah Cramer, Missouri Beekeeper.
Missouri, a state most known for the production of crops such as corn and soybeans, is overlooked as a state dependent on bees. However, pollination by honeybees is crucial or beneficial for many crops including alfalfa, a common forage that is fed to livestock animals across the state. In simple terms, plants need pollinators to achieve optimum growth and animals need plants.
There are an estimated 2.5 million honeybee colonies in the United States today, less than half the population found in the 1940s, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture.
“Beekeepers should plan to loose around half of their hives in a year,” Cramer said.
The decline in the nation’s honeybee population started in the 1980s, and has been blamed on four main factors: parasites, disease, flood plains and the beekeepers themselves, according to the Missouri State Beekeepers Association President, Clayton Lee.
Like any other livestock animal that we breed in Missouri, bees are susceptible to disease and infection. In the most common form, honeybees can find themselves being under attack by the Varro Mite, a tick-like insect that attaches to the body of the honeybee and sucks directly off of the bee.
In addition to diseases and parasites, a large part of the decline is contributed to the way that Missouri does industrial style farming.
“We are farming bigger, cleaner fields, but we are using more pesticides and herbicides that are harmful and playing a role in the decline of all pollinators,” said Jason Jenkins, monarchs and pollinators coordinator for Missourians for Monarchs.
A pollinator finds its habitat in milkweed plants. This is a plant that is killed by both herbicides and pesticides in the maintenance of row crops.
It is important for beekeepers to ensure that the communication lines are open with local farmers in the area whose spraying could potentially harm their bees.
“Farmers work with beekeepers to monitor when they spray their crops,” Lee said, “this allows keepers to make sure to keep their bees in their hives until it is safe to let them out.”
Programs such as the Missouri Pollinator Conservancy Program, established by MU Extension, works to help bee producers across the state to be prepared for insecticide drift, and protecting their hives during spraying. This program is designed to help beekeepers have a more visible presence.
As a bee producer, it is important to ensure that you familiarize yourself with spray practices and chemicals used around the area of your apiary. Locating your colonies away from frequently sprayed fields is essential. As a last resort, the producers should locate their colonies at a location upwind location rather than a downwind.
According to Lee, farmers are not just helping beekeepers by keeping communication lines open, but by doing more to use cover crops in their planting. Cover crops are a flowering species that help the bees.
“Having something always in bloom will improve the population,” Jenkins said, “you can make a difference here with small changes.”
Bringing back the honeybee population has been an effort across the nation since the decline began, because we depend on the species in order to produce adequate amounts of food.
“Young people get involved in beekeeping for two reasons,” Cramer said, “because they want to be involved in pollination, or they want to save the bees.”
Helping the bee population doesn’t just rely on researchers, farmers and beekeepers, Missourians across the state can be helping to bring back the honeybee.
“The easiest thing for someone to do is plant flowers!” Lee said.
MU and the Sustain Mizzou Beekeeping club have introduced two colonies of honeybees to campus.
According to Cramer, the sustain Mizzou beekeeping club gets funding from the Mizzou botanic gardens. She said it is a true blessing to be working with them rather than against them. Since the club is working with the botanic gardens, groundskeepers on campus carefully watch where they spray for weeds, and plant flowering plants around the hives.
Honeybees are considered a livestock animal by the Missouri Department of Agriculture. They are bred and researched just like cattle. Their population is not at as high of a risk as other species of bees; however, the honeybee has become the face of the efforts.
“We hope that we can reverse the trend,” Jenkins said. “If we can get people to help one species, then we can help other native pollinators.”
There are several different pollinator populations at risk in the state of Missouri, including the Monarch Butterfly.
“Plant some flowers, and always have something in bloom!” Jenkins said. “You can make big differences with small changes.”